Couple Brings Traditional South African Meat Snack to U.S.

Rows of meat hang heavily from hooks in the temperature-controlled drying room of Warren and Nicolle Pala’s factory in Keansburg, New Jersey. The color of the meat changes gradually from deep crimson to ruddy brown as it dehydrates and absorbs the spices that speckle its surface. This is biltong – a traditional South African meat snack.

“When we first came to the U.S., it never occurred to us that biltong wasn’t already here,” said Nicolle Pala. The spiced, cured meat can be found on practically every street corner and store shelf in the Rainbow Nation.

Warren is South African and his wife Nicolle is Zimbabwean but they both claim predominantly British heritage with a mixture of French Huguenot, Dutch, Portuguese and German. The couple immigrated to the U.S. in 2001 “for the opportunity and adventure.”

They started their company Braaitime to bring a taste of South Africa to their new home. Braaitime – “braai” is the Afrikaans word for BBQ/grilling meats outdoors – began as a small operation run out of the Pala household. But as demand for their products grew, the business expanded to the Keansburg factory.

The proprietary recipe the Palas use to make their biltong has been passed down through the generations. Biltong can be made using a wide range of meats – from the more common beef, to exotic African game like ostrich, gemsbok, springbok or kudu. The Palas say that blending U.S. ingredients with traditional South African techniques has helped them create a unique product.

“The biltong recipe and process we adopted was taught to me by my father-in-law,” said Warren. “But even he admits we have improved on it immensely with the top quality U.S. beef.”

Braaitime’s biltong is hitting the market at an opportune time. Meat snack sales growth in the U.S. exceeded the sales of traditional snack categories like chips and candy last year, according to research from Nielson. Between 2009 and 2014, meat snack sales jumped from $1.58 billion to $2.5 billion.

Although South African expats were the majority of Braaitime’s customers in its early days, Americans now account for more than half of the company’s sales. Braaitime ships to all 50 states with around 8 percent of their products going directly to the tri-state area.

“We’ve come a long way with this little company,” said Warren. “I would like for every American to try biltong.”

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