Bacon gets a lot of love from consumers, and justifiably so. Aside from the taste, there are few other protein products as versatile as bacon. It’s a breakfast staple, naturally, but it also works on a sandwich, as an entrée, an appetizer or… in bread pudding or ice cream?

Those creations are among some of the more interesting applications that Cody Lane, president of Pederson’s Natural Farms, has seen in the two years that that his company has helped sponsor Bacon Bash Texas. Now in its third year, the annual charity event/cooking contest draws teams of bacon chefs from across Texas. Last year’s winning entry was a Bacon-Wrapped Lamb Loin. This year’s event is scheduled for October 18 at the Horny Toad Bar & Grill in Cranfills Gap.

Of course, consumers have been enjoying Pederson’s bacon, as well as its hams and sausage, in more conventional recipes for over 20 years. Lane says that the Hamilton, Texas processor has been selling all-natural, antibiotic-free products from the start.

“A lot of our customers are looking for that natural, higher-end type of product,” he says.

Bacon accounts for about 80 percent of the company’s sales. Its best-selling item is an uncured Applewood smoked bacon, and it also offers other varieties like pepper and jalapeno bacon along with beef, turkey and chicken bacon. When it comes to sausages, more traditional items like its kielbasa, jalapeno and German smoked sausages are among the most popular products. Those varieties seem to have universal appeal, as they sell well throughout the southern half of the United States.

While more traditional products are the top sellers, “I do think as a processor that it’s important to offer new flavors, because you never know what it’s going to be that perks a consumer’s interest and gets the ball rolling,” Lane says.

Surprisingly, a no-sugar bacon, which the company introduced about a year ago, has been a hit with consumers and has become its second-best seller.

“With the Paleo Diet, and people moving away from sugar for health or diet reasons, it’s been extremely well-received and is still growing,” Lane says. “It’s possibly going to threaten our #1 product.”

The label of the no-sugar bacon actually lists more things that the bacon doesn’t have (gluten, lactose, MSG, sugar, nitrites, nitrates) than its actual ingredients (pork, water, less than 2% salt, vinegar, celery powder). “With only five familiar ingredients, you can feel great about what you’re feeding your body!” the label boasts. Along with its no-antibiotics, no-growth stimulants claims, Pederson’s bacon is designed to appeal to those consumers who are paying more attention to food labels than ever before.

The desire for simple ingredients does change some of the procedures for ensuring food safety, Lane says.

“We put some natural ingredients in to preserve the product, but in some cases, I have customers who don’t want any of that,” he explains. “For those items, from a safety standpoint, we highly recommend that they go through the HPP process.”

Pederson’s works with a third-party high-pressure pasteurization company for select products, when a longer shelf life is necessary.

“Sausage is a perfect example,” he says. “Sausage is selling great right now, and there’s not going to be any problem selling sausage during the summer. When grilling season may be winding down and we still want to make a bigger run for efficiencies, we may need to get another 15 or 20 days out of it. HPP is a great way to do it.”