When Mike Holland and his cousin became the fourth generation of the family to own and operate Holland Brothers, he had a goal in mind. The Duncansville, Pa. processor had a reputation for quality meats and a customer base that would even come as far away as Pittsburgh — a two-hour drive — for its products. The one thing it did not have was a bacon that had won a state or national award (though the company has been awarded for several of its other products).

At the 2016 American Cured Meat Championships, Holland Brothers broke through, winning twice in the bacon categories. The company’s Heavyweight Bacon won the Reserve Grand Champion award, and its Dry-Cured Country Bacon was the Reserve Champion.

“Over the last four to five years was when I really started to develop the bacon into something a little bit different – a niche, something that you couldn’t go to the grocery store to get. You had to go to Holland Brothers,” Holland says.

“That’s what separates small business from big business. They offer something a little bit more special than the run of the mill,” he adds.

In the case of Holland Brothers, the company has developed special flavor profiles that the company sells alongside its traditional customer favorites. Limited-time offers like honey chipotle, honey barbecue and jalapeño rotate in and out of the meat case, so customers never know what they might find when they do their shopping. With just a slight markup in price, shoppers have even more incentive to try out the new flavors.

Holland says that he gets assistance from his spice and seasoning suppliers when developing new products.

“You let them know what you’re looking for, and they’ll give you an idea — cut this, add a little of this, do that,” he says.

Frequently, though, he experiments with ingredients to come up with his own blends, creating a flavor that’s truly exclusive to Holland Brothers.

“[for] the honey barbecue, what I did was take a snack stick seasoning we use for a barbecue snack stick, and I incorporated some honey granules and some maple syrup,” he explains.

With a couple of national awards to its credit, bacon sales at Holland Brothers have taken off. Holland attributes much of his company’s recent success at cured meat competition to avoiding shortcuts or a production environment. He believes in taking his time to create a quality product.

“They’re looking for negatives, not positives, in the American Cured Meats Championship,” he says. “What’s special about that [competition] is that everybody’s good, so that’s how they separate the best from the good.”

Holland is also quick to note the assistance that his fellow meat processors have given him as he’s worked to improve his company’s bacon.

“We never could have gotten there if it hadn’t been for the other members of AAMP, taking the time to talk to me and telling me their little tricks,” he says. “Just the smallest of things, it all adds up. That’s one thing that’s very special about that organization, and I can’t say enough about it.”