In another world, I used to write about the furniture industry, with a special emphasis on the custom woodworking side. I was able to visit the workshops of some of the finest artisans in the country, and their work continually left me in awe. In their hands, anything from a conference table to a kitchen cabinet set could be transformed from utilitarian furniture to a breathtaking piece of functional art. It took a little extra time and the occasional addition of a custom finish, exotic wood inlays or handwork, but the end results were beautiful — and worth every bit of the premium price.

While I changed industries to write about food for a living, I never really got away from the custom work. The meat processors I visit today have just as much vision and creativity as those master woodworkers; they just use a different medium. 

Fortunately, there’s just as much of a demand for artisan meat products as there is a custom curio cabinet, and the cost of a well-made brat or free-range, organic chicken breast is a heck of a lot cheaper. Whether you have a small meat market or a high-end retail product line, customers seek you out because you offer something that they can’t find from the larger meat corporations. Your creativity in developing these products is an asset, so take full advantage of it!

Think like a mad scientist. Don’t consider if you should try to create a certain product or if it works in your present operating conditions. Just do it and see if it tastes good! You can worry about the logistics later.

I’ve come across some incredible new products in my time in the meat industry. I’ve tried — and enjoyed — chili cheese dogs with the chili and cheese on the inside to cherry bratwursts. I’ve eaten jerky from numerous species, flavors and textures. I came across a pizza company that’s making their pizza crusts out of chicken instead of bread (see the story in this newsletter). I would wager that most of those products didn’t start with a focus group and a risk analysis. More than likely, it started with someone saying, “Well, let’s see if this works.”

Don’t be afraid to try something new. Study up on foodservice trends and see what’s gaining in popularity, and think about how you can capitalize on it. Visit farmers in the area and see how you can work together. Talk with your ingredient suppliers and see what’s new. Check out what foods are trending on social media. Maybe your mango habanero bratwurst will be a smash hit. Maybe it won’t sell. You won’t know until you start experimenting.

Babe Ruth, along with his 714 career home runs, struck out 1,330 times. Do you think he worried about the K’s? No, he just said, “"Every strike brings me closer to the next home run."