Laying it on thick
Far from being just a breakfast meat and a sandwich topper, bacon has become a cultural icon in recent years. Bacon soda, bacon lip balm, bacon soap—it’s all out there in the marketplace, along with recipes on how to improve practically any entrée by adding a layer of bacon to it.
Grocery store meat cases are lines with many varieties of bacon. So many, in fact, that it’s often hard for a company to stand out from the pack. However, Burgers’ Smokehouse is managing to do just that. The California, Mo., processor made a push two years ago to expend beyond its regional distribution.
“The Burger name is very well known in Missouri and some of the states that touch us,” says Philip Burger, vice president of the company. “On the national level, of course, the mail-order [business] has been around for many years.”
Given the popularity of the company’s bacon products, Burgers’ decided to break out of its regional presence. Since the company started making its push to expand distribution in 2008, it has placed its products in approximately 2,000 stores nationwide, including Publix, Harris Teeter, Kroger, Ingles and BILO stores.
Burger notes the difficulties of bringing a new bacon product to retail, as most stores will just assume it’s a “me-too” product. Burgers’ bacon, though, stands out.
“We have always offered a unique product,” Burger says, “a dry-cured bacon, an artisan type of product. Most [stores] don’t realize that we have probably the only dry-cured bacon available.”
Burgers’ favorites are its Original Country Bacon and its Pepper Coated Country Bacon. Along with being dry-cured, the company’s bacon is also sliced thicker than its competition’s products.
“Our peppered bacon and the original bacon is available in our normal slice, which is by grocery standards what most people would call thick-sliced,” Burger says, adding that the company’s “normal” slice count is six to eight slices per inch.
One of Burgers’ newest products to reach nationwide distribution is its 1/4-inch thick Steak Cuts, available in original and peppered bacon. The company says that the Steak Cuts are the only nationally marketed grilling bacon in a retail package in the country.
Burger notes that with its high-end bacon, there is a higher-end price tag, but the push for increased distribution has still been successful.
“What we’ve found is that customers are willing to pay a little bit extra, knowing that they are getting a real artisan product and not just another ‘me-too’ bacon off the shelf,” he says.
The price jolt that sent bacon prices soaring this summer didn’t hurt Burgers’ product popularity either, though Burger acknowledges that it hurt the profitability of all bacon processors.
“The price just went up too quick, too high, and you just can’t always pass those prices along,” he says. “Demand, though, didn’t go down.”