Ultimate comfort food

by Lawrence Aylward
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Big Fork Bacon Sausage, offered in fresh and smoked varieties, is in 10 states, including all Whole Foods outlets in Illinois.
Lance Avery, formerly a corporate chef for Sara Lee, got the idea for bacon sausage after attending the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival in Des Moines.

Lance Avery has touched on two of America’s great comfort foods – bacon and sausage – to create one great comfort food: bacon sausage.

Avery, a Chicago-based chef, developed the bacon sausage, branded as Big Fork Bacon Sausage, in 2011. This year, Avery hopes to double or even triple sales of his start-up, self-funded company.

Avery, formerly a corporate chef for Sara Lee, got the idea for bacon sausage after attending the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival in Des Moines, Iowa. Avery watched the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival grow in attendance from about 200 people in its first year in 2008 to about 3,000 people in its third year in 2010. While attending the shows, Avery was astonished at the number of innovative bacon products, not to mention attendees’ fervor for bacon in general.

“I realized the event had blown up and the bacon trend was crazy,” he says.

Avery realized he also needed to use his own expertise in product development, not to mention his passion for bacon, to get in on the action.

“I asked myself, ‘How come nobody has ever created a bacon sausage?’” he says.

Avery did some research and discovered that nobody had developed such a product. Then he headed to his kitchen and went to work. After about six months and tinkering with about 100 variations, Avery hit on a formulation which is basically the one he is selling today at foodservice and retail.

Avery crams as much bacon into a natural hog casing as possible.

“If I added anymore, it would be illegal,” the 41-year-old jokes.

Avery unveiled his naturally cured bacon sausage at the 2011 Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival, where he says about 300 people, upon uttering “wow!” after tasting it, asked Avery where they could purchase his bacon sausage.

“That confirmed my assumption that it was a viable product,” he says.

A few months later, Avery quit his corporate job to devote his attention to Big Fork Bacon Sausage. He worked as a consultant to fund himself to make and market the product.

“I felt like I needed to do it. It was my destiny,” he says.

Big Fork bacon sausage
Big Fork Bacon Sausage is available in 10 states, including all Whole Foods outlets in Illinois.

Big Fork Bacon Sausage is now available in seven varieties: aged cheddar, hickory and applewood, maple and brown sugar, cracked black pepper, spicy three-pepper, portabella, and chicken and bacon.
In his 15-year career in product development, Avery says he has given away several ideas for food products to the companies he was working for. But he kept the idea for bacon sausage for himself and ran with it.

“I felt very confident when I came up with the concept and saw the response that I had something,” he says.

Avery says he can’t talk much about the formulation and exactly how much bacon it contains.

“I tell people, ‘If I tell you the formulation, then I’m going to have to kill you,’” he says with a laugh. “I’ll be taking that to the grave or selling it to the highest bidder, whatever happens first.

But Avery will reveal what bacon he uses. He struck a deal with Des Moines, Iowa-based Berkwood Farms and uses the company’s hardwood-smoked bacon and pork in the formulation.

“I’ve tasted hundreds of different bacons, but I feel like I’ve found the best one out there,” Avery says of Berkwood Farms, which processes its bacon and pork products using Berkshire hogs raised free of antibiotics.

Big Fork co-packs with a company near Chicago to produce the bacon sausage. Big Fork’s business is about 70 percent retail and 30 percent foodservice.

Big Fork Bacon Sausage, offered in fresh and smoked varieties, is in 10 states, including all Whole Foods outlets in Illinois. By the end of next spring, Avery expects the product to be in Whole Foods stores throughout the Midwest.

A pack of bacon sausage retails between $6.99 and $7.99. If Big Fork grows and volumes increase, the price could decline, Avery notes.

This year, now that the Big Fork business is sustaining itself, Avery plans to spend less time consulting and more time pushing bacon sausage. With sales of about $500,000 in 2015, Avery’s goal is for $1 million to $2 million in sales in 2016. He’s taking the bacon sausage to the National Restaurant Association’s annual trade show in May at Chicago’s McCormick Place, the first time he will exhibit the product on such a large scale.

In 2014, Esquire magazine hailed Big Fork’s Aged Cheddar Bacon Sausage as one of the best new foods in America.

“That helped establish our business as a reputable brand,” Avery says.

Of course, two of America’s favorite comfort foods had something to do with that.

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