Behind bacon to go

by Joel Crews
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Pederson's fully cooked snack bacon
Nature’s Rancher snacks are individually wrapped slices of bacon that are making their way into the growing meat snack category.
 
While the horseback-riding image of Cody Lane, president, and Neil Dudley, vice president of operations, is hardly a façade, the real-life cowboys and lifelong friends are driving Pederson’s Natural Farms success in the bacon segment well beyond what many thought was a finite horizon for the iconic meat.

After the company announced its acquisition of the Nature’s Rancher line of multi-species, natural meats sold exclusively at Whole Foods Market stores, part of integrating the Nature’s Rancher line into Pederson’s portfolio included new branding for the acquired company. The brand refresh rolled in September, along with Pederson’s Fully Cooked Snack Bacon at all 400-plus Whole Foods locations throughout the country.

“It’s been in the works ever since we’ve been working with Whole Foods,” Dudley said. “Whole Foods is the driver of this because they are our biggest customer and they are interested in a private brand.

“This gives us the opportunity to offer that; something we could offer them exclusively,” Dudley added.

Nature’s Rancher fully cooked bacon snack packs
The pork used is humanely raised on a vegetarian diet without antibiotics, and each pack contains two slices.
 

Natural addition

The new Nature’s Rancher fully cooked snack product is made from pork bellies produced from humanely raised, vegetarian-fed, antibiotic-free pigs and is hickory-smoked, uncured and has no sugar added. Each 0.6-oz. package of the belly-based snack product contains two strips of bacon and is priced at about $2 per package.

The new product is a natural outgrowth of Hamilton, Texas-based Pederson’s value-added meats business, which includes production of sausage, hot dogs and hams, but mostly bacon. In fact, about 80 percent of the company’s sales are bacon based. With sales of more than $30 million in 2015, weekly bacon production is up to 110,000 lbs. and the addition of Nature’s Rancher and the new bacon snack ensures growth across the company’s portfolio.

Pederson’s was willing to take measured risks to create the new product. Finding the best quality spiral oven that could produce the quality needed without a huge investment in a large machine was somewhat challenging. Unitherm offered a smaller machine that could deliver the volume Pederson’s needed without breaking the bank. Other options, Dudley says, required more money up front and “a bigger gamble.”

The new snack bacon line requires about eight people to operate and currently that operation is achieved by shuffling workers from other parts of the processing plant to focus part of their time on it.
“The Nature’s Rancher nationwide rollout put that machine to work every day of the week,” Dudley says.

Next on the drawing board for Pederson’s is what officials are calling a “steakhouse” bacon, which will be a retail offering featuring a meaty, thick slice of bacon that could be a center of the plate item or an appetizer, Dudley says.

“It seems like everything we do that is really successful has to do with bacon, so I just stay with it,” he says.

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