“Not to say we’re the sole reason behind that, but we’ve had something to do with that,” said Michael Oraschewsky, founder and “executive boar” of The Bacon Jams, LLC Launched in 2013, the West Chester, Pennsylvania-based company manufactures three varieties of gourmet bacon spreads: original, red chili and garlic, and black pepper. Oraschewsky featured the offerings at the Summer Fancy Food Show, held June 26-28 in New York.
Oraschewsky runs a restaurant, Conshohocken Cafe, located in a Philadelphia suburb with a menu of eclectic American fare. Just over three years ago, his business partner, Bruce Kramer, wowed his friends with a homemade bacon jam and goat cheese stuffed jalapeño popper at a party.
“People started saying, ‘Hey, you should make this,’ and Bruce was just in IT, so he didn’t know how to make food at a scale, so he brought it to my restaurant one day,” Oraschewsky told Food Business News, a sister publication to Bacon Business. “I loved it and started making it at the restaurant, and my customers loved it.”
The two launched a campaign on Kickstarter, the crowdfunding web site, and raised $12,000 to build the business. Today, the brand’s products are sold in more than 1,200 stores and restaurants throughout the United States, Canada and the Caribbean.
“The first year, which was only a partial year, about three months, we did $100,000 in sales,” Oraschewsky said. “The second year, we did about $450,000. And then we grew to about $550,000 in our third year, and this year hopefully we will close out around $800,000. We’ve had significant growth, and the small growth between the first full year and the second full year was because we moved distribution from (direct to consumer), So we actually doubled the amount of bacon jam our consumers bought in that year, while our revenue only increased slightly.”
During an interview at Summer Fancy Food, Oraschewsky discussed the trend, the challenges and the business of making bacon jam.
Why do you suppose bacon jam has become a trending term on Google?
Oraschewsky: Bacon is the top food Americans love; it’s the meat most likely to convert a vegetarian back to a carnivore lifestyle. Bacon has its own allure, and then the foodie culture persists and grows. A lot of people want to see unique gourmet things that are out there on the front lines of culinary arts, and bacon jams is one of those things that people see in some high-end gastropubs and restaurants and see people making it on-line and have tried to make it at home themselves.
How does one go about making bacon jam at home?
Oraschewsky: It’s not difficult, but it’s time consuming. You’re going to take bacon, put it in a pan or pot and crisp it up. You’re going to want to have it chopped. You take some of the fat out, and then add in whatever spices you want. We do onions, garlic, and then you add a sugar. We use brown sugar and all-natural cane sugar. The brown sugar gives it a nice molasses-like dark robustness. And that’s basically it.
You keep cooking it and stirring it and jam it into a jar. A home chef would take it from the pan and put it on an awesome sandwich or charcuterie plate when you have guests over. One of the first uses I did at home was on baked brie, but at the restaurant it’s an easy play on burgers and breakfast sandwiches.
You currently have three flavor varieties. Are you planning to expand?
Oraschewsky: We have a few different avenues we’re growing into. We’ll have some more bacon-related products as well as some new varieties of bacon spread. We’ll also have some non-bacon items. Some sauces and spreads.
What we’re looking to do is continue to create trending foods that we know will have staying power, that can become staples. So, not just novelty items but maybe something a larger manufacturer isn’t going to be able to pivot to so quickly. We imagine we’ll be copied off of. Trader Joe’s launched a bacon spread.
We’ve sampled this product to over 5 million people in three years at different trade shows and demos, beer festivals. We’ve sold hundreds of thousands of jars in that time frame, so we’ve definitely got the word out, and now the Trader Joe’s product drives its legitimacy. Because if they’re doing it, my belief is large retailers that are here at the Fancy Food Show will say, “Well, if Trader Joe’s has it, we’ve got to have it.”
What was the biggest challenge of scaling up your manufacturing?
Oraschewsky: When scaling, there’s a whole bunch of unknown items, right? Even down to what’s going to happen to 6,000 lbs. of bacon at 150 degrees or higher versus 25 lbs. of bacon. What does that look like, when you have a molten, boiling vat of bacon?
A big challenge was the USDA process, just because we were novices when we went through it, so there was some trial and error. Putting it into a jar, we’re basically using the same techniques that people have been using for hundreds of years with canning and jarring, but because it’s a meat product, we have to be way more careful about how we do it, and we have since the beginning. Coming from a restaurant background, I have had food safety training for 10 years, and as soon as we knew this would be a real business, I went to Penn State and took classes in HACCP and really learned how to do this safely.
What’s next for The Bacon Jams?
Oraschewsky: The Bacon Jams will become TBJ Gourmet, and we’ll still be purveyors of fun fine foods, but this allows us to expand into non-bacon products and allows us to respect the tradition of specialty food stores. The intention (of our original branding) was to catch attention on Kickstarter and QVC, which we did, and now we’re going to grow up a little bit.
How do you identify the next big trends?
Oraschewsky: Honestly, at this point, because of the nature of this product and the fanaticism of it, combined with me being an entrepreneur most of my life and being in the food business, we have friends and family and now colleagues who are constantly like, “I heard about a guy at a restaurant who did this. You should go to that restaurant and see what it is.”
And we have other start-up companies that say, “Can you help?” so we are bringing some other products into our distribution as well that we don’t necessarily manufacture. But they’ll have to fall into the line of fun, fine foods.