KANSAS CITY, Mo. – When taking into account all of the retail and foodservice venues in the United States that sell and serve meat and poultry products, hundreds of new products and line extensions are likely launch into these marketplaces each year. However, over the years there have been very few that I have sampled that have ever raised my eyebrows because they are extraordinary. Most new products I’ve tried are good, but many are simply “me, too” offerings or product line extensions.

But every once in a while, I’ll try something that’s truly unique and great-tasting to me. For example, I am a big fan of Cher-Make Pepper Jack Bratwurst, Jack Link’s Peppered Beef Jerky and Oscar Mayer Jalapeño Bologna, just to mention a few. And then in mid-September, Leesburg, Ind.-based Maple Leaf Farms, a leading duck producer in the US, announced it had added duck bacon to its foodservice product portfolio.

After reading about this new product launch, I was really psyched-up to try their duck bacon. Maple Leaf Farms cured and naturally Applewood smoked Duck Bacon cooks in minutes in either a skillet or convection oven. This product is made exclusively with boneless breast meat and the duck bacon also features 57 percent less fat than traditional pork bacon. Their duck bacon is packaged in 1 lb. vacuum packages, five packages per case.

“Unlike some other poultry bacons, our duck bacon doesn’t compromise on taste or texture,” boasted Cindy Turk, marketing duck director at the time of the launch. “It’s packed with flavor and has a great bite that’s perfect for Benedicts, burgers, BLT’s and even brittle.”

Primarily as a result of this new product launch, I visited Maple Leaf Farms in November for the second time in 10 years in preparation for featuring this company in the December issue of Meat&Poultry. This unique processor is a vertically-integrated, global duck-breeding and duck-meat products powerhouse. It is a leading North American processor of quality fresh and value-added Pekin duck-meat products, plus it processes chicken products, for domestic and global markets. It is also the leading global breeder of Pekin duck.

As far as upscale bacon goes, this specialized processor’s duck bacon is hard to beat in the flavor department. Credit for its development goes to Kent Thrasher, MLF’s director of R&D — who once worked for Oscar Mayer’s bacon division. And from what was said at corporate headquarters, this product is selling well. Thrasher and his talented staff also developed the company’s new, successful ground-duck meat and pulled-duck meat offerings.

MLF’s duck bacon is absolutely the best-tasting bacon made from any protein I have ever tasted. It is tasty, lean and thick….and its flavor is truly satisfying and unique. My daughter, as well as her four-year old daughter, tried it last weekend at our house while the family was decorating the Christmas tree — and they couldn’t get enough of it!
As if their tasty duck-meat products aren’t enough to fuel success, MLF also markets innovative, natural, animal-health products and services through its Biotech division and the company’s integrated duck-production system, INDUX. INDUX offers nutrition, diagnostics, research, management and other services to international duck breeding stock customers. Meanwhile, MLF’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Eurasia Feather Co., Grand Rapids, Mich., markets upscale down and feather products to manufacturers, interior designers and institutions globally.

While driving to Leesburg to conduct the interviews and plant tours, it occurred to me that if you mention the word “duck” at any industry gathering these days the chances are someone will bring up “Duck Dynasty”. This popular A&E reality television program chronicles the lives and business of the colorful Robertson family of West Monroe, La., who became wealthy making products for duck hunters. But when it comes to North American duck-meat products, Maple Leaf Farms is far more appropriate to hold this distinctive title.

“We’re the first Duck Dynasty! We have been in business a lot longer than they have,” joked John Tucker, one of the company’s co-presidents, during our interview.

For more information on Maple Leaf Farms’ processing plants, new corporate headquarters building and its business, in general, read “The real Duck Dynasty” exclusively in the December issue of Meat&Poultry magazine.