"There are different ways to add value to bacon, and the most important part is raw product," says Mike Satzow.
The key to high quality bacon is starting with high quality fresh bellies. “There are different ways to add value to bacon, and the most important part is raw product,” Satzow elaborates.
In the early- to mid-90s, he found a supplier that consistently fit his high expectations – a mid-sized packer in Quebec named duBreton. “They have been supplying us with an exceptional belly for many years – a thicker, leaner belly that has excellent conformation, a belly that is trimmed properly. They have the same commitment to quality that I have.”
Forged through a mutual quest for quality in the 1990s, that relationship has provided the organizational fuel for North Country Smokehouse’s growth today.
It was applewood smoked bacon that set North Country apart from every other bacon producer in the 1980s, and remains the company’s iconic brand.
“We made corncob bacon first, which is indigenous to northern New England. But people didn’t understand what cob smoking was in other parts of the country. Everyone was doing hickory smoked. We were surrounded by apple orchards, so this seemed like the natural progression. We were one of the first to smoke with applewood,” he explains. Today, applewood smoked bacon is the hallmark of high quality bacon, and North Country was there at the start.
North Country Smokehouse's famous bacon has been served to dignitaries and celebrites ranging from Martha Stewart to the Pope.
Creating the Future
The sale to duBreton included a commitment to continue the family tradition in Claremont by building a new facility there. In a historic location three miles away from the existing plant, construction is under way on a technology-rich 66,000-sq.-ft. facility, four times larger than the existing plant. The plant is projected to be operational by the summer of 2017.
Satzow is already anticipating the benefits the new facility will offer. “One of the major bacons that we haven’t taken full advantage of is our all-natural, Antibiotic Free (ABF) Certified Humane Bacon. A number of national retailers are coming to us requesting the all-natural ABF product. We were one of the first in the market with a Certified Humane bacon,” Satzow says.
Another niche product undergoing great growth is cottage bacon, which NCS has been making for several years. Cottage bacon is a circular bacon growing in popularity with upscale hamburger chains. Rather than strips coming from the slab-shaped pork belly, it comes from the rounder pork shoulder. Satzow explains why it’s the perfect bacon for burgers.
“When you cut cottage bacon, it’s got great coverage for the top of the patty,” Satzow explains. “So instead of putting two strips of bacon on the hamburger, and having pieces fall off, the cottage bacon covers the whole patty, so you get the bacon flavor in every bite.”
Soon the accolades started rolling in. Last year, Men’s Health magazine called North Country’s Cottage Bacon “One of the Best Bacons in the World.”
“When that happened, we had a tremendous increase in interest,” Satzow relates. “Just this year, we won an award for the ‘Best New Meat Product’ for the North Atlantic Division of Whole Foods. They took our cottage bacon and experienced significant success with it.
“That’s an excellent example of how we try to approach things. Coming out with a unique, high quality product, we try to find a little niche for them that other people aren’t doing,” he says. “Cottage bacon was very popular in the 20s and 30s, then it fell out of favor and people forgot about it.”
Well, most people forgot about it. And that’s something that separates North Country Smokehouse from the rest of the field. “We’re very strong in niche marketing,” Satzow explains. “We realize that when we enter a niche, we might be one of the few in it. Then our success will attract other people, and it will no longer be a niche.”
When the Pope eats your bacon on his American visit, when your products are served at the US Open Golf Championship, and when Martha Stewart attends your company’s 100-year anniversary celebration hosted by the James Beard Foundation, something good is happening. Poised for the future, North Country Smokehouse is definitely striking a chord with bacon lovers everywhere.