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. This past August, the company announced its acquisition of the Nature’s Rancher line of multi-species, natural meats sold exclusively at Whole Foods Market stores throughout the US. Part of integrating the Nature’s Rancher line into Pederson’s portfolio included new branding for the acquired company, which was rolled out this past month, as well as the launch of its Fully Cooked Snack Bacon at all 400-plus Whole Foods locations throughout the country.
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.
The shelf-stable, fully cooked bacon snack was formulated for and is available exclusively under the Nature’s Rancher brand at 400-plus Whole Foods Market stores nationwide. Development of the product was not an overnight endeavor and it was a new offering that made logistical sense for Pederson’s because it utilizes the same pork bellies and processes used for its raw bacon product line.
“It’s been in the works ever since we’ve been working with Whole Foods. Whole Foods is the driver of this because they are our biggest customer and they are interested in a private brand,” Dudley says. “This gives us the opportunity to offer that; something we could offer them exclusively.”
Like the company’s raw bacon line, 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.
Unlike the raw product, the snack bacon has a shelf life of 180 days. During the development phase, shelf stability wasn’t as much a priority as creating an item that could go into the microwave for a few seconds and have the taste of a bacon strip that had just come out of the frying pan or oven. “And then one day somebody said, ‘we ought to just make this a snack,’” Dudley recalls, “and at that point it had to be shelf stable and have a shelf life of at least four months.”
Once the Pederson’s team reimagined the product as a snack item, the target consumer evolved to include on-the-go, physically active protein seekers. Fans of beef jerky or meat bars would ideally be lured to Pederson’s new product, including thrill seekers like mountain climbers, distance runners, hikers or even horseback-riding cowboys like Dudley. “It’s something you can put in a backpack or in your back pocket and take it with you knowing you’ll have a quality protein and a quality fat energy source at your fingertips.”
While tire-kicking processing equipment, needed to deliver the quality and convenience-based product, Dudley points out there was not, in fact, a team of product formulation specialists developing what would become a shelf-stable, snack bacon. He says the company’s raw bacon is the same formulation and exact same product used for the snack bacon strips.