New product
In addition to the Nature's Rancher Snack Bacon, Pederson's has added a line of pressed-and-formed bacon snack products under its own banner.

Equipment matters

Instead, the successful development of the snack bacon was directly linked to the investment in a spiral oven and chiller, manufactured by Unitherm, based in Bristow, Oklahoma. At that time, “we didn’t believe the fully cooked bacon on the market tasted like bacon out of the oven or any variety of bacon you would cook from raw at home,” Dudley says. “We wanted to develop something that could be considered the same quality as raw, with the convenience of precooked. There wasn’t a lot of R&D into the product, there was more R&D in figuring out how to run the equipment,” including incorporating a new Repak vacuum packaging machine into the process. Perfecting the process required about six months, he says.

To create the new product, the company was willing to take measured risks. 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.”

When it comes to new product innovation, Pederson’s is willing to gamble to a point. Lane, Dudley and their team have learned that making mistakes is part of the process and not every rollout is going to be a home run. “If everything we try, succeeds, I don’t think we’re trying nearly hard enough,” Dudley says.

But developing a product for traditional consumers of bacon, who just want a quick and convenient solution as part of their meals was a logical next step for the bacon processing operation. “It’s kind of a no brainer because everybody loves bacon.”

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.

A similar shelf-stable, snack bacon product is also being made at the Hamilton plant under the Pederson’s brand. Besides the pork belly-derived precooked slices, Pederson’s also is offering three new pressed-and-formed flavor profiles: Buckin’ Bacon, Canuckin’ Bacon and Turkey Bacon, in 0.8-oz. packages with two slices per package. These products are initially being sold at a handful of retail chains, including Lowe’s. Harris Teeter and online retailers Barefoot Provisions and The Simple Grocer.

Samples of the three new products were being distributed to current and potential customers in September and orders are expected to begin piling up by early fall.

Standing out in a crowd

While some of the mainstream, household jerky brands have rolled out bacon-flavored varieties, Pederson’s doesn’t consider bacon-jerky products or anything else on the market as a direct competitor. “To my knowledge, we’re the only company with a bacon snack solution that fits this niche,” Dudley says.

With the company experiencing a significant growth spurt as of late, Pederson’s is bursting at the seams and plans are being made to build a distribution center in the near future followed by an additional production facility, as blueprints have been drawn up and construction sites are being considered.

The company’s current production includes sausages, hot dogs, hams and meat bars, but easily the biggest part of its business is dedicated to bacon processing. Pederson’s is also working with co-packing partners to ensure continued supply of the Nature’s Rancher line of proteins to Whole Foods.

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.