Quarantines and social distancing didn’t dampen Howard Bender’s optimism for the future of his Schmacon Beef Bacon creation. Bender is prepared to shelter in place and focus on further growing the brand across North America with ambitions of replicating, and surpassing, the success of Schmacon in foodservice markets in the Middle East.
Helping him with this mission is Carol Stream, Ill.-based Devanco Foods, which acquired exclusive rights to all patents and intellectual property for Schmacon Beef Bacon. In a separate agreement, Bender, founder and inventor of Schmacon, joined Devanco as director of Beef Bacon products. Terms of the agreements were not disclosed, but Bender clearly is pleased with his new role.
“I love my day job,” Bender said. “I’m having a great time.”
All about relationships
Bender attributed the success of Schmacon to the relationships he formed with leading industry stakeholders while refining the beef bacon production process and building the Schmacon Products brand. He credited the success of Schmacon thus far to collaborations with Certified Angus Beef LLC (CAB), the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the US Meat Export Federation and BRANDformula, a brand identity consulting agency. It was through these relationships, Bender said, that Schmacon Brands and Devanco Foods connected. And the timing was fortuitous.
“We were really focused on the low-hanging fruit, which for us was the Middle East,” Bender said. “Right as we were ramping up a couple of years ago, we hit this huge roadblock. There were only a couple of halal certifications in the US that were accepted in the Middle East. One of them was ISWA and the other is HTO. The ISWA had a conflict with the United Arab Emirates, and that conflict caused them to lose that acceptance in one of the largest markets in the Middle East.
“All of a sudden, we have full container-loads of products in our hands that we had to turn back to our customer and say, ‘we can’t fulfill this because we can’t get it into your country right now.’ So, our company was almost shut down because our strategy wasn’t based on retail or foodservice in the US – yet.”
Another roadblock was plant capacity. Schmacon quickly was outgrowing its first facility which also engaged in pork processing. Schmacon products were segregated and DNA tested to ensure quality, but Bender decided against trying to retrofit that plant to meet HTO standards.
“Instead of pushing and pushing this manufacturing plant that we were in to try and get the certification from the other certifying body, we started searching for a new plant,” Bender said. “It’s all relationships in this business.”
So, he reached out to a friend, who spoke with another friend and this chain of friends led to Bender meeting with the owners of Devanco Foods. Meanwhile, Schmacon had been idle for 10 months while trying to sort out the processing and certification issues.
Devanco operates a 30,000-square-foot plant in Elk Grove Village, Ill., near O’Hare International Airport. While the company manufactures gyros, fully cooked whole muscle beef products, beef and poultry patties and Mediterranean products for foodservice and retail, it could offer only slicing capability, not processing.
However, Devanco was building a new 110,000-square-foot facility in Carol Stream, and would have enough capacity to accommodate processing Schmacon. Production currently is at 5% of capacity, which gives Schmacon and other beef bacon products plenty of room to grow.
Team turning point
As Devanco invested in more equipment to produce beef bacon, the relationship between the two companies came to a crossroads.
“Their concern was, as we were growing, it was a co-packer relationship still,” Bender said.
They were concerned that if Schmacon was acquired by another company, Devanco would be holding onto equipment the company couldn’t use. That’s when Bender offered Devanco an equity position in the company. Devanco then became comfortable acquiring the company, and the transaction was completed at the end of 2019.
A new home to make Schmacon, and the resources behind Devanco Foods, has allowed Bender to focus on development and sales of value-added products, including a bacon beef stick, burgers and Schmacon beef bacon bits.
The beef stick is called the Chef’s Bigg Stick, which was inspired by Tony Biggs, chef for CAB. Bender said he hopes to prepare for distribution in the fall. The beef sticks will come in three flavors and will be marketed at the counters of licensed CAB retailers.
The beef burger also will bear the Certified Angus Beef designation on its label. Schmacon beef bacon is chopped into bits and blended with a Certified Angus Beef grind.
“This will be a CAB brand all-beef bacon burger that is halal,” Bender said. “It will be in the frozen case and likely some of their licensed grocers are going to have it in their refrigerated cases as well. It will be a protein-in-protein type of product, and it’s awesome. You get that smoky flavor from the bacon without having to add any artificial ingredients to the product.”
And Schmacon, the product that started this beef bacon bonanza, remains in demand and has benefits as a Certified Angus Beef-branded product. Bender said Giant Eagle, one of the larger CAB certified grocers in the United States, plans to launch beef bacon in a 10-inch retail pack in June or July this year.
Schmacon is available via a half-dozen broadline distributors across the United States, Bender said.
“We now have some regional burger chains and a pizza chain that are now using the product in the US and Canada,” he said.
Ultimately, he wants to attract a larger foodservice chain that will pick up Schmacon and normalize the product in the United States. But Bender has no intention of Schmacon displacing pork bacon on foodservice menus.
“Schmacon and its products were never designed and built to replace pork bacon,” Bender said. “We were inspired by it.”