While SugarCreek Brandworthy Food Solutions operations have expanded beyond bacon to other proteins, its legacy business – bacon – remains a core part of the company. The bacon business continues to grow, and SugarCreek continues to grow with it.
SugarCreek, based in Cincinnati, began in 1966, as a raw pork bacon producer, and a sizable part of the company’s business remains as a very large independent bacon producer, said Jennifer Richardson Hutcheson, chief relationship officer for the company and daughter of the company’s chairman and chief executive officer, John Richardson. SugarCreek is a co-packer that makes products each day, including tons of bacon, for many of the nation’s top brands, retailers and foodservice chains. It has been diversifying its product mix, growing capabilities and capacity in bacon and in other meat products.
The company has six facilities, four of them in Ohio – in Washington Courthouse, which was SugarCreek’s first plant; two in Cincinnati; one in Dayton – and also one in Frontenac, Kan., and another in Cambridge City, Ind. More than 2,600 people are employed at these six processing facilities and the company’s annual revenue is over $750 million.
SugarCreek has recently invested in additional processing space to diversify the company’s portfolio. Those include the Cambridge City facility in Indiana, with 418,000 square feet of space and the Brandworthy facility in Cincinnati.
“The recent investment of over $35 million at our Brandworthy facility in Cincinnati greatly increases our ready-to-eat capabilities. Improvements include over 150,000 square feet with six halls with up to 10 cooking lines,” the company said.
The investments in non-bacon processing have given the company the opportunity to expand the breadth of its products, which now include precooked sausage, burgers, wings, crumbles and sous vide technology.
“Bacon will always be a core business for us,” Hutcheson said. “But in the last five years, we invested in two new state-of-the-art facilities that are non-bacon. These investments continue to diversify our portfolio. We are strong believers that consumer demand for high quality, fully cooked proteins will continue to grow.”
SugarCreek operates three bacon facilities. The one in Washington Court House, Ohio, spans 122,000 square feet and produces raw and fully cooked turkey bacon, bacon bits and is equipped with high-volume smokehouses. Another bacon plant in Dayton, Ohio, manufactures raw and fully cooked bacon, pizza toppings (bacon bits and pieces) and includes smokehouse capabilities in the 120,000-square-foot plant. The third facility is in Frontenac, Kan., with 122,000 square feet of space where it produces raw and fully cooked bacon, bacon bits, bacon jerky, pizza toppings and includes smokehouses to keep pace with the continued growing demand for all things bacon.
SugarCreek makes products for many of the nation’s top brands, retailers, and foodservice chains.
“We feel it is important to sell multiple channels,” Hutcheson said of the company’s strategy.
The co-packing business includes plenty of customers in the bacon segment.
“Bacon is an incredibly versatile product. It can stand alone, work as a topping or an ingredient. And the demand for bacon remains high in both retail and foodservice,” she said. “Bacon is integral to our business, but we are increasingly excited over our new products.”
Hutcheson described SugarCreek’s mission: “To offer a variety of well-made brand-worthy products to our customers through a diverse portfolio.”
She said the variety of bacon products the company makes is diverse to accommodate the many applications for it across channels and dayparts.
“We like to say, ‘If it’s bacon, we can make it.’ Our portfolio covers a wide range of bacon offerings, raw and cooked, double smoked, smoke drenched, various cures and uncured, tumbled, rubbed, bacon bits, crumbles, you name it. Not to mention chicken bacon, turkey bacon, beef bacon, and other innovations, such as sous vide pork belly. We make raw and fully cooked bacon for retail and foodservice,” she said.
As far as trends in bacon go, the product continues to be popular among retail and foodservice customers. Both raw and fully cooked bacon continue to increase in popularity, year after year, she said. Bacon seems to be everybody’s favorite protein, meat and comfort food.
“Based on the demand we see from our customers, people need bacon now more than ever,” Hutcheson said. “It is a versatile product for every meal, including breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
The COVID factor
And, like every food-business sector, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has taken a toll on SugarCreek as well.
“COVID-19 caused a ripple effect that few could have predicted,” Hutcheson said. “Our employee safety procedures were the first to be modified – symptom and travel questionnaires began in March with temperature checking beginning soon thereafter. We modified break rooms and gathering spaces to encourage 6-foot distancing. We took other necessary precautions to ensure a safe yet inviting workplace.”
As state shutdowns began and the foodservice business declined rapidly, SugarCreek needed to shift its operations to produce more retail products.
“We’ve been able to adjust as needed during this pandemic,” she said. “Thankfully, we are seeing the foodservice and retail stabilizing. The business isn’t the same as it was earlier this year, but then again no business is the same.”
Tools of the trade
The bacon business has also changed a great deal in recent years. “Yes, especially the technology to increase efficiency, quality and consistency – and to help drive innovation in the category,” Hutcheson pointed out. “We try to stay out in front of what our customers are looking for, because the consumer is constantly changing. So our goal is to offer products that the consumer wants to eat – high quality and excellent taste.”
She said manufacturing technology has also continued to advance.
“Utilizing new technology for our bacon operations has been a core competency of ours for many years now. Not only has the cook technology improved over the years, but bacon slicing has, as well,” she noted.
And like most of the meat and poultry processing industry, those advances include the use of automation.
“Yes, we have put a lot of automation in place in our 50-year history,” Hutcheson explained. “Whether that is high-speed slicers, automatic deposits, or other things, we are always looking for ways to automate and increase our throughput.
Hutcheson said SugarCreek has a unique approach to the bellies the company uses for manufacturing its bacon. The company makes use of a diversified supply chain domestically and also sources some imports, depending on finished product spec attributes.
She said the breeds of pig chosen to be used in making pork products are important and do make a difference in how the final product turns out.
Food safety also plays an important part in the production of bacon and other products at SugarCreek.
“Food safety can be an issue in any product if it isn’t handled properly,” Hutcheson said. “Bacon is a cured product which utilizes preservatives. While this can help from a food safety standpoint, there is still risk associated if not handled and stored properly.”