Finding the Bacon
There are all kinds of bacon out there, most of it cheap and fatty and from who knows what kind of pigs. We wanted to sell only the best bacon, so we went on a search to find the best-of-the-best bacon out there. This meant lots of Internet searches and trying to find information about farms that sold great bacon but had little Internet presence.
Kinds of Bacon
In addition to the varied brands and qualities of bacon, there are many variations within bacon itself. You’ve got thick, thin, slab, jowl, back bacon, smoked, cured, nitrate-free, flavored, etc. You name it, there is a variation in size, cut, and flavoring that calls out to just about any palette out there.
As we mentioned earlier, we were going to be carrying close to 600 pounds of bacon at a time, which meant we had to be really picky about which bacon and variations that would include. Because of our inventory limitations, and the fact that bacon inventory is actually pretty expensive, we knew we weren’t going to be a clearinghouse for bacon. We had to find bacon that was exotic enough that people couldn’t get it in their local grocery stores, but not so exotic it would scare people off. None of us have actually tried jowl bacon, but honestly, it doesn’t sound as appealing as thick-cut peppered bacon. We tried to imagine what would sell the best, while still being interesting.
When it came to sourcing the bacon, we found lots of small farms that cure and sell their own bacon. And the conversations with the farm owners were almost always the same. We’d find their website or hear about their bacon on some random website and then track them down. We’d call them directly, and the people who owned the farm would answer the phone. A 20-minute to two-hour conversation would ensue, covering any range of topics from the weather to politics to favorite ways to cook bacon, and then a deal would be struck. Much like the T-shirts, we worked out deals for wholesale pricing on much of our meat. It was actually pretty simple.
One of the most fun encounters was with Beeler’s, a farm in Iowa. Beeler’s makes a line of uncured, nitrate-free bacon in a variety of amazing flavors. Garlic Pepper and Apple Cinnamon topped the list for us, but it was matriarch Julie Beeler who took the cake. Scott had filled out a web form on their website and within five minutes got a call from Julie Beeler herself. She’s a charming and funny woman who knows the bacon business inside and out. She loved what we were doing and we actually got to know her and her daughter fairly well as we discussed our plans, talked bacon, and even offered them some help with their own website. It was one of the strongest relationships we formed during our time with Bac’n.
Our other suppliers came from a variety of different places: Kentucky, upstate New York, Wisconsin, Arkansas, and right here in Oregon. The trickiest part was getting the bacon to us and then on to the customer. Some farms had a great product, but just couldn’t ship it to us cost-effectively, and so, even though we wanted to carry their bacon and knew it would sell, we had to pass on carrying that product. Sometimes you have to turn down sales because the margins are so small, you’re not even paying yourself for your time.
Other sources of bacon came through local meat distributors, the kind that also provide grocery stores with their inventory. We got our Beeler’s bacon from Western Boxed Meat. However, after about ten months of working with them, we just weren’t ordering enough volume to maintain a relationship with their sales rep, and we lost our supplier of Beeler’s right before the holiday. This was definitely a bummer, and it was the only way we could get that bacon cost-effectively, so when that avenue dried up, so did our supply of Beeler’s.
Fletcher’s bacon is very popular in the Northwest, and is available at pretty much any decent grocery store here. It’s not from the same small farms as much of our other bacon, but for a mass-produced bacon, it really is exceptional.
During our conversations with the folks at Fletcher’s, we realized they didn’t have national distribution or online ordering capabilities. But they regularly got requests from people familiar with their product and were now living outside of their distribution area, so Fletcher’s quickly became very excited about the idea of us selling their products on our site, and thus to their out-of-market customers.
The same local meat distributor we were getting our Beeler’s from also carried Fletcher’s, and for a while, we were getting both brands from the same place. We had a few sampler packs of their different styles and flavors, and we moved quite a bit of their product. It was affordable, tasty, and a great complement to some of the other more exotic bacons we carried. It’s always good to have a variety, especially when people were regularly asking for a recommendation on what to buy.
We probably shouldn’t share this next piece of information, but after about two months of getting our Fletcher’s from Western Boxed Meat, we realized that we could get the same bacon at our neighborhood Costco, and amazingly, Costco charged $3.50 less per pack. So we did what any savvy businessfolks would do; we bought our inventory wherever we could get it cheapest, which in this case was Costco.
A company out of Kentucky called Broadbent Hams sold awesome, unique bacon. They had a variety of different flavors and form factors, and one of our favorites was their slab bacon. Imagine a one- or five-pound slab of bacon. In the end, it’s just unsliced bacon, but when you look at a huge five-pound chunk of pork, it’s so visually arresting that we never saw anyone not physically or verbally respond to it. Usually with some variation on “Oh. My. God. That’s awesome.”
It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure for bacon. You get to slice it to your desired thickness. And besides that, it’s very uncommon in pretty much any grocery store, so it was novel while not being a gimmick.
We took advantage of the unique form factor of this slab bacon and wrote several blog posts about it. We also showcased some fun meals you could make with it, such as Michael’s famous Bacon Tube. The slab bacon was such an entertainer, we got several requests from people making sure their slab would be there by the weekend, usually because they were getting it special for a big BBQ they were having, and wanted to show it off to their guests. We even had some people beg us to overnight it when they realized our typical shipping wouldn’t get it there in time. This proved the value of carrying unique inventory.