Meet The Sizzling Sensations Elevating Bacon to New Heights
When you meet Elisa Lewis and Camilo Velasquez and witness their culinary collaboration, you immediately feel the love they share for bacon. This dynamic duo is elevating this American classic to new heights through their award-winning specialty food company, The Baconer, which they founded on the belief that—while consumers passionately love bacon—the meat industry has failed to offer them anything new in decades. The couple saw an opportunity to sizzle in a market that was clearly hungry for innovative products that inspire and delight.
“We first learned to craft fine cured meats while running an underground supper club in Brooklyn. We would frequently gather, testing out our bacon cuts and flavors on neighborhood pals at our dinners” said Velasquez. “After moving our family to the San Francisco Bay Area where we grew up, we spent years curing and smoking bacon at home, and quickly discovered that while traditional bacon strips are delicious, bacon has the potential to be so much more.”
Once settled in Berkeley, they began perusing their local markets and grocery stores and found no other brands that offered anything like the thick-cut bacon steaks, smoked lardons and ground bacon they were making, or the rich complex flavor profiles they created by their custom blended cures. Enter their “lightbulb” moment and The Baconer was born.
“It’s no secret that bacon is one of America’s most beloved foods. However, while bacon is on the shelf in nearly every grocery store across the country, there is an overwhelming sense of sameness when shopping the bacon aisle. Shelf after shelf, package after package, they all look the same: bacon strips, bacon strips and more bacon strips. The bacon market was lacking a standout brand that delivers genuinely inspiring products and we’re filling a void with incredible options,” Lewis added.
There’s More to Bacon Than Bacon Strips
The Baconer got its start producing in a local commissary in Oakland, CA, in 2016. The couple quickly established a local following at farmers’ markets throughout the Bay Area using responsibly-raised pigs to make with their unique array of bacon products, ranging from XXL Bacon Steaks and Lardons to Ground Bacon and Slab, in addition to a line of thick-cut small batch Bacon Strips. Since the beginning, The Baconer has always been committed to working with producers raising heritage breed pigs with responsible farming practices, including no antibiotics or growth promotants, clean vegetarian feed and allowing animals to express their natural traits in a cage-free, low-stress environment. Fast forward to 2018, Lewis and Velasquez launched a wholesale business selling to restaurants and grocery stores, doubling the company’s annual sales.
Maybe the heavy lifting video here
In 2020, they added a third partner and bacon lover—Dana Young—to head up communications and strategic partnerships. It was at this same time they faced their first major hurdle: the pandemic—when COVID-19 brought the entire world to a halt. The partners found themselves managing challenges such as remote work, online schooling, and the loss of restaurants and hospitality providers, a major revenue stream that comprised a portion of The Baconer customers. Fortunately, the team had already built their e-commerce platform, so they made a quick pivot, and refocused their energies, marketing and sales on DTC.
“By marketing our small business as an artisan premium bacon crafter and specialty gift purveyor, along with positioning bacon as a pandemic staple, we weathered the Covid storm and continued to build the brand and our business,” said Young. “We’re a small but mighty team, good at making thoughtful, strategic and quick decisions and executing on them.”
Launching ther e-commerce channel during the pandemic proved to be a very successful strategy as they were quickly shipping to all 50 states and doubled their annual sales. In 2021 they moved their headquarters to Emeryville and into a larger warehouse, expanding their wholesale business into key markets across the US. With the addition of their uncured & sugar-free collection, the company offered a premium-quality and all-natural bacon line that further expanded their reach to the Paleo, Keto, Whole30 categories of consumers as well as appealing to anyone needing or wanting to reduce sugar intake. That same year, they also entered the dry-goods category and began to further diversify their portfolio with a line of all-purpose rubs—specially crafted for bacon—but with limitless applications. With a nationwide launch of the rub collection on ABC’S “Good Morning America,” they began filling a void in the spice category offering growth opportunities with a unique product boasting high margins, accessible price points and easy fulfillment. As corporate teams became increasingly more dispersed during the shutdown, the company also entered the team-building experience market with their virtual education program, focused on culinary team building experiences to help companies offer an easy way to connect remote teams.
Virtual Cooking Program Video here
“Our program is unique in that we develop menus built around our proprietary products, ship participants every ingredient they need direct to their doorstep, and lead large private groups in live virtual class experiences with personal instruction from our founder and leading bacon expert, Camilo Velasquez, “ said Lewis. “ We’ve seen enthusiastic early adoption with teams from Salesforce, Google, and other industry leaders. This model has proven highly profitable, scalable, and puts our product in the hands of a high-value, cross-industry customer segment.”
2022 brought renewed hope but an increasingly challenging business environment, with mounting supply chain, environmental and regulatory pressures on small businesses across the US. Hurdles included the surge in fuel prices affecting transportation of goods as well as increased cost of order fulfillment via carriers; the continued increase, uncertainty and volatility of hog pricing; and regulatory issues. However, The Baconer once again is finding ways to navigate this extraordinary landscape and the team’s approach is working. With the global bacon market projected to reach $66.2 billion by 2026, The Baconer is now well-positioned in both the meat and seasonings categories—in the US market, meat is the #1 specialty food category in retail dollar sales, and Seasonings is the #1 fastest-growing specialty food category. The team has built a best-in-class trusted brand; created innovative products; aligned with strategic food industry pioneers; and grown retail, wholesale, and social media presence—introducing home cooks, chefs and foodies to better and more delicious ways to enjoy this timeless American food. The company’s revenue has increased 300% over the past 24 months. And they are getting national media recognition as an innovator in the specialty meats category. By capitalizing on evolving consumer tastes, increased desire for responsible sourcing, a growing specialty food industry, booming interest in versatility, an authentic brand, and products, The Baconer is leading innovation beyond the bacon aisle.
Bacon is One of America’s Most Beloved Foods!
“We’re on a mission to delight consumers with innovation in a rapidly growing market,” said Lewis. “With bacon’s growing appeal and diverse culinary applications, consumers are looking for inspiration with the most authentic, high-quality and hand-crafted products available. It may sound obvious, but we are 100% focused on our customers because without them, we could not do what we do, and would not be who we are. I’m truly motivated by the daily opportunity to bring joy to so many people who love bacon and the community and connection that comes with enjoying their favorite food.”
Bacon remains one of the most versatile ingredients in dishes—bringing serious flavor to burgers, cozied up with eggs, headlining a charcuterie board, paired with pasta, or even topping ice cream! The Baconer is continuously focusing on redefining how Americans think about, prepare, cook with and eat bacon, with products characterized by responsible sourcing, chef-driven flavors, and hard-to-find cuts.
Expanding Brand Partnerships in Major U.S. Markets.
In identifying strategic partners for The Baconer’s path for growth, it was important for the management team to look at expansion beyond California into key US markets where the company was seeing an increase in consumer demand. Enter Eataly USA. As a leading food marketplace with a shared passion for inspiring people with the most authentic, high-quality and hand-crafted products, Eataly’s value proposition aligned perfectly with The Baconer’s vision, and is propelling the company forward as The Baconer continues to disrupt the bacon category.
“Our partnership with Eataly USA was one of the best steps for our business in the past year because it pushed us outside of California and got us thinking about our business in a different way—such as, how to effectively get our product to other large retailers all over the country,” Lewis said. “Once we took that path forward, a number of exciting possibilities opened that we’re currently working on.”
“When shoppers come to Eataly – they know to expect high-quality ingredients, which is why partnering with The Baconer was a perfect fit,” said Pete Molinari, Head of Meat and Seafood at Eataly. “They craft artisanal bacon products that are not only delicious, but crafted with care, by people who share our passion for eating better and living better.”
Dedicated to increasing strategic partnerships with significant brands, The Baconer is also now partnered with leaders including Food52, Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street, Di Bruno Bros, Touch of Modern, and many others.
Breaking Culinary Boundaries
The company is continuing to expand an active consumer base through a consistent social media presence, brand collaborations and top-tier media coverage. Now a best-in-class brand with nationwide recognition as a category change agent, the company and founders have garnered attention from top-ranked media including Today Show, Good Morning America, Bon Appetit, c/Net, Insider, Yahoo!, Town & Country, Sunset, and many more. In the first half of 2022, they were named a best bacon—twice—by Saveur, picked by Chip Gaines (#FixerUpper) as a top summer product, featured in Magnolia Journal, Business Insider, San Francisco Business Times, Gourmet Food, Food Entrepreneur, The Manual, etc. and earned a 2022 Good Food Award, to name a few.
“We’re going where no one has gone before with attention-grabbing products including XXL Bacon Steaks, Smoked Bacon Lardons and Ground Bacon. We created a line of bacon and related products to engage diverse groups of consumers: shoppers, chefs, grocery buyers, restaurateurs, corporates, gift givers and food lovers alike,” said Velasquez. “We’ve built a multi-channel business with both perishable and shelf-stable goods distributed through brick & mortar grocery, Ecommerce, online grocery services, corporate classes and 3rd party platforms nationwide, putting our product in the hands of people and helping them elevate their dishes from ordinary to extraordinary.”
…Four key pieces of advice from The Baconer team:
Build Your Brand: Take the time to establish and protect your company, your brand and your voice, including all representations of your brand (corporate structure, intellectual property, trade secrets) and all materials and platforms that your audiences will interact with. Your brand is everything—it’s the core of what you believe in, and what your company is all about. It’s the face of your business, your people and your products, so spend the time to build a brand that is authentic and true.
Go Local: Make friends with your local stores first and foremost. It’s important to go and look at what they offer and engage with them. Build relationships where you live, especially when you are starting out, and grow from there.
Be Thoughtful, Strategic and Nimble: And, don’t be afraid to say no. We have found timing is critical. While you might have set your sights on a major partnership when you ideate your company and products, you have to make sure you have everything you need in place to take full advantage of the opportunity when it’s presented. It has to make business sense. Period. And, remember, if you say no to something, it doesn’t mean never, it just means not yet, but yes, when we are ready.
Successful Partnerships: Find brands that make sense and offer brand extension and/or collaboration—where your product can be sold, incorporated, enhanced, expanded. And, don’t forget to be creative when looking for partners—think beyond the obvious. Network within key groups—CPG founders, Slacks networks, Facebook Groups, etc. And, look at what’s trending. By the way, if you’ve innovated in a category, look for those who already have a stake there and introduce yourself to them to take your product to another level.