By Lauren Panariello
When Justin Esch, 31, attended the kosher wedding of a childhood friend in January 2007, he was probably looking forward to food, dancing, and drinks. Little did he know that a multi-million dollar idea was just a conversation away.
Esch started talking about the only thing a hungry man has his mind on at a kosher wedding: Bacon. A few hours and a couple of drinks later, Esch was buying the words “bacon salt” from his blackberry.
Bacon salt is only one of J&D’s bacon flavored products. The company, which now makes bacon flavored mayonnaise, envelopes, popcorn, and ranch dip, is the brainchild of Etch and his former coworker Dave Lefkow.
“I used it as a way to get into grad school,” said Esch of launching his bacon-flavored empire. “They kept telling me I needed more entrepreneurial experience.” Esch got just that when his bacon salt website went live in July of 2007. The company made one quarter of a million dollars in revenue in its first year, and one and a half million dollars in revenue in 2008.
“I just love bacon. I have a body by bacon,” said Esch, whose personality is just as big as the tummy that rests comfortably over his belt buckle. “I look like bacon on the inside. We just want everything to taste like bacon.” And Esch and Lefkow aren’t the only ones.
It seems that the two young entrepreneurs caught the bacon wave just before it hit shore. Bacon sales increased from 522 million pounds to 612 million pounds in a three year period, and 53 percent of households say they have bacon on hand at all times. This bacon frenzy has launched bacon blogs such as Mr. Baconpants, Bacon Unwrapped, and I Heart Bacon.com.
Perhaps more interesting than the vegetarian, kosher, bacon-flavored line of products from J&D is the company’s method of advertising. “I have never paid a dollar for advertising,” said Esch proudly. The company started spreading the bacon-flavored word through social networking. Now, fans can follow the company on twitter, join their facebook page, or even check them out on myspace.
The biggest break for Esch came when Jon Stewart mocked the mayonnaise product, Baconaise, on his comedy central show, The Daily Show. “He took a piece of Jimmy Dean sausage,” recalled Esch, “dipped it in Baconaise, and said ‘I think my tongue just sh*t in my mouth’.” Esch and his employees, of which he has six, thought it was the end of their bacon-loving empire until a Seattle paper came to the company’s defense. It was smooth sailing from then on when Charles Gibson picked the story up on ABC news, and six months after that Esch was on the Oprah Winfrey show. “I’ve been on Fox news 10 or 11 times in the past two years.”
“One of our favorite games,” Esch explained, “is called ‘trick the media’.” Between product cycles, when the company doesn’t have any new products to push, they will make a mock up of a press release for a non-existing bacony product. The last faux release was for a sex lube that had been made to taste like bacon. The release demanded that people rally around the bacon lube because the FDA wouldn’t approve it. “For that I probably did 100 radio shows,” said Esch of the press release. The fictional bacon lube received so much support that Esch and his partner began developing the actual product. Bacon lube will soon be available on the J&D website.
“Reporters are forced to put out so much content that we end up getting press,” said Esch. One example of the company’s finance-free advertising took place at a New York Giant’s football game. Esch and several employees smuggled 10,000 product samples into the football stadium, and replaced all of the condiments with their bacon-flavored goodies before one of them slipped on a full-bodied bacon suit and ran into the Giant’s enzone.
Since Jon Stewart’s fateful joke about Baconaise, the show has mentioned the product nine more times in 2009 alone, and the criticism was much lighter. Without a single cent spent on advertising, J&D foods can be purchased at Costco, Stop and Shop, and Amazon.com.
So what’s next for this unlikely entrepreneur? “Well, right now I teach at the first school that rejected me,” said Esch. “But eventually I’d like to sell to a bigger company and finally go to grad school for marketing.” He’s certainly got enough experience now.