While Esch might be joking, Power Bacon was inspired by a hunting product used to attract bears and sold by a small Michigan company that also operates a deer farm. It's not edible, nor does it actually contain sweat-stopping chemicals, but it does have a sizzling, porky scent. "I call it an odorant," says Lefkow. "It's the ultimate aphrodisiac for armpits." J&D's contracted the deer farmers to make the product in small batches by hand, so you can add "artisanal" to its description.
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Esch and Lefkow started their business in 2007 with Bacon Salt, a product they hatched while working together for a Seattle software company. They used $5,000 that Lefkow won from "America's Funniest Home Videos" after submitting a clip of his then 3-year-old son hitting him in the face with a Wiffle ball. "He's nine now," Lefkow says, "and old enough to ask, 'Where's my $5,000?'" A food development firm liked the idea for bacon-flavored salt so much that it agreed to develop it for free. Less than a week after launching the seasoning from a garage, with no advertising, Esch and Lefkow had sold out of 6,000 jars. About a month later, they quit their day jobs.
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In the beginning, they relied on guerrilla marketing to spread the word about their products. "Bacon has got us into lots and lots of trouble" says Esch. The duo learned you can't pass out food samples while dressed up as a slice of bacon near a national monument, and if you are going to host a mayonnaise wrestling contest in the basement of a nightclub, you should figure out your cleanup strategy in advance. "We poured 16 drums of mayonnaise into the ring. 2,000 people showed up and the tequila shots were a dollar," says Esch. It took them five hours to clear the mess into a back alley with snow shovels. And the next morning, Esch received a series of angry phone calls from city officials. "The first thing the lady said was, 'Just who do you think you are?'" In addition to using events to spread the word, they also built and marketed a $2,999 bacon coffin for people who "love bacon to death."
Now, J&D's is a multimillion-dollar company that sells its products online and in 30,000 stores around the world. Esch says the worst thing about the job is getting to the office bleary-eyed at 9 a.m and having his partner say, "You gotta try this." He adds, "Nine times out of 10, a new idea tastes just awful." He describes their workspace as a meeting room with a long conference table designed to look like a slab of bacon and a vast whiteboard covered with crazy product schemes. They have recently branched beyond bacon-with-everything into black truffle and Sriracha flavorings.
While bacon may no longer be quite the trendy flavor with chefs that it was a couple of years ago, Wired recently reported that pairing the word "bacon" with any food significantly boosted its ratings in Food Network recipe searches. Power Bacon deodorant just launched on Thursday, so we'll have to wait and see if customers go whole hog for smelling like a pig. J&D's Foods' deodorant retails for $12.99 at powerbacon.com.
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