Hormel Sizzles with Bacon Innovation: 5 Questions With VP Steve Venenga

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Hormel Black-Label Bacon

Don’t look now, but Hormel is eating up the sluggish CPG business with its stable of meat-based protein products, some better-for-you acquisitions and a marketing savvy that is bringing bacon into the soy age.

Hormel’s recent better-for-you activities have included expanding its line of Rev meat-and-cheese protein snacks as well as acquiring organic snack meat producer Applegate Farm and millennial-loved organic brand Justin’s Nut Butter.

The latest manifestation of Hormel’s marketing chops for positioning protein for a new era is a new video for premium Hormel Black Label bacons that features musician, actor and comedian Reggie Watts. He put together a 90-second online video for Hormel in which he captures the sounds of frying bacon within his genre-busting style to create a unique visual and sound composition. Too bad you can’t smell the bacon online.

“Reggie Watts is always one step ahead of the industry, reimagining music, comedy and performance art to create his own unique brand of entertainment, which makes him the perfect partner to help us push bacon forward,” Steve Venenga, vice president of meats marketing at Hormel Foods, said in a press release.

Hormel Black Label also is pushing bacon forward with an initiative to use Kickstarter to fund innovators in all fields who create “bacon-centric” projects. “We … look forward to seeing what they will create using our premium bacon,” Venenga said.

These two forays follow other buzz-generating initiatives on behalf of Hormel Black Label, including the powering of a motorcycle trip on bacon grease and launching the “International Bacon Film Festival.”

brandchannel talked with Venenga about marketing proteins:

bc: Hormel was one of the leaders in the protein-snacking category in 2013 when you came out with Rev Wraps. Now you’ve expanded this line of meat-and-cheese, on-the-go snacks to Rev Bites as well. Why?

Hormel Steve Venenga

Steve Venenga: Wraps were a way to provide hand-held and easy snacks, which are great for teens and others. Rev Bites are meat and cheese wrapped in dough, giving us another convenient form to offer consumers.

bc: Oscar Mayer, Sargento and other competitors also have on-the-go protein snacks. Has the competition helped or hurt Rev?

Venenga: As competition enters, it shows the trend is for real. So we can develop this area in the store where consumers can go look for this type of thing and start to create a section where there is more than just our wraps. So it becomes easier to get traffic in that part of the store.

bc: You don’t market Rev as “all-natural.” Do better-for-you consumers hold that against you?

Venenga: While Revs maybe don’t have a “natural” claim, certainly we’ve found that consumers see real meat and cheese as a healthier-for-you option than some of the alternative snacks that a teenager might consume, like energy drinks. Hormel also does have Natural Choice lunch meats, which are all-natural in the lunchmeat case. And Applegate Farm, which we acquired after launching Rev, has its own organic entry in the on-the-go snack space called Half Time.

bc: So with the Reggie Watts collaboration, you continue to do some interesting things to market Hormel Black Label bacon.

Venenga: Yes, we’ve had a great run with this brand. “We’re Always the New Black” is our theme, and this is just one element of that campaign. We celebrate the craftsmanship of making bacon, and we like to showcase and highlight others who have the same craftsmaship and take pride in their work. We’ve done a lot of unique and cool things with the brand.

Also in line with its premium positioning, we recently launched five flavors, such as jalapeno. It’s a chance for us to provide not just bacon with eggs—which we always enjoy—but also for more use of bacon in recipes such as burgers or firecracker shrimp.

bc: But besides being packed with protein, bacon is often looked at with skepticism on a nutritional basis because it’s also fat- and calorie-laden, and most of it has preservatives. So do American consumers really consider bacon a healthful option even with all the protein it provides?

Venenga: Bacon is just …. bacon. It gets a free press. Our take on it is that it’s just too good to pass up, so no one wants to put it into any descriptive bucket.


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