From sporting accidents and TV shows to Jewish weddings and late-night chats, J&D's had an unusual start. But is the UK ready for Seattle's latest export? By Simon Creasey
The conventional way to raise capital is to sign up for a bank loan, win financial backing from a venture capitalist or tap up wealthy family members. Not to be hit in the face with a wiffle ball, send the video to a TV bloopers show and win $5,000. But then Seattle-based J&D's is no ordinary business.
In just over two years, self-styled 'bacontrepreneurs' Justin Esch and Dave Lefkow have generated annual turnover of more than $1.4m and created a brand new spice category thanks to their zero-calorie, vegetarian, kosher, bacon-flavoured salt seasoning and their newer mayonnaise product, Baconnaise. Now, J&D's has set its sights on Europe, with the UK top of its list.
The genesis of J&D's was as quirky as the products it sells. Esch was at a Jewish wedding when the conversation turned to bacon and being kosher. "I said the world needs a seasoning that tastes like bacon and my brother said 'we should call it Bacon Salt'," explains Esch. The idea was shelved for several months until a late-night chat between Esch and fellow technology industry worker Lefkow (he of the wiffle ball). "I told Dave about Bacon Salt and he jumped up and said 'I'm from Chicago and I think everything should taste like bacon. You've got to do it'. So at two or three in the morning we registered baconsalt.com on a Blackberry and then we woke up the next day and started a food company."
After consulting with a professional food developer, they formulated recipes for four salt flavours original, natural, hickory and peppered. Helping to fund a 3,000-unit production run in the summer of 2007 was a $5,000 cash prize that Lefkow had won after sending in the aforementioned video blooper. They built noise around the product through their website, which started to attract hundreds of hits after blogs such as I Heart Bacon, Bacon Unwrapped and Mr Baconpants profiled the company.
"On launch day we bought a case of beer, 20 boxes and a roll of packing tape and went and sat in Dave's garage, which was our office," says Esch. "We sold all 3,000 bottles in the first five days, to 23 US states and 12 different countries, with no advertising or marketing expenditure. That's when we knew that we were onto something."
With J&D's products available in 12,000 grocery stores in the US, the company is now targeting the UK. Selfridges already stocks a limited range, but J&D's is ramping up its efforts to break into the multiples through a distribution deal with specialist food importers Empire Food Brokers.
J&D's bacon-flavoured mayonnaise product, which launched in late 2008 and is neck-and-neck with the salt seasonings in terms of US sales, will be the cornerstone of the UK assault. The duo plans to launch one major product per year, along with one or two novelty products (they already sell a bacon-flavoured chapstick).
"We've got some really exciting new products we are working on that will enable us to expand the bacon-flavoured empire," says Lefkow. "That's the thing I enjoy most about our company we can do whatever we want."