BALTIMORE — Pork rinds are getting a premium makeover. At least two exhibitors at Natural Products Expo East, held Sept. 21-24 in Baltimore, unveiled upscale twists on the classic gas station snack.
Epic Provisions, the Austin, Texas-based maker of meat-based products, is launching Pork Rinds and Cracklings made with pork raised without antibiotics and produced with no artificial preservatives or flavorings. The brand, which is a subsidiary of General Mills, is offering pork rinds in barbecue seasoning and sea salt and pepper flavors as well as a maple bacon variety of pork cracklings. The products, which are made from a blend of organic, non-G.M.O., pastured and antibiotic-free pork, underscore Epic Provisions’ nose-to-tail commitment of utilizing the whole animal to reduce waste. The brand also has added animal cooking fats and bone broths to its portfolio of meat bars and bites.
“We are happy to liberate lovers of pork skins from feeling shame and even happier to teleport consumers to enlightened levels of ‘bacon lust,’” Epic co-founder Taylor Collins wrote in a blog post on the brand’s web site.
Ryan Farr, a San Francisco-based butcher and restaurant chef, has been peddling premium pork rinds for seven years. His brand, 4505 Chicharrones, showcased new packaging and flavors at Expo East. Varieties include classic chili and salt, smokehouse barbecue and jalapeño cheddar. The company uses high-quality cuts of humanely raised pork with no added antibiotics or hormones and kettle cooks the rinds in lard to further minimize waste.
“Pork rinds have had a bad rap in the past,” Mr. Farr told Food Business News. “For us, it’s really important the consumer knows we are aware of every step of the process and we only work with family farms. It’s really important to point out to consumers this has 0 grams of carbs, 9 grams of protein, it’s paleo certified, gluten-free, humanely raised. These things are really important to consumers these days.”
Regarding emerging competition from Epic and other players, Mr. Farr said, “I think it’s amazing that in the natural grocery world this is a category, that there’s a shelf of pork rinds at Whole Foods and other natural grocers. Especially when seven years ago I started making them in my apartment and selling them to local bars and grocery stores in San Francisco. For me, this is a moment that I’ll never forget. It’s great that the rest of the world is realizing the benefits of all-natural pork rinds.”
Could premium pork rinds be the next evolution of the gourmet jerky phenomenon, an industry that surged 12% in 2014 and today stands at $1.3 billion in sales? As a high-protein, convenient packaged snack with a nice sustainability story, pork rinds are well aligned with consumer trends. High-quality ingredients and flavor innovation will only elevate the category.
Jon Sebastiani, a pioneer in the gourmet jerky category who in 2009 founded Krave Jerky (which the Hershey Co. acquired last year), sees promise for premium pork rinds.
“I love pork rinds; I’ve been campaigning for that consideration for Krave for some time,” Mr. Sebastiani said in an interview with Food Business News. “There’s no question there’s nowhere to go but up from the perception of that product in the general marketplace. I see a premium pork rind being relevant.“How big will it get? I don’t know. But definitely we’re seeing some brands that support a premium position coming out with fun, innovative flavors of pork rinds. I’m a consumer, so I love it.”