article from Shelby Report
By Mandy Rodgers
Kent Wenzel’s father—whom he affectionately calls The Dutchman—refused to eat bologna after a horrifying child-hood field trip memory involving a rattail. His sans-bolognadiet lasted until Wenzel himself opened a local meat marketin the small town of Hamilton, Texas.
“(His) professor cut into that piece of bologna, (saw) some-thing, and he pulled out a rat’s tail, so that’s the last time myfather ate bologna until I started making it,” Wenzel chuckled. “My bologna is guaranteed to be rattail-free,” he told The Shelby Report.
Wenzel’s rattail-free promise, among other things, led Cody Lane, president of Pederson’s Natural Farms, to the “master of flavor,” as the company refers to Wenzel. The two have teamed up—though not a merger—for Pederson’s new line of bison meat products under the Pederson’s Wenzel brand. The products continue Pederson’s stance on using all-natural meats with no antibiotics or hormones. Though the nearly-20-year-old company no longer raises its own hogs,Pederson’s only sources its animals from farms that meet the requirement of the Certified Humane organization (www.certifiedhumane.com).
Pederson’s distributes nationally to grocery chains as well as offering private label products. Bacon is the company’s best-seller right now, but Lane saw bison meat as a new direction. “The volume of bison meat we’ve been distributing to these stores has been growing, so I kind of saw some opportunities to make some processed bison instead of just the fresh stuff,” Lane said. “That’s what led us to KentWenzel.” Lane began frequenting Wenzel’s shop, and the store owner was not sure what to think of the Pederson’s president’s visits. “I didn’t know if he was stealing ideas from me or not,” Wenzel joked. “My wife said, ‘Don’t you say too much! Don’t you say too much! You always just give advice freely, and you tell people what you’re doing—somebody’s going to take it and run with it.’” But Lane and Wenzel soon realized that they each had what the other could use. Lane had his large distribution company ready to invent a new product, and Wenzel had an already established spot in the bison industry, as well as long-time studies of flavor profiles. “We got together in thinking about all this, and he put together a bunch of ideas and recipes,” Lane explained. “We started talking about it over a year ago and developing some new bison recipes.”
The bison line—set to debut in October—consists of different flavors and styles, including The Pioneer, which incorporatesPederson’s bacon line into the all-natural bison meat, forming a combination dish. The two combo products started the idea for a bison line, and other ideas followed. Additional styles are a green chili style and the Jalapeno Journey, as well as two versions of Campfire Franks—one with cheese and one without.
Bison meat has seen a major increase in popularity and sales this year, and both Lane and Wenzel credit this shift to the product’s health benefits. “I think it’s for the health-aware consumer, and it’s actually a very good alternative to beef,” Lane commented. “Something that we can provide is both a unique flavor with the health benefits that a lot of people are looking for today.” Wenzel began working in the buffalo industry several years ago after his dreams of making it big with emus fizzled. At first, having his customers understand the meat was his obstacle.
“It’s all part of educating that public. It doesn’t have a lot of marbling in it, but you have to be careful with it,” saidWenzel. “When I first opened, I had an extensive line of bison meat that wouldn’t go—just would not sell. You have to educate them.” Wenzel recalls a story of a “tough cowboy” wanting to try the latest meat product but explaining he enjoys his dishes cooked well done. Wenzel would not allow the cowboy to buy the meant because the texture would become shoe leather with that cooking temperature. “’You’d be mad at me,’” he told the cowboy. “’I don’t want you mad at me.’” So he bought six beef rib eyes, and Wenzel gave him a package of the store’s bison bacon burger to ease him into the meat.
The Pederson’s website (pedersonsfarms.com) features recipes, and soon it will have videos ofWenzelcooking in the kitchen, complete with his flavor philosophies. Though the beginning of the year saw downward sales results for Pederson’s, since June, they have increased. Lane believes people still are eating at home more often but now treat themselves to better retail products. Lane also commented that in taste tests, the new items infused with bacon always win out, but it’s this originality that Wenzelsees others taking advantage of.
“Once we get these things out, I have a funny feeling that people are going to be copycatting us,” he said. “I know it, because there’s no one out there, no one else that’s doing what we’re doing—all-natural bison sausage that you can eat.”