Bacon Salt: How two tech guys created a viral food sensation

Every now and then in life you find something that makes so much sense you pause to note “why didn’t I think of that?” America, and much of the Western world loves Bacon, but as we all know Bacon is a recipe for cholesterol and taken too often is a heart attack waiting to happen. Perhaps theists believe there is a biblical answer to the fact that god decided to make something that tastes so good so particularly bad for you, for the rest of us, it remains one of life’s ultimate ironies. The problem though is clear, we love the taste of bacon, but we must consume it in moderation, or for some not at all. Introducing Bacon Salt, the no cholesterol, kosher (I kid you not), no fat, tasty alternative to eating bacon.

The story behind Bacon Salt is worth repeating, if only because it is one of those stories that are both unlikely and inspiring. It also proves to some extent that the lessons learned in the tech startup world can indeed be applied outside of the echochamber many of us reside in.

Bacon Salt was the invention of Dave Lefkow and Justin Esch, two former employees of Seattle startup Jobster. The idea for Bacon Salt came over dinner one night. This is how they tell it:

While on a business trip together, we had the chance to sit down for dinner and eventually, the conversation turned to our mutual love of bacon. It was then that Justin told Dave and another coworker named Kara about his idea for Bacon Salt. Kara, who is a vegetarian, loved the idea. Dave, a card-carrying carnivore and Midwesterner, loved it even more. Even the waiter at the fancy restaurant loved it.

Working in a startup gave them a strong understanding of what was required to get a business off the ground, but venture capital for untried food products isn’t as easy to find as funding for a Facebook application. Lefkow and Esch needed some seed capital to get the idea rolling, so they turned to the most unlikely source: Amercia’s Funniest Home Video Show. A video of Lefkow’s daughter took home $5,000 in prize money, and this kick started the company.

But where to go from here? The distribution business in food is not the internet. Supermarket shelf space is limited and often goes to the highest bidder, and Bacon Salt was an unproven product. Having successfully created Bacon Salt, Lefkow and Esch needed to spread the word. I spoke with someone familiar with the company and its rise from obscurity, and the strategy they used seemed highly familiar: viral internet marketing.

Along with a traditional website and blog, Bacon Salt was promoted strongly across social networks. Along with Lefkow’s YouTube account, Bacon Salt created groups on Facebook and MySpace. Thrown into the mix was a Twitter account and even a Zazzle store. The aim was to build viral brand awareness while keeping costs low. None of the accounts I visited had huge numbers, but from what I’m told, they were enough to plant a viral seed. Word of Bacon Salt grew, and within 3 months of launching the product Bacon Salt was popping up in the strangest of places. WWE magazine ran a story on Bacon Salt, along with some mens magazines, PC Gamer and even The New Yorker. Initially Bacon Salt didn’t have any distribution deals, offering their wares by online order only, but this soon changed as the press continued to build. What started as a viral internet campaign turned into positive mainstream media coverage, and consumer demand for Bacon Salt in their local supermarkets. I don’t have a list of where you can buy Bacon Salt today, but I’m told that penetration is strong across the United States, with several large chains stocking the product.

Overall it’s an unlikely story, but a true one. Two tech guys with no experience in food used their skills to create a viral food sensation. Even in a world of corporate dominance, the little guy can still occasionally make it. The only thing left to do is to pass the Bacon Salt, because as the company states in its motto: “Everything should taste like bacon.”