In 2010, Shannon and Erik Duffy, two unemployed brothers from Iowa, decided to take a bacon recipe and make it work. Erik Duffy, a trained chef started making the bacon at his home and letting some of his local chef friends try it. That bacon grew into what would become Tender Belly, a company selling gourmet bacon, ham, sausage, pulled pork and jerky.
“About a month later we were having it made at a local plant in Arizona,” said Shannon Duffy, chief executive officer of Tender Belly, now headquartered in Denver.
Tender Belly sold bacon to mostly Arizona-based high-end restaurants and a few very small retailers before moving to Colorado. The brand is fun, Duffy said, and about four years ago he noticed enough restaurants were putting the name on menus that Tender Belly began to get noticed by consumers.
“So, three years ago we took on investment to really go after retail,” Duffy said. “It was slow going at first, we were 70% to 90% foodservice depending on the time of the year and 10% to 30% retail. The pandemic hit and everybody knows what happened and we went all-in on retail. So, now we’re probably 70/30 retail/foodservice, and we’ve got the biggest of the big. We’re mostly on the West Coast, but we just started our East Coast push this year and things are going well.”