The latest subscribers to low-carb, high-protein weight-loss plans may or may not be swallowing the idea of skin from the back and belly of hogs as an hors d'oeuvres phenomenon, but the Snack Food Association (SFA) says pork rind sales rose 18.4 percent this year, making the snack a $420 million-plus industry.
Of course, you need a tough skin to make it in this business. "To secure space on grocery shelves, [the product must] already be well regarded in the industry," says SFA president and CEO Jim McCarthy. "So breaking in requires a unique approach."
Jo and Jim Williams, 56 and 63, respectively, started selling microwave pork rinds in 1993 with J & J Critters. Their "unique approach" was craft shows and fairs. Today, they aren't so local. Since going online at www.microwaveporkrinds.com, the Waco, Texas, couple has fulfilled orders as far away as London. What does it take to get started on the road to global pork magnate status? "Anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars," Jim says.
And industry giants like Lima, Ohio-based Rudolph Foods Co. Inc. aren't standing in the way. Rudolph Foods feels niche competition only strengthens the industry by spreading education about the product to more consumers.
High-profile plugs also help in that area. As an example, Rudolph Foods executive vice president of sales and marketing Richard Rudolph, 37, notes an appearance by his brother, CEO and president Jim Rudolph, 38, in a Today Show segment with a photo of George and George W. Bush enjoying the snack.
But even without the hype, pork rinds would have a core audience. As Richard points out, "We continued to grow even during the low-fat and no-fat trends." It seems pork rinds are considered comfort food, ensuring some staying power for years to come.