Sometimes it seems like all at once, huge companies collectively figure something out simultaneously. Lately, it seems like number-crunchers have figured out that if you want to improve your sales, you need to get people eating your product more often. Like, say, three times a day.
Taco Bell was roundly mocked when they rolled out their breakfast lineup. The result? Breakfast now accounts for 6% of Taco Bell’s sales, and has caused stock prices to surge.
Still laughing? That’s okay. Everyone laughed at Mountain Dew, too, when they launched their “Hydrating Boost” breakfast soda, highly caffeinated, flavored with orange and mango, and lubricated with trendy coconut water. Four years after the launch, the product is a strong seller, and millions (billions! trillions!) of consumers have adapted to the idea of drinking soda for breakfast, much to the delight (and increased bottom line) of the PepsiCo company.
How off-the-wall is it, then, to consider that someone like Jack Link’s, the 43% market share leader in the high-quality, 1.3 BILLION dollar off-the-shelf jerky game, might try to find a way to convince customers that eating morning versions of their dried meat for breakfast is a good idea? If people are eating spicy scrambled egg burritos in the morning and slamming them down with caffeinated strawberry sodas, why the hell not?
“Meat snacks in general are more of an afternoon occasion primarily, but there are a lot of consumers who are really time starved in the morning for protein,” explained Christian Fitchett, vice-president of innovation at Jack Link’s, in an interview with Food Business News. “That, combined with … the trend of restaurants going all day on their breakfast menus, it just seemed like it was surprising to all of us that we haven’t thought of this before.”
Surprising? Maybe. Delicious? Let’s find out:
Jack Link’s A.M. Breakfast Bacon: Applewood Smoked
This was the first product in the Jack Link’s “A.M.” lineup that we tried, and it required a bit of an adjustment in our expectations and testing criteria. Our first thought, upon cracking the bag, was that the “Breakfast Bacon” looked an awful lot like the sad remains of the chafing dish full of bacon at the tail end of the buffet, when you arrive late and hungover to your Mother’s Day brunch. But that’s where we had to change our criteria for evaluating.
This product can’t possibly compare to eating freshly-cooked, crispy, fatty bacon from a skillet or from the oven, because obviously, this ain’t that. Instead of comparing Jack Link’s A.M. Breakfast Bacon hopelessly to its hot, crunchy cousin, we decided to compare this product to other jerky snacks, including Jack Link’s other (lunchtime?) offerings.
And with that as a baseline? This product is a grand-freaking-slam. Because the Breakfast Bacon contains STRICTLY 100% bacon (cured, according to the ingredient panel, with celery juice, among other things), you get a ton flavor that’s not just reminiscent of bacon; it is bacon, crossed with the best aspects of good jerky: A good chew, plenty of moisture, and unlike traditional beef jerky, a high concentration of preserved fat (while still 30% less fat than bacon prepared in more traditional ways) to kick the flavors into overdrive. While it may not have occurred to us to eat jerky for breakfast, this particular variety is enough to convince us.
Jack Link’s A.M. Breakfast Bacon: Brown Sugar & Maple
The first thing you notice about this variety in the “A.M.” lineup is the blast of maple syrup sweetness that hits you in the face as soon as you open the bag. Unlike the “Applewood Smoked” flavor, the “Brown Sugar & Maple” gets a ton of sweetness by adding brown sugar and maple flavoring to the brine. The additional sugar reminds us of a pancake breakfast (in the best possible way), though this variety does have a very slight sort of artificial musty aftertaste that, while not bothersome, is noticeable. The high fat content and moisture are still there, though, making this seem like a real contender in the race toward “breakfast jerky.” If we were trying to decide between the two products, however, we would definitely go back to the “Applewood Smoke,” for boasting flavor that’s the most similar to freshly cooked bacon.
Jack Link’s A.M. Breakfast Sausage: Original
When you first pull one of these little babies out of the package, you think you know what it is. “Okay,” you’re probably thinking, “this looks more like the kind of dried pepperoni product I’m used to.” But nay. Snap through the casing, and the A.M. Breakfast Sausage has a taste that resembles breakfast sausage almost perfectly. Again, because it is. A quick flip to the ingredient panel reveals a combination of pork, applesauce (presumably for moisture) and cherry extract (for that little dash of breakfast sausage sweetness and possibly color).
While we’re still not totally clear on the application for this snack, it seems like it would be a perfect thing to pack in a backpack for a camping trip, or anywhere else that cooking fresh breakfast sausage in a pinch might not be practical, which is literally almost everywhere on the planet that isn’t your home kitchen. Throw a couple of these in a skillet, or chop some up for an omelette, while you’re staring out at the lake, thinking about the glory of America while your wife snores softly in the tent behind you, absentmindedly rubbing the crick in your back from sleeping on a pinecone? This is an alternate reality version of life that we can really get behind, and Jack Link’s gets to be a part of it.
Jack Link’s A.M. Breakfast Sausage: Hot & Spicy
By this point in the testing, we were getting pretty full of dehydrated breakfast meats, which is definitely a peculiar thing to feel full of. But in the name of science, we felt it was important to forge ahead and sample the “Hot & Spicy” variety of the A.M. Breakfast Sausage.
And we don’t want to live in a Slim Jim world. We want that A.M. Sausage.
Now, we love heat. Even heat in the morning, when we try to spinning jump-kick our delicate stomachs into functioning again by piling hot sauce and jalapeños onto scrambled eggs. Surprisingly, the “Hot & Spicy” version of the A.M. Breakfast Sausage was our least favorite of the bunch. It wasn’t because the snack didn’t contain lots of fiery heat; thanks to the chipotles, red pepper, and black pepper, the sausage delivers a satisfying, eye-opening burn. Unfortunately, it also brings the product somewhat out of the breakfast category, into more of a Slim Jim place. And we don’t want to live in a Slim Jim world. We want that A.M. Sausage.
Overall, we were very pleasantly surprised with the Jack Link’s A.M. lineup of breakfast jerkies, and in particular, the “Breakfast Bacon” varieties. Each of the products we sampled FELT LIKE breakfast, which is a tall order and not something that we thought Jack Link’s, or any company, could pull off.
Would we rather be cooking thick slices of locally-raised smoked pork belly in our cast iron skillet at home? Of course. But if you’re standing in the middle of a gas station at 7:00 in the morning, drinking a weak cup of amaretto-flavored coffee and wondering how you’re going to survive the next ten hours of your day, the Jack Link’s A.M. line provides an easy, off-the-shelf way to feel like someone cares enough about you to make you a wholesome breakfast. And that’s gotta count for something.