KANSAS CITY - The key to a successful meat brand partnership—like a good marriage—is finding the right match. When considering partnerships, most meat companies look for a brand that shares its same values and mission as a company, but also one that pushes them a bit outside their comfort zone to keep things fresh.  

A good example of this balance is Niman Ranch’s partnership with New Belgium Brewing for its Craft Beer BBQ Collection.  

“Niman Ranch and New Belgium share a passion for environmental sustainability, thinking outside the box and producing the best quality product,” said Drew Calvert, vice president of prepared pork for Northglenn, Col.-based Niman Ranch. “While we align on our passion and grounding, we also reach different audiences and have different brand styles that help each company reach a new audience.” 

The two companies initially kicked off their partnership with New Belgium’s iconic Fat Tire Amber Ale, and it went so well, that they expanded to add Voodoo Ranger Mango Habanero IPA Beer Brats, which performed especially well during the pandemic.   

“I think this has a lot to do with home cooks getting tired of the same old meals and looking for something fun and different to put on the dinner table,” Calvert said. “The Voodoo Brats get their heat from the bold spice of habanero pepper balanced with Mosaic and Amarillo hops from the premium IPA, creating a fresh, clean and perfectly elevated brat.”  

Coleman Natural Foods, headquartered in Westminster, Col., has had a successful partnership with Budweiser for the Budweiser BBQ Collection for years.  

Mel Coleman, Jr., chairman and fifth generation leader for Coleman Natural Foods, notes a partnership should be about more than just the brand names involved.   

“Sure, there is power in a logo, but most importantly, the teams and companies behind the brands have to work well together and share the same values,” he said. “Without being aligned at the values level, velocity of product can only go so far.” 

Amid the pandemic, Coleman Natural Foods was approached by ARKK Food Company to collaborate with Wahlburgers, the casual dining restaurant and bar founded by brothers Mark, Donnie and Chef Paul Wahlberg.   

“We are providing the natural beef and pork for a hot dog and bacon line in the Wahlburgers At Home portfolio,” Coleman said. “Both items will feature our promises of product that is uncured, all-natural, and sourced from livestock humanely raised in the USA with no antibiotics or hormones, ever.”  

The 12-oz uncured hickory smoked bacon is sourced from US family farms that are American Humane Certified and raise their hogs 100% crate-free, never using antibiotics or growth promotants. The 12-oz 8-count all-beef uncured hot dog product is 100% beef with no fillers, artificial ingredients or preservatives.    

Paul Wahlberg noted that the company’s goal has always been to continuously expand its retail product line beyond burgers to bring its fans delicious offerings that they can enjoy with their families at home.   

“Like Wahlburgers, Coleman Natural Foods started with a working-class family and they too trace their roots back to their family’s kitchen table where the only star is the food,” he said. “We agree that there is no better feeling than sitting at the table together, sharing good food, stories and a few laughs.”  

Another strong partnership is between Kingsford Products Co., owner of the popular charcoal brand, and CBQ, LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Homewood, Ill.-based Carl Buddig & Co.  

Buddig now produces Kingsford’s branded pre-cooked ribs and barbecue entrées and features a variety of barbecue and other meat meal traditions, including Baby Back Pork Ribs, Pulled Pork, Pulled Beef Brisket and Seasoned Pork Carnitas at the store level.  

Partnering with an icon  

Golden West Food Group, based in Vernon Calif., has achieved several beneficial partnerships, most notably its team-up with Louisville, Ken.-based Brown-Forman, manufacturers of Jack Daniel’s. 

The brand licensing agreement, which started back in 2007, includes ready-to-eat barbeque meats.  

“Our first client was Albertsons in Southern California, and it’s grown to probably the industry’s most successful partnership,” said Tony Cimolino, chief marketing officer of Golden West. “Today, it’s the No. 1 packaged barbeque entree line in the US.”  

Jack Daniel’s is in 187 countries and ranked No. 1 in whisky sales worldwide, and it’s often been used as an ingredient in sauces and marinades.  

“They started their barbeque contest, one of the four majors in the world, 30 years ago, which even pre-dates our license, which shows they’ve long had an established relationship with food products,” Cimolino said. “They have over 65 licensees, with everything from glassware to apparel and our licensing has grown to be the largest one in their portfolio.”  

What makes the partnership work, Cimolino noted, is that the matchup really resonates with the consumers.  

“We’ve developed a core set of products around chicken, beef and pork and using the Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whisky in the sauce, and from that sprang a relationship with Brown-Forman that allowed us to gain the Jack Daniel’s bottled sauce license,” Cimolino said. “There’s a lot of great brand quality and lore that goes with Jack Daniels.”   

This newer product is in 3,200 Walmarts, plus Food Lion, Albertsons, Kroger and many other supermarkets. Golden West also has the global license for the barbeque sauce and has successfully placed it in Canada and England.    

Golden West also has licensed partnerships with Focus Brands for Cinnabon, one with Certified Angus Beef and others as well.   

“What we’ve learned over the last 15 years, is that you really need the No. 1 brand in the category to partner with,” Cimolino said. “We look for that status when considering any new partnerships.”  

Another fundamental thing to look at going into any relationship, he added, is whether the consumer thinks there’s a natural food tie-in or enhancement with that product.  

“We’ve had experiments where we’ve tried to take a brand name that’s a popular brand name and tried to put it on products, but the public is very sharp when it comes to that, and if it’s not authentic, they won’t go for it,” Cimolino said.   

Lauren Rastelli DeMarco, director of marketing for Swedesboro, N.J.-based Rastelli Foods Group, notes the secret to success in any brand partnership is to always think from the perspective of the customer that is using the products in their home.  

“As a brand, you need to really take the time to study the consumer and figure out exactly who is shopping in the stores; ask yourself what their needs are and how you can build trust with them,” she says. “When we really dive into the customer and understand what they are looking for, as well as exactly what is driving their meat department purchases, it makes it very clear to us what types of products we should be offering them.”  

That’s a lesson that meat companies should be considering.  

Beefing up promotions  

Coming out of the pandemic lockdowns and the cold winter, this summer many anticipate a resurgence of outdoor grilling and gatherings which will bode well for meat occasions.   

During this time, Wahlburgers will emphasize cross-promotions with its category-leading fresh beef items that are already popular with customers.  

“The Coleman Natural logo will be featured on all packaging which will bode well for retailers who already carry Coleman Natural products,” Coleman said. “Loyal customers will recognize a brand they trust, and the same will go for the Wahlburger fan base who know to look for the three brothers on their packaging.”  

Brand partnerships also allow for creative marketing to reach new audiences. For instance, Niman Ranch is able to cross-merchandise with New Belgium with neck hangers on six-packs of their beer promoting the barbeque collection and cases of Fat Tire beer placed in front of its sausages.   

“We are also offering collaborative sweepstakes to build awareness and engagement for the product, including the chance to win a Traeger grill or Yeti cooler,” Calvert said.   

When the Golden West/Jack Daniels partnership first started, neither company was sure if consumers would like the product and willing to pay a premium. But thanks to a savvy marketing campaign and strong promotions, people tried it and loved it.  

“Consumers really brought into this,” Cimolino said. “The only way to have a successful brand is that repeat purchase and create crave-ability and create quality, and that keeps customers coming back.”  

Golden West has marketed its meat alongside the whisky, driven by the Brown-Forman company, because of the regulations involved in selling alcohol. During the holidays, such as Father’s Day, the two collaborate on a gift pack with the barbeque sauce and a bottle of whisky.  

“It’s the public that tells you whether something works or not, which is why the value of test markets is so important,” Cimolino said. “Companies pitch to us constantly who want to replicate the Jack Daniels partnership, but it’s not that easy. It has to be special.”