Bacon - the cure for what ails you

FAMILY TRADE: Claire Vogtherr, owner of the Hastings-based Holly Bacon Company, and daughter Lydia taste their wares.
FAMILY TRADE: Claire Vogtherr, owner of the Hastings-based Holly Bacon Company, and daughter Lydia taste their wares.

One hundred years ago Carl Vogtherr added hand-mixed brine to bacon before smoking it and hanging it out to dry.

When customers unwrap their Holly Bacon online order today, that same Bavarian curing method is behind the taste.

It's about holding on to what's important and adapting with the times, Claire Vogtherr said.

She is the fourth generation running the Hastings business.

When Carl Vogtherr was setting up business in his adopted home he struggled to sell his German wurst. People ate bacon, so he advertised in the local paper for pigs and switched his focus to bacon and ham.

He started an "Elite" Bacon factory and later a delicatessen, which opened the day World War I broke out, August 4, 1914.

The business thrived, selling 100 pigs a week as rolls of ham and bacon to local stores restaurants and families.

Son Ernest returned home in 1937 and established the Hastings Bacon Company. His boy Gordon joined the company in 1942 and continued the curing tradition when it moved to its current St Aubyn St East site in 1962.

Daughter Claire, a trained nurse, came on board in 1982 "just to help out" over summer. She never left. Her daughters are now involved, with one running the stand at the farmers' market while the other creates sauces to sell in the shop.

The industry was changing when Claire Vogtherr joined the family business. New technologies brought a new mindset. But head curer Gary Windley wasn't fussed on the changes and said he would be out the door if they dropped the traditional curing method. So they kept up the two to three week process while others moved on to a modern technique that cut curing down to three days.

It wasn't easy. There was pressure to bring prices down, but loyal customers helped the business ride out the bumps.

The small team of five kept focused on providing a premium product they were passionate about.

And it paid off - Holly Bacon secured space on supermarket shelves, which was a big thing for a small company in the 80s, Vogtherr said.

Now an online presence is just as important as securing stockists.

Vogtherr has embraced social media to promote the company's online sales.

Facebook engagement has even helped create the perfect English pork pie recipe.

Vogtherr used the company's page to create a tasting panel, where people would come in, try samples and give feedback. Together they created the recipe for the pies selling in the store today.

Now Vogtherr is going to the source of her family recipes - she will meet other descendants of the original Bavarian pork butchers later this year. She hopes to regain the German recipes lost with her great-grandfather, allowing her to recreate them for customers.

Selling new products at the Hawke's Bay Farmers Market each week was a great way to try new things for their loyal customers while attracting new ones, Vogtherr said.

"It's about building brand and getting people to taste the product. It does speak for itself."

Holly Bacon won the consumer award at the New Zealand Bacon and Ham Competition last year.

As part of centenary celebrations the dated Holly Bacon shop and factory will get a complete revamp. Floor space will triple and the pokey shop front will be extended. Customers will also be to watch the age-old curing technique through windows into the factory. It will showcase history in a modern facility.

"That's the platform for the next 40 years," Vogtherr said.

The Dominion Post