Vol. 4, Issue 3, March 28, 2006
Company's Gamble on Pork Soda in Middle East Doesn't Pay Off
North Carolina hog producer Matson Meats, Inc. is filing for bankruptcy following extremely poor sales of pork soda in the Middle East; the bankruptcy could result in unemployment for nearly 40,000 workers.
"There are major risks in any business venture," said Gerald Davis, CEO of Matson Meats and the man behind the innovative line of pork-flavored soft drinks. "Four years ago, it looked like we were ahead of the curve in a lot of ways. I guess sometimes fate just comes around and bites you where it hurts."
Matson's singular beverage line, "Hogwash," was developed by a former Coca-Cola employee-turned-hog farmer in 1998. At the time, North Carolina was facing a glut of pig farms and increasing pressure from the public to impose stricter environmental standards on hog farms.
"Everyone who tries it says it's really unforgettable, a rare standout in a field of otherwise homogenous products," said Davis. "The chunky variety was especially popular over by Greensboro."
Matson Meats bought the Hogwash formula and began a grassroots marketing campaign at county fairs, NASCAR races, and school fund raisers. Hogwash was particularly popular with school boards because it contains no caffeine, is relatively low in sugar, and has actual nutritional value.
"Know how much protein there is in a Coke? None, that's how much!" fumed Davis. "We were really robbed here, I think."
Despite Hogwash's local success, Matson Meats found itself stymied in its attempts to reach a wider market throughout the United States, thanks to Coca-Cola and Pepsi's firm grip on the soft drink wholesale and distribution network. Facing mounting losses, Matson Meats was about to give up when a chance encounter at a barbeque between Davis and a friend who happened to be a Halliburton executive changed everything.
"Turned out Halliburton had a line on some exclusive and very lucrative distribution contracts over in the Middle East," said Davis ruefully. "It seemed like the answer to our prayers."
And so, a few phone calls later, shipments of Hogwash pork soda were being stocked in Iraqi convenience stores the nation over. Shipments were also sent to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan. Sales were strong initially, but plummeted once someone translated the label into Arabic.
"Who knew they don't eat pork?" Davis said. "I mean, what kind of crazy diet is that? What's next, no alcoholic beverages?"
Desperate to make up for lost sales, and fleeing the occasional angry mob, Matson diverted its shipments into Israel for a few weeks. However, the company has been unable to find a rabbi willing to certify the pork-based soda as kosher.
"Never thought I'd say this, but there just ain't enough Jewish people in North Carolina," grumbled Davis. "You'd think we could find at least one fellow willing to give us that kosher rating. I'm almost tempted to do it myself."
With the fate of the Hogwash product line uncertain, there is speculation as to whether Coca-Cola or Pepsi will step in to keep America's shelves stocked with pork soda products.
"Is a world without Baconade worth living?" mused Davis. "I just don't know."