Fresh Take: How ButcherBox Built A Profitable Business While Promising Free Bacon For Life

Food & Drink

I may have overlooked ButcherBox in the past, particularly because I was skeptical that its iconic promotion—promising free bacon for life in exchange for a monthly subscription—could ever make money. But then I found out how big ButcherBox was, and then I found out that it was actually profitable, in spite (or maybe, partially due to) all that free bacon.

That brings me to my latest story, published today. It’s a deep dive into the closely held ButcherBox and its founder and CEO Mike Salguero, who owns 72% of ButcherBox and has built the company into a $550 million (sales) online meat business. Salguero has shunned outside investors. The other 28% of ownership? Employee equity. What brought Salguero down that path is that he was burned before.

“I did not start out saying no to venture capital because I thought that that was the only structure possible to change the food industry,” Salguero told me. “I said no to venture capital because I had raised venture capital and I was a little disillusioned by my experience.”

But Salguero did, eventually, figure out that the business model he had stumbled upon could also have a major impact—by working within the existing industrial meat industry to demand change while also proving a market for better meat at scale. Fresh Take readers know how sorely needed that is. That’s why I wanted to feature ButcherBox, which is now the largest online seller of humanely certified meat, and how the eight-year-old subscription business has succeeded where so many other food box startups have struggled.

This is the 80th edition of Forbes Fresh Take. Time really does fly. Thanks for reading, whether you just joined or you’ve been with me since 2021. It’s been a thrill to see this evolve into one of the fastest-growing newsletters at Forbes, and I’m excited to keep delivering the takes you crave. That brings me to some housekeeping. I’m in need of some replenishment, so Fresh Take will be taking a break while I’m on vacation in Malta and Sicily. Can’t wait to tell you about the pasta when I return!

— Chloe Sorvino, Staff Writer

Order my book, Raw Deal: Hidden Corruption, Corporate Greed and the Fight for the Future of Meat, out now from Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books.

This is Forbes’ Fresh Take newsletter, which every Friday brings you the latest on the big ideas changing the future of food. Want to get it in your inbox every week? Sign up here.

What’s Fresh

How ButcherBox Is Killing It With Free Bacon For Life While Rivals Like Blue Apron Unraveled

Since its 2015 debut, ButcherBox has grown to become one of the largest online meat-sellers in America with $550 million in sales. This comes at a time when food-box companies, which once seemed to be the next big thing, have mostly faded. Stock prices of competitors like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh have plummeted. Just this month, New Age food brands Tattooed Chef and Do Good Chicken filed for bankruptcy. But CEO Mike Salguero’s $169 monthly subscription did two things his rivals didn’t: as a promotion, he gave away free bacon (or chicken wings, or ground beef), and he shunned venture investment. That stemmed from a bad experience Salguero had with investors in a previous startup.

“I was pretty disillusioned by my experience,” said Salguero, 42. “I felt like it was very adversarial, and I felt like I couldn’t build the company the way I wanted to because I had investors.” He added: “If we’d taken outside investment, we’d be out of business right now.”

India’s Rice Export Ban Could Drive Global Food Prices Even Higher

India—the world’s largest exporter of rice—banned all exports of “non-basmati white rice” late Thursday in an effort to keep domestic prices in check, raising fears it could further threaten global food security.

Once-Booming Craft Beer Market Stalled At 0% Growth In 2022, Brewers Association Reports. Now What?

Ignoring 2020, a year when almost every industry suffered anomalous results, craft beer had grown every year for as long as anyone can remember. Until now.

Bison Gores Woman At Yellowstone Amid Repeated Warnings And Close Calls

A woman was gored by a bison on Sunday while visiting Yellowstone National Park, and while it’s unclear how close she was to the animal before it charged her, the incident follows increased warnings by experts to not approach wild animals.

Field Notes

Grassfed steak and wild-caught salmon were on the menu when I visited ButcherBox headquarters outside of Boston earlier this month. These cuts top ButcherBox’s bestsellers, and I was lucky to have them prepared by chef Ashley Lonsdale. The steak was marinated in Thai-style vinegar and topped with radishes, red onion and herbs. Fennel and dill adorned the sockeye salmon.

Thanks for reading the 80th edition of Forbes Fresh Take! Let me know what you think. Subscribe to Forbes Fresh Take here.

Chloe Sorvino leads coverage of food and agriculture as a staff writer on the enterprise team at Forbes. Her book, Raw Deal: Hidden Corruption, Corporate Greed and the Fight for the Future of Meat, published on December 6, 2022, with Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books. Her nearly nine years of reporting at Forbes has brought her to In-N-Out Burger’s secret test kitchen, drought-ridden farms in California’s Central Valley, burnt-out national forests logged by a timber billionaire, a century-old slaughterhouse in Omaha and even a chocolate croissant factory designed like a medieval castle in northern France.

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