- by Tom Eastman
Piggy Goes to the Market
Peter Case admits to being somewhat amused by the notion of making a living by selling mustard. Not your average, store-bought hot dog mustard, but an unusually delicious gourmet mustard which is so good that some people who try it profess that they love to eat it by the spoonful. He also says that he gets a kick out of people's reactions to the brand name he has chosen for his fledgling mustard enterprise - Cochon et Co.
Translated into English, it means, quite simply Pig and Company, arguably not the most appropriate choice, it would seem, for a company which is winning over customers in the best restaurants and stores in New England, Peter likes the name, however, and with good reason - his nickname around the Valley is Piggy, and it only seemed proper to launch his thrust into the food industry world under a name he was comfortable with.
After adding a continental flair to the name by translating it into French to appease his gourmet instincts, Case established his new company earlier this winter and has been busy setting it solidly on all fours ever since. He is understandably proud of his product, but not so much so that he can't see the humor inherent in the whole operation. "I believe so strongly in the integrity and overall quality of my mustard that I can afford to ham it up a bit," he explained while donning a Cochon et Co. custom apron and Piggy hat complete with ears and snout in the living room of his Jackson home. Opening a jar of the spicy concoction and putting it on crackers and cheese, the former radio broadcaster, army medic, and ski instructor related how he is often asked about his qualifications for running a mustard company, in light of his past experiences.
"This one manufacturer in Portland who I've been dealing with said he couldn't understand what I was doing making mustard. I can't answer it, other than to say that somehow, my background as a broadcaster with the Library of Congress's Books for the Blind program, or my work as an advertising salesman at WBNC, or even being an auctioneer at the Oak Lee's auctions here in Jackson on Wednesday nights, is helpful," he laughed, alluding to the techniques he used when enticing customers at stores to sample his product. "I think it all has something to do with the idea that the Great American Dream exists and is alive and well. If you have the talent, the right product and a little luck, along with an inclination to take a risk and make the effort required, then that's all that you really need."
Peter strongly believes that he does have the right product, and there is little doubt that he certainly has the willingness to make the sacrifices necessary to make his fledgling company a success. When he begins talking about his mustard, the auctioneer in him does take over a bit, as he enthusiastically describes the inroads which the company has already made in the short months since he decided to market the expensive but quality mustard commercially. "Earlier this year, I knew the time was right to go ahead and market the mustard. I made a market analysis and discovered that the price for selling it would be expensive because of the ingredients I use, but I knew that people would pay a little more for something which is that much better in quality."
The turning point for the mustard's marketability came earlier this spring when Peter received a call from Ken Donabedian of North Country Wholesale asking him to display his mustard at a food show being held at the Red Jacket Motor Lodge in North Conway. Donabedian had met Pater during one of the latter's many supply trips to the local food supplier outfit, and had taken interest in the idea of a local man trying to break into the food industry on his own. The deal offered to Peter was one which he couldn't refuse - he would be allowed to display his mustard along with all the other food industry suppliers at the show if North Country Wholesale were given the exclusive local distributor rights. Peter figured it was an exceptional deal, and agreed to its terms.
The experience proved to be an invaluable opportunity and learning experience. "The representatives from the food companies tasted the product and they were excited - they were really helpful in directing me to contacts who would be able to help answer my questions as well as promote a few that I should have been thinking of. It was extremely encouraging to me for people in the business to extend that type of support and information to a person they didn't know. I knew then that there was no question that I had a marketable product - it would just take a lot of commitment and desire to make it take off, along with time," the mustachioed mustard maker said, noting that he vowed that day to mow lawns and do whatever other odd jobs were necessary to make the company succeed in its initial stages.
Cochon et Co is still very much in that initial stage, but the mustard's popularity and reputation is spreading fast. Peter had been making the rounds, visiting restaurants and inns as well as stores throughout the North Country and Concord areas, generally receiving favorable comments and orders for his white tablecloth product. He has found the response both encouraging and gratifying, since it convinces him that he has been right about his homemade mustard all along.
He is obviously counting on the product to continue to catch on, both for financial as well as personal reasons. Says Peter, "As much as I want to be in business for myself, I really get a kick out of knowing that people are buying my mustard because they like it and it makes them feel good. I'm proud that top-notch restaurants such as the Balsams and The Eating House are using the mustard, but I also think that it's great that small delis are putting it on their hot dogs, too. I'm as tickled when a friend such as Phil Kelly at the Eaton Village Store buys it not only for his store but for his own use as well - it's really important to me to be able to stand behind a product which is both successful and well-liked that way."
It is not for public knowledge just exactly how Mister Case concocts his mustard, but he will divulge that basic to the process is a simple matter of technique. He takes eggs, apple vinegar, mustard powder or flour and sugar, heats it all in three-gallon double boilers and then lets it cool for an undisclosed period of time. The result is a spicy, excellent tasting, hot, German style mustard which tastes much more like a sauce than any jar of the traditional sort you'd find at the ballpark. Speaking of the recipe, Peter said, "It's really not entirely unique, since I have met a few people who have said that they have similar recipes for mustard. But it's one thing to have a recipe, and quite another to have enough desire and inclination to go out and market it."
That desire to succeed on his own as a businessman is the key which makes Peter tick, as he finds the challenge of starting his own business rewarding in itself. As he explained, "I specifically like the aspect that I'm able to make a creative decision and be responsible for it, all the way through. I've always had the notion that I'd be able to get into marketing in some manner - sticky sailplates was one idea, another was in recording for the blind on my own - but the costs were always too impractical. Now I've got a product which I believe in and which is also marketable, and now it's a matter of waiting for it to take off." He added that he could easily sell the recipe to a large food company such as General Foods, but that would be contrary to the quality standards which he is setting for his product.
He has been in touch with Schloetterbecker & Foss, a manufacturer in Portland, Maine, about the prospects for producing the mustard in the near future on a large scale basis. The talks are still in the preliminary stage, but Peter says that he's confident that some type of agreement will be reached soon. He is currently working on a report for Foss which details his plans and expectations for the Cochon et Co. mustard, and chemical studies are currently being conducted to test the mustard's storing qualities. "I chose Foss because his family has been in the business for four generations, and he has a reputation for overseeing every aspect of the production. He's really above board, and I know that he'd see to it that my mustard came out tasting the way it should."
In the meantime, Peter will continue making, selling, and distributing the Cochon et Co. mustard by himself, staying just one step ahead of demand for the product. Where would he like to find himself in the next two to five years? "It's too interesting for me to predict, though I would expect to realize enough revenue to become a marketer for other local products from the Mt. Washington Valley under the Cochon et Co. label, to help everyone," he answered. "That's what I envision as this company's potential - people would identify the Cochon label with quality, and the talented persons in the Valley could market their quality honey, jams, or whatever that lived up to the quality standards set by the mustard. The people in the Valley have been so incredibly supportive, that I would like to see my mustard help them out as well. But the idea of it - making a living through mustard - that's really the funniest part."
NOTE: We looked up Cochon et Co. mustard online and didn't find anything so hoping that Peter Case lets us know what happened to his gourmet mustard.