WEST POINT — The powers-that-be at Dyno Marketing were brainstorming one day when someone marveled about how successful the transition had been introducing world-renowned, award-winning, red-headed Italian chef “Molto Mario” Batali to NASCAR. Watching him drop the green flag at the NASCAR Pocono 500 was inspiring, they agreed.
They were also buzzing about the new 2 Brothers barbeque sauce, specially made by cousins Wilkes Bryan and Bill Atkins, the third generation of the Bryan family of Bryan Foods “The Flavor of the South” fame in West Point.
Why not, they wondered, partner Batali with 2 Brothers to create a line of original barbeque sauces officially licensed by NASCAR?
“Dyno brought Mario to NASCAR because we thought it was a good intersection of two brands,” said Chris Adubato, vice president of New Jersey-based Dyno Marketing. “Because of Mario’s cooking style and approachability, NASCAR fans took to him quickly, especially when he walked around the tailgating area and through the garages talking to everyone like a regular Joe. Anything he puts his name to gives instant credibility, similar to the way the NASCAR brand does.”
With 75 million fans, NASCAR is America’s fastest-growing spectator sport. An average of 150,000 loyal fans show up to watch NASCAR races, spending days camping out and tailgating. And talking. And barbequing.
“NASCAR has the most brand loyalty in all of sports,” said Mike Reilly, president of 2 Brothers. “These fans make up the most active group of tailgaters in America as they tailgate from Wednesday to Sunday, 38 race weeks each year, with 17 of the top 20 attended spectator sporting events in America.
These Southern-rooted traditions go hand-in-hand.”
Dyno Marketing had established a relationship with 2 Brothers, and Rich Bodmer, co-founder of Dyno Marketing, introduced Batali, his high school buddy, to Atkins and Bryan.
“There’s a similar integration between NASCAR and 2 Brothers, the way there was with Mario and NASCAR, where each opens up new markets for the another,” said Adubato. “We realized 2 Brothers makes a great sauce, Mario is the ‘food smarts’ guy, so why not put them together and see what comes out of it?”
Batali, who received the James Beard Foundation’s “Outstanding Chef Award” last year, has two shows on the Food Network, reigned supreme on Iron Chef America, and owns eight award-winning restaurants, said 2 Brothers’ barbeque sauces and seasonings “combine my favorite tastes with the old-fashioned know-how of the first family of barbeque, the Bryans.”
Atkins and Bryan created the barbeque sauce in honor of John and W.B. Bryan, who founded Bryan Packing Company in 1936, which has since been sold to the Sara Lee Corporation. Bryan is John Bryan’s grandson and Bill Atkins, who works in the fresh pork sales division at the Sara Lee Corporation in West Point, married John Bryan’s granddaughter, Caroline Harrell.
Building on a solid base
“Wilkes and I built on a base that had been in the family for years,” said Atkins. “Once we found a flavor that we liked, we took our sauce to a food scientist and agreed on a flavor profile that would reach out to mass consumers. We knew that the barbeque sauce market is very competitive, but with our family history in the meat business, we felt like we had a head start. Our family has always been interested in what makes food taste great. I think that we have developed a sauce and seasoning that does just that.”
2 Brothers was established in the fall of 2003, and the first product was served at the Mississippi State University versus Alabama game in Starkville. The products were in retail outlets the following spring.
When 2 Brothers/Mario Batali Hot and Spicy and Sweet and Tangy barbecue sauces were unveiled to the public as “NASCAR’s Officially Licensed Barbeque Sauces,” sales skyrocketed.
“Our numbers are up over 300% year-to-date,” said Reilly. “The NASCAR endorsement has meant everything to our company. We now have a seat at the table in major retailers such as Wal-Mart, the number one retailer in the world, Kroger and others. We have barbequed on Wall Street with Sprint and Nextel, the title sponsor of NASCAR’s primary racing series, and have had stars of Hollywood, music and sports attend 2 Brothers events. NASCAR has taken our product from a small northeast Mississippi town to the largest markets in America.”
Reilly said he hopes to see the products rolled out nationally in 2007.
The sauces are featured in recipes included in “Mario Tailgates NASCAR Style,” published by The Sporting News earlier this year. The book’s first print run sold out within nine days, and now more than 225,000 copies of the book are in print.
On the road
Already, the crew has hit the publicity circuit, which included a July 28 appearance on “Good Morning America.” The 2 Brothers Grillin’ Team has traversed the country feeding NASCAR celebrities such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Richard Petty, Michael and Darrell Waltrip, Joe Nemechek, Bobby Labonte and Jamie McMurray, along with comic Ron White and Sony Pictures “Talladega Nights” star Will Ferrell, also known as “Ricky Bobby.”
Upcoming: tailgating segment features in Food & Wine magazine and Sports Illustrated fall issues. Batali, Atkins and Bryan are already collaborating on new flavors and products, including seasonings, marinades and Bloody Mary mixes.
“Hopefully, the 2 Brothers brand will follow another brand born out of SEC (Southeastern Conference) football: Gatorade, which was developed in the swamp at Florida Field,” said Reilly. “The 2 Brothers brand is right at home in college football and NASCAR racing.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.