This Easter, Liza Ford and her family plan to feast on ham bought out of the back of a truck.
She knows it will be tasty and juicy, just as it was at Christmas. And it will cost significantly less than if she went to a supermarket or specialty store.
Ford buys her meat from Zaycon Foods, a company that delivers fresh meat, fish and other products in bulk at wholesale prices. Customers buy the food online and pick it up by the case at designated sites, typically at churches and other places with big parking lots. Most items come in 40-pound cardboard boxes.
"It's a great way to save money,'' said Ford, who lives in New Port Richey and has written about the company on her blog, addictedtosaving.com. "It's not as pretty as if you go to the grocery store and buy it, but it's high quality and fresh.''
Brandon Berezay and JC Conrad started the company in 2010 in Washington, fusing parts of their name to create Zaycon. Conrad was working as a butcher in a grocery store and wanted to try selling meat in large quantities. He posted a notice at the cash register to gauge interest and got a huge response.
Zaycon initially focused on the Northwest but, as word spread, expanded nationwide in 2011. The company has made about a dozen shipments to the Tampa Bay area in the past year and a half, including stops in Clearwater, New Port Richey, St. Petersburg and Tampa.
Each truck carries about 25,000 pounds of meat, usually a single kind, from boneless, skinless chicken breasts to ground beef, catfish and chicken tenders. Trucks come directly from government-approved farms to prearranged pickup sites, where volunteers, who get paid in meat, load cases into people's trunks.
"Our customers love the experience,'' said Mike Conrad, the founder's brother who now runs the company with his cousin Adam Kremin. "People have told me, 'I feel dirty. I just bought a box of chicken out of a truck parked in a bowling alley. But it's the best chicken I've ever had.' ''
The typical time from slaughter to sale is two to six days, much shorter than traditional brick and mortar stores, he said. Food comes fresh, not frozen, and buyers have to cut it into smaller portions and separate it into bags if they want to freeze it.
Zaycon goes to areas where enough customers request it. Shoppers must register online to get email alerts about deliveries headed their way. All products are sold and paid for two to four weeks in advance; no one can buy once the truck arrives. If someone misses a pickup time, Zaycon will credit the order for a future purchase.
Zaycon works with various farms to get the best deals possible. Chicken, for example, runs $1.49 to $1.89 a pound, cheaper than most store sale prices. It's all-natural, but not organic, meaning it's not injected with other ingredients, even water and salt. Much of the poultry sold locally comes from Sanderson Farms in Mississippi and House of Raeford Farms in North Carolina.
Ford has two freezers at her home in New Port Richey to store all the meat she buys from Zaycon. At first, she didn't like having to handle the raw chicken, draining the juices and trimming the fat, but now she considers it worth her time. She and her husband can live off 40 pounds of chicken for a long time, without ever having to pay full price.
Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110.