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Startup seasoning company signs deal with Food Lion

Katie Tabeling
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Shore Smoke Seasoning, a spice company launched amid the pandemic, has gone from online sales to store shelves within three years.

Shore Smoke Seasoning owner Ryan Stevenson was out at the 2023 Middletown Peach Festival in late August. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

MILLSBORO — Shore Smoke Seasoning has signed a deal with Food Lion that will put four spice blends on the shelves of 73 stores in Maryland and Delaware.

The business, started as a COVID-19 pandemic hobby by Ryan Stevenson that later got a boost from the barbecue social media community, has been in scores of stores in North Carolina since 2021. But the Food Lion deal means that the business will have more of a presence in its home state. The brand is expected to hit Food Lion in September.

In all, Stevenson said Shore Smoke Seasoning blends are available in 200 retailers across 25 stores, as well as online platforms like Amazon.

“This means the absolute world to us. We’ve gone from a mom-and-pop store to looking for a second location in La Grange, N.C., to keep up with demand,” Stevenson said. “This means my wife can come on for full-time work, and we can hire more staff to keep up with orders.”

The deal with Food Lion has been 18 months in the making, and started when Stevenson reached out to the retailer directly. Over the course of months, he said he talked with at least three representatives until the deal was finalized.

“There was some changeover and when it happened, we had to start the process all over again. Every time someone asked me when we would be in stores, I just took a screenshot and sent it to them,” Stevenson said. “There’s a fine line between being a pest and getting answers, and you have to walk that line.

Just when he thought the deal was dead, a Food Lion representative reconnected and asked about Shore Smoke Seasoning. Then in April, the spice company connected with the Food Lion distributor.

“It’s been all hands on deck to make fresh batches. I can’t even tell you how much we made, it was a literal tractor-trailer load,” Stevenson said.

Food Lion will sell four blends: surf-and-turf seasoning Ocean Pursuit; sugar and citrus blend Paradise Party; Italian seasoning That’s Amore; and honey-garlic blend Queen Bee.

The retailer wanted to offer blends targeted to the Delmarva region as well as offering something different. Stevenson said Food Lion is interested in expanding the line-up as time goes on.

Shore Smoke Seasoning was created in May 2020, when Stevenson — then working as a sales director for a cybersecurity firm — tried selling his homemade spice blends. After packaging up ones he created from years of exploring flavors and blends, he offered samples to their neighbors in Smyrna. 

From there, the business picked up notice from local fundraisers but its biggest lift came from David Watkins, who runs the True Smoke BBQ Facebook page, dedicated to barbecue appreciation and recipes. The Facebook group has 32,000 members today, and launched Stevenson into the world of barbecue competitions.

Since 2022, Stevenson has turned the business away from the barbecue circuit and more toward mainstream culinary efforts — and it’s paid off. Shore Smoke Seasoning moved to a new office in Millsboro and got on the shelves of retailers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. 

The Schell Brothers’ bi-annual publication, “At Home with Schell Brothers,” featured a few recipes inspired by Shore Smoke Seasoning, and work is underway for a charity foundation for culinary education.

In the next year, Stevenson hopes to have the North Carolina office humming along and to have at least 12 employees. Shore Smoke Seasoning currently has five employees.

“This has been a very long process, and I’m not kidding when I say blood, sweat and tears have gone into it,” he said. “It’s very hard to get into chain stores, but you just have to be determined that it will work out. And I’m grateful it did.”

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