Jan. 24, 2018
The Bacon Express, a pop-up food truck, went on a two-week tour to select East Coast cities in early December.
Consumers are paying higher prices for bacon, but that isn’t stopping them from indulging in the multi-daypart staple – or the food industry from developing new bacon-centric products, promotions and menu items.
Retail prices for bacon advanced significantly in 2017 on tight supplies of pork bellies in cold storage. An American Farm Bureau (AFBF) Marketbasket Survey from last September found that wholesale prices for pork bellies had surged more than 70 percent in 2017, while retail prices for bacon jumped more than 60 percent.
“We saw a rally in wholesale bacon prices this summer and fall which is being reflected at the retail level,” Dr. John Newton, AFBF’s director of market intelligence, noted at the time. “Bacon is a sexy food item in restaurants and everywhere else, creating an inventory decline and thus a price increase.”
Still, bacon remains a popular staple among consumers, and food manufacturers, such as Chicago-based Allen Brothers, continue innovating in the category. Allen Brothers, a leading purveyor of meats and seafoods, launched Mangalitsa by Møsefund hickory smoked bacon and smoked holiday ham. Mangalitsa is the largest producer of the American Mangalitsa breed of pigs.
American Mangalitsa is known for its clean, layered, concentrated flavors. Allen Brothers’ Mangalitsa bacon is rich in “good” monounsaturated fat and high in Omega fatty acids. “We’re excited to have Allen Brothers offer the secret ingredients celebrity chefs use to make their dishes extraordinary,” G. Chris Andersen, Mangalitsa by Møsefund founder, said following the product launch.
Allen Brothers also played a role in the Baker’s Bacon nationwide launch last year. Chef Tony Baker of Montrio Bistro in Monterey, California, created Baker’s Bacon only for foodservice distribution, but in 2017 the premium bacon was featured for sale on the Allen Brothers website in addition to its inclusion in the Allen Brothers catalog.
“We are very excited to be working with what has long time been recognized as one of the country’s top beef houses,” Baker said when the nationwide launch was announced. “We get so many requests from the public to be able to purchase our bacon, which up until now has only been available to the foodservice industry, I couldn’t think of a better partner to help us make this a reality.”
Allen Brothers offered English-Style “Uncured” Back Bacon, Dry-Cured Double Apple Wood Smoked Bacon, as well as a peppered version of the Double Apple Wood Smoked Bacon.
Baker’s Bacon remains available via wholesale to restaurants in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Chicago, Miami and New York City in addition to premium meat purveyors in the Bay Area of California.
The deluxe bacon sampler from Gracie's on West Main features double-smoked , caramelized, Irish, sweet garlic chili, Worchestershire black pepper, meat loaf bacon, a bacon of the week and a side of bacon jam.
Prominent in promotions
Bacon took a leading role in generating publicity in some cases. Third Wave Café in Port Melbourne, Australia, created the Bacon Cake as a special menu item for September last year, for example. The mammoth creation consisted of layers of bacon weaves, macaroni and cheese, Monterey Jack cheese, burger patties, sweet potato, pulled brisket, more bacon, more mac ‘n cheese and more bacon weaves. Third Wave Café served the cake in slices with a side of candy bacon (which is bacon strips brushed with maple syrup, drizzled in organic brown sugar and chili) and a bacon-wrapped smoked and grilled pork meatball called an “Oink Ball”.
Season’s Meatings was the theme of Bridgewater, New Jersey-based Applegate’s holiday campaign that featured The Bacon Express, a pop-up food truck that traveled to select East Coast cities as part of a two-week tour serving complimentary bacon treats created by Chef Ian Knauer – from candied bacon to bacon hot chocolate.
The tour finished at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall featuring the “Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes.” Applegate was an official partner of the Rockettes’ show.
And in a food fight for the ages, there were no losers in the Bacon versus Taco battle of 2017. The joint promotion featured the Lehigh Valley (Pennsylvania) IronPigs and Fresno (California) Grizzlies. In 2014, the IronPigs created an alternate jersey featuring Bacon USA emblazoned across the front. But in 2016, the IronPigs team, which is the Triple-A affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies, donned the bacon jerseys every Saturday.
“You throw a lot of ideas on the wall and see what sticks,” Jon Schaeffer, vice president of media and communications for the team, said at the time. “I remember thinking the idea was so wacky and so unique that I had a feeling it was going to take off.”
The IronPigs website stated that the amount of bacon sold at Coca-Cola Park doubled, and “…The original bacon cap remains one of the top-selling lids in the history of Minor League Baseball. With widespread interest and publicity, the bacon logo quickly sold to each of the 50 states as well as Australia, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom...”
The Bacon USA jerseys and caps proved to be so popular that another minor league baseball team took notice. The Fresno Grizzlies, the Triple-A affiliate for the World Series Champion Houston Astros, adopted a taco logo for the Grizzlies alternate jersey, and proclaimed California’s Central Valley “Taco Capital of the World.”
But the real magic happened when the general managers of the two teams leveraged the brands and logos to create a social media sensation spurred by a nationwide poll with one question: Bacon or Tacos?
In the end, bacon won the popular vote. To seal the victory, the Fresno Grizzlies wore the IronPigs’ Fighting Bacon caps during a home game against the Sacramento River Cats.
Pleasing pork lovers
Gracie Volker, who with her husband Jim Rutolo, co-own and operate Gracie’s On West Main in Leola, Pennsylvania, filled her menu with special meals that put bacon in the spotlight, such as a bacon sampler featuring four slices of locally-sourced, hardwood double-smoked bacon, two slices of caramelized brown sugar bacon and two slices of Irish bacon. The upgraded deluxe bacon sampler includes every kind of bacon Gracie’s offers – double-smoked, caramelized, Irish, sweet garlic chili, Worcestershire black pepper, meat loaf bacon, a bacon of the week every week, and a side of bacon jam with toast points.
Rutolo makes the bacon jam, and each batch requires about 15 lbs. of bacon combined with molasses, cayenne, Worcestershire sauce and expresso to produce 5 lbs. of bacon jam.
Also on offer is a bacon and cheese sandwich; buffalo bacon bits with smoked cube slab bacon; a triple-bacon BLT and bacon green beans; and there’s maple bacon walnut pie for dessert.
Of course, there’s still bacon and eggs for breakfast. But in spring of 2017, Gracie’s sponsored a seven-course dinner with bacon as the signature ingredient across courses. There are plans to sponsor another dinner in 2018.
“I could take off everything on the menu containing bacon, and some people probably wouldn’t notice,” Volker said. “Obviously, there are a lot of non-bacon items on our menus. But a lot of customers would realize it right way, because they come here for the bacon.”