A little 'naughtiness' helps drive bacon to the top

by Bernard Shire
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Diet preferences in the United States -- November 2014
Research by Mintel reveals consumers don't always stick to a diet. Bacon allows consumers to be bad. (Source: Lightspeed GMI/Mintel)

So with Americans focusing more and more on eating healthy, along comes bacon — not considered one of the healthiest foods to eat — but among indulgent foods, it’s one of the most popular. Bacon rage is sustained, vibrant and growing with a following that is iconic and applications that seem to be limitless. is all the rage now, easily the most popular of all the meats people are currently consuming and showing no signs of dropping in appeal.

“When you look at bacon, it’s really a ‘rebel’ thing,” says Patricia Johnson, global food analyst for Mintel International, with a laugh. “It’s a product that glorifies gluttony a little bit, a super indulgence, maybe. And I think it’s something that many people are looking for in their lives these days; maybe just a little bit of escape.”

US consumers are not interested in being good all the time,” Johnson says with a smile. “Think about it — they’re bombarded with messages about the obesity epidemic, heart disease, exercise, factory food, etc. Consumers are engaging in a food and health rebellion by worshiping bacon, a food they know is bad for them, but tastes so good. Bacon has become the standard bearer for health-advice backlash.”

In fact, most consumers leave some space in their diets for indulgence, and more than a quarter of consumers eat whatever they want, according to data from Mintel’s Snack Nutrition and Protein Bars – US – March 2015.

According to the study, the largest group of consumers — about half — tries to balance their diets, saying they try to balance their indulgences with healthy meals. Another quarter claim they pay close attention to their diets and try to eat healthy. The remaining quarter admit they eat whatever they want to.

This could be really be part of a larger overall diet trend — a countermovement, a consumer protest to the criticism fast-food suffered in recent years, with steps like trying to ban “big sodas” in New York, and other government “nanny” actions. The best example is probably KFC’s Double Down Sandwich, consisting of two deep-fried chicken breasts, cheese and — what else? Bacon.

Flavor enhancing

Which brings us back to bacon. While it has great flavor, bacon also does something else – it intensifies flavor in other foods. Consumers are also seeking out food flavors that stimulate the senses – so bacon is recognized as a way to add intense flavors to pizza, for example, and multiple other food categories. Half of consumers add bacon as a topping to their pizza, according to Mintel.

Then there’s the phenomenon of premium, high-cost bacon becoming more popular, even as the US recession was hitting its high point. That’s a testimony to the fact that consumers seek out small indulgences even when economic times aren’t good – the other major escape consumers indulge in is chocolate, Johnson says. Gourmet and artisanal choices in food help satisfy this indulgence, similarly to during the Great Depression, when people saved enough money to go the movies to escape their economic woes.

According to Johnson, retail activity of bacon has been extremely strong and predicted to grow even stronger. The number of food products launched with bacon as an ingredient doubled between 2012 and last year. The US breakfast meat segment has performed consistently well in recent years, forecast to achieve sales of $5.8 billion this year, and should reach sales of $6.5 billion in 2017.

According to Mintel’s Breakfast Restaurant Trends from the beginning of this year, bacon topped all other meats, including pork sausage, country ham, beef patties and turkey sausage. Thick-cut and innovative-flavored bacons are playing a major role in that growth, including flavors such as pecan wood-smoked, peppercorn, apple-wood and cherry-wood bacon.

And while you might think bacon is a “man thing,” it’s not. Both women and men are equally enthusiastic about bacon.

Bacon’s big on social media, too, where there’s a “cloud” devoted to bacon.

And the people who you think wouldn’t have the slightest interest in bacon — who might in fact actually dislike the stuff — they’re trying to get in on the bacon act, too. There are many non-pork products being called bacon. Some are even for non-meat eaters. They include various kinds of turkey bacon, hickory & sage “benevolent” bacon, veggie bacon strips, tofu bacon, salmon bacon, kosher bacon, and seaweed that tastes like bacon. There’s even a growing selection of bacon-flavored treats for Fido, as the pet-food industry sits up and takes notice of the trend. Well, why should anyone get left out?

And of course, two of the greatest indulgences tied together — bacon-flavored chocolate. And chocolate-flavored bacon. And don’t forget bacon-enhanced vodka. You can’t get much more indulgent than that.

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