Beyond breakfast and the BLT

by Allison Sebolt
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Bacon is no longer something to be served as a breakfast meat or on a BLT sandwich. Today, bacon and bacon flavors are beginning to appear in everything from popcorn to lip balm.

The use of bacon was one of the biggest trends during 2009, according to Mintel Menu Insights, a program within Mintel International Ltd., Chicago, and flavors and items with bacon on a restaurant menu were up 4% between the third quarter of 2008 and the same quarter of 2009. The top dishes included bacon cheeseburgers, club sandwiches, breakfast sandwiches, pizza and chicken sandwiches. But bacon also showed up in appetizers, soups, salads and even desserts.

In the food service segment, Quiznos and Chili’s both launched bacon-inspired dishes with Quiznos launching its Crisp Turkey Bacon Swiss Summer Sub and Chili’s introducing the Fire-Grilled Bacon Ranch Chicken Quesadillas. Restaurants are using flavored bacons to add complexity and a signature touch to dishes. Some distinctive flavor additions include sweet and spicy profiles of jalapeño, maple, chipotle, honey, cinnamon and brown sugar.

Bacon flavor also is expanding into baking — Chicago’s More cupcake bakery currently offers a Bacon Maple and BLT cupcake — and increasingly it is showing up in the confectionery category, with products such as chocolate covered bacon as well as bacon flavors in cakes, cookies and ice cream. Bacon wrapped olives have become popular as well.

Christopher Michael Chocolatier has a Sizzling Bacon Bar, and the company said it blends bacon into cream milk chocolate with popping candy to give the sensation of bacon sizzling in the mouth.

“This bar was inspired by many summer trips and fairs that served chocolate covered bacon,” said Christopher Michael, owner. “I think it provides the perfect combination of sweet and salty, which many people crave.”

Das Foods, Chicago, has a bacon and chili caramel, which the company said is a combination of savory and smoky bacon bits with spicy chili peppers and pecan nuts wrapped in a creamy salty caramel base.

Jason Hobson, brand manager with Smithfield Foods, Smithfield, Va., said there are a lot of aspects contributing to the increased popularity of bacon, but he believes the most dominate is the change in consumer shopping habits with more people choosing to make dinner at home as opposed to dining out. Mr. Hobson said the company’s most popular flavor profile is hickory smoked bacon, and he said this is the fastest growing flavor profile throughout the United States.

Mr. Hobson added that the average bacon consumer cannot be identified in one demographic segment as it is a wide reaching category. He said about 600 million lbs of bacon are sold through retail grocery stores every year, and when supercenters and club stores are included, the number reaches close to 1 billion lbs sold in the United States.

Smithfield Foods recently introduced a double thick sliced bacon product, and through its Oscar Mayer brand Kraft Foods Inc., Northfield, Ill., has introduced Oscar Mayer Super Thick Cut Applewood Smoked Bacon. Oscar Mayer said the goal of its product is to offer restaurant-inspired taste and quality at home, and its new product is twice as thick as regular Oscar Mayer bacon.

“For every trend, there is likely at least one countertrend,” said Lynn Dornblaser, senior analyst at Mintel. “When it comes to bacon, on one level it is a countertrend to health and wellness. It’s about indulgence and flavor and an old-fashioned appeal, all of which resonate with consumers today. On another level it is about umami — that savory, salty taste. It’s a treat when things are tough as well.”

When it comes to bacon in the traditional breakfast category, Mintel said 80% of households buy bacon as a breakfast food with Oscar Mayer leading the breakfast meats segment with a 14% share. Manufacturers are producing healthier products as well with Kraft’s Oscar Mayer and Louis Rich brands offering turkey bacon and Hormel’s Natural Choice 100% natural uncured bacon seeing a significant rise in sales recently.

According to Mintel, there were 803 products in the bacon category introduced in 2009, which was up from 631 in 2008 and 614 in 2007. Within these products, savory spreads and sauces and seasonings are seeing increased activity.

“Moving forward, I think we are likely to see more products containing bacon appearing on the market and more products that focus on authenticity (talking about where the meat comes from or what it may be flavored with),” Ms. Dornblaser said. “The place to look for new bacon ideas is on restaurant menus.”
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