“Is the bacon craze over? Not even close,” Patrick Fleming, director of market intelligence and innovation at the National Pork Board, said during a recent call with journalists to discuss trends in the pork industry. “Bacon continues to generate excitement among consumers.”
Bacon also continues to generate innovations among foodservice operators. Research and Markets, a global business intelligence firm, said roughly 62 percent of restaurants in the US have bacon on the menu. And over the past 12 months, Fleming said, top foodservice chains have released more than 560 limited-time menu offerings featuring bacon such as the Budweiser Beer Cheese Bacon Burger from Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s and Arby’s Smokehouse Pork Belly sandwich.
Fleming said the “bacon craze” has maintained momentum for the past eight years and the item has transitioned from toppers for other proteins into other uses and dayparts.
“Now, it’s expanded into desserts, drinks and parts of the menu that it normally didn’t exist,” he said. “The next alliteration is fresh bellies and uncured bacon.”
Research and Markets noted that major companies are adopting new products like turkey bacon and Canadian bacon to increase market share. Innovations in smoke, thickness and flavors also are fueling demand for bacon.
“The new one we’ve seen this year is candied bacon,” Fleming explained, “bacon that’s been coated with something sweet — honey, brown sugar, sugar and then caramelized and then used as a garnish or as a topper — adding flavor on top of flavor.
“Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a real move to thick-cut bacon, because it adds more flavor and we’ve had a couple of major QSR restaurants upgrade and put in a thicker-sliced bacon to make an impact on their sandwiches,” he added.
At retail, consumers now have different options in smoke, including pecan, applewood, hardwoods and even oak barrel.
While innovations in flavors and processing technology provide tailwinds for growth in the market for bacon, consumer concerns about sodium coupled with growing demand for vegan and vegetarian offerings are restraints on the markets, according to Research and Markets. However, product launches like turkey bacon and rising demand in developing countries represent additional opportunities for bacon producers.
“It has definitely changed the cutout values of bellies over the last decade,” Fleming said of bacon. “It has made bellies a very strong part of cutout values, sometimes leading cutout values, depending on the seasonality. It’s also created some opportunities.
“We’ve had some really wide fluctuations in the belly market this year,” he added. “Part of that is because we have large groups of operators coming in and procuring bacon for an LTO — a limited-time offer. But the net effect has always been positive, and it keeps growing. Every year we keep watching the numbers grow. The trend is right on pace.”