KANSAS CITY, Mo. – When it comes to enjoying good meat products, some things haven’t changed over the decades — such as US families enjoying bacon during breakfast on those few, more leisurely weekends that thankfully are carved out every now and then.

As kids during snowy, dark and cold Chicago winters, my older sister and I enjoyed making snow forts out in the back yard on Saturday mornings when we lived on the south side of Chicago and were a stone’s throw away from Lake Michigan. Back then it seemed to snow non-stop each winter from early November through to the following April probably due to the lake-effect snow. After playing outside for several hours, we’d drag our cold, wet, stinging bodies up the old, winding two-flat stairs with the aroma of bacon frying on the stove luring us to move faster all the while. We would place our soaking-wet mittens, hats and scarves on our old cast-iron steam radiator heating system in the front room being careful not to touch the old, flowered wallpaper on the walls. We would then bolt into the kitchen through the apartment’s full-length, swinging door from the dining room hoping to snitch a piece of crispy bacon before breakfast was served.

As kids, our bacon-eating experiences at home were pretty much limited to having bacon with pancakes or French toast on certain winter weekends —or as an ingredient in BLT sandwiches for dinner during hot, summer months. My mom used the leftover bacon fat in her heavy, old, black frying pan to fry her pancakes and French toast. Back in those days, bacon was pretty much limited in variety, but it always featured quite a bit of fat—and it always tasted good. Nothing went to waste.

Nowadays when working in my home office, nothing gets me out of my chair faster than that wonderful aroma of bacon cooking, which wafts through the entire house and lasts for several days.

Obviously, millions of other American families must feel the same way as retail refrigerated bacon sales have remained brisk over the decades. For the 52 weeks ending Aug. 11, 2013, retail refrigerated bacon sales totaled $3,721,825,000 – up 3.14 percent from the same one-year earlier time period, according to Infoscan Reviews, Information Resources Inc. On the foodservice side, however, bacon continued a path of slowing growth in 2013, increasing 1.1 percent year over year, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor Spotlight on Bacon. Although Technomic relays the growth was slower than in previous years, it still contributed to an overall increase of 15 percent over the last five years.

Bacon flavors today are many and include hickory smoked, maple and peppered, just to mention a few. Among its various formats are refrigerated; fully cooked/shelf stable; Canadian; lower-sodium; and bacon bits. And bacon isn’t just pork based anymore — there are turkey bacon offerings, beef bacon and even salmon bacon, among others.

Technomic reports that although bacon cheeseburgers remain one of the most popular products on the menu incorporating bacon, this tasty protein is increasingly featured in other cheesy dishes, such as mac and cheese, cheese steak sandwiches and calzones. One of the most driving factors for bacon’s continuing popularity is it is a flexible protein that transcends dayparts.

While traditional bacon applications include being paired with eggs on morning menus or topping burgers on lunch and dinner menus, non-traditional applications these days range from bacon-topped sundaes to bacon-infused chocolate bars. Many consumers enjoy the salty taste of bacon paired with sweet items.

Meanwhile, bacon menu incidence by meal part are entrée, 75 percent; appetizer, 10 percent; add-on, 6 percent; side dish, 5 percent; all other, 4 percent. The top five menu items containing bacon are Chicken Sandwich, Bacon Cheeseburger, Breakfast Platter, Club Sandwich and Cobb Salad. Meanwhile, the five fastest-growing menu items containing bacon include salmon dishes, Cheese Steak Sandwich, macaroni and cheese, Tenderloin and Calzone/Pizza Puff.

Expect to see more innovation in the retail and foodservice bacon categories. Extending bacon usage in both markets has endless possibilities and is limited only by the imagination. For the latest bacon news and trends, read the exclusive annual Bacon Report only in the October issue of Meat&Poultry magazine.