Consumers’ love affair with bacon shows no sign of stopping. Whether smoked, boiled, fried, baked, grilled or used as a flavoring, bacon is justifying its continuing appeal with unit sales of 1.47 billion and dollar sales of $6.56 billion.

Sales of refrigerator bacon reached $4.4 billion, up 3.5 percent, with US retailers for the year ending July 9, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm. Deli bacon sales remain strong with 42.4 percent in dollar sales and 16.7 percent in volume, according to Nielsen’s calculations for the 52 weeks ending July 21.

Considered a $55.76 billion market in 2016, bacon is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2018 to 2023, according to Mordor Intelligence’s Global Bacon Market Growth, Trends and Forecasts 2018-2023. Bacon’s staying power benefits from its infiltration of multiple eating occasions including protein-rich breakfast sandwiches and burgers for lunch and dinner as well as a flavor enhancer in cocktails and desserts.

The protein’s savory profile has also established a peripheral foothold, flavoring everything from vodka, chocolate and donuts to popcorn, ice cream and lip balm, which IRI calls a second life in a secondary product. Outside the home, an estimated 62 percent of US restaurants feature bacon on the menu, including traditional bacon, “healthier” turkey bacon, Canadian bacon and charcuterie friendly pancetta.

Bacon’s popularity is mutual among many demographics but those over the age of 30 lead purchasing. Although largely eaten outside the home, bacon constitutes 19 percent of in-home pork consumption with pre-packaged bacon remaining more popular than freshly sliced bacon, according to Mintel. Oscar Mayer, the leading US brand, leads in-store bacon consumption with an estimated sale of $20 million in 2016. Mintel recommends manufacturers who desire a larger market share should promote new usage occasions with recipes for salads and entrees.

Overseas, the highest growth will occur in the Asia-Pacific region, with the most global pork consumption in China. Here in the US, health concerns could temper demand for high-sodium animal proteins like bacon.

Overall, category growth remains steady despite an initial slowing of retail sales in 2015, perhaps in part to more restaurants offering bacon-based options. Despite the dip, demand remains significant with 2016 accounting for the lowest levels of frozen pork belly inventory since 1957, according to USDA. Unsustainable demand throughout that winter, typically a time of decreased purchasing, meant cold storage pork belly supplies were never fully replaced. The resulting supply of 17.8 million in Dec. 2016 created higher pork belly market prices moving forward.

Today, bacon maintains a 79.8 percent household penetration in 97,935 US households. Coupled with a growing appeal for animal-protein options abroad, including full-flavor versions like bacon, the global demand for animal protein is reaching new highs, according to Packaged Facts Breakfast Retail Opportunities in the US, Second Edition. Rapid population growth, rising disposable income levels and urbanization will further magnify world demand to around 340 million tonnes by 2022, according to Mordor Intelligence. For bacon, Mintel predicts a bright future that includes inducements of portion control options and single-serve and resealable packaging designed to entice consumers to purchase bacon over other lunch meats.

Steady consumption of bacon will continue in North America, although high prices in Canada could negatively impact market growth. Overseas, the highest growth will occur in the Asia-Pacific region, with the most global pork consumption in China. South America and Europe should also see increases in the 2017 to 2022 time frame. Market expansion in developing countries will continue to create opportunities for manufacturers, according to BusinessWire, but continuing vegan trends and the rising cost of raw feed materials pose on-going restraints.

Here in the US, health concerns of heart disease and high blood pressure from older demographics could temper demand for high-sodium animal proteins like bacon. Mintel attributes bacon’s stagnant sales, accounting for inflation, to health concerns but said lower-sodium and more flavorful options have the potential to boost the category, according to Bill Roberts, Senior Food & Drink Analyst, Mintel.

The North American Meat Institute also anticipates opportunities in bacon and sausage for manufacturers who offer products with “no” claims such as no added hormones, gluten free, no GMOs, no artificial ingredients or colors, uncured and lower-sodium options. While America’s love affair with all things bacon isn’t quite at 2016 levels, Mintel anticipates continuing appeal through 2021 with 2020 bacon sales anticipated to reach the $5 billion mark, according to Mintel’s Bacon & Lunch Meat US Oct. 2016 report. Plus, many consumers still believe bacon can be part of a healthy diet and will be looking for options that are easier and more convenient to prepare in the oven, microwave, convection oven or smoker.