KANSAS CITY — Pandemics and recessions come and go, but certain things remain: death, taxes —and Americans’ love for bacon. The only thing that changes in this ever-popular category is the lineup of products created to give consumers new twists on an old favorite.  

As a brand, North Country Smokehouse USDA Organic and Certified Humane bacon is still a relative newcomer to the premium bacon category. But the company has more than a century of award-winning smokehouse experience behind it, which it is proudly sharing with current and would-be customers and consumers.

“We have a great story to tell — artisan quality, small-batch, smokehouse, certified humane and organic,” said Mike Kelly, North Country’s vice president of business development.

This summer, North Country added Wegmans and Earth Fare to its list of retail partners. The company’s bacon is now in close to 4,000 stores, include Target, Hannaford, Whole Foods, Stop and Shop, HEB and Gelson’s.

North Country has been recognized by Food and Wine magazine for producing one of the best bacons in the country. Other kudos have come from publications include Men’s Journal and Men’s Health.

The company starts with the highest-quality bellies and a maple syrup brine from Vermont or New Hampshire, then tumbles them and smokes them for six hours.

“The tagline on our packaging is ‘Some things simply can’t be compromised,’” said Alicia Baker, North Country’s marketing director. “With everything we’ve done, we take it slow and low. We don’t use liquid fillers or dyers, and we cook it for hours, not 15 minutes.”

When North Country branded bacon launched, the emphasis was more on certified humane production, Kelly said. In the past couple of years, however, there’s been more emphasis on organic. Sugar-free is also in greater demand. In fact, North Country’s top bacon SKU at Whole Foods is an 8-ounce sugar-free organic bacon.

Premium producers like North Country are finding that the retail bacon category is increasingly open to products that stand out from the pack.

“Retailers feel like they need to have something differentiated. When you go in and look at bacon, in general almost all items are commodity,” Kelly said. “But there are consumers out there who want this type of product, not just five different types of maple or applewood. And they’re loyal customers, and their basket size is typically big.”

But whether it’s commodity or niche specialty, it’s a good time to be in the bacon business, Kelly said, regardless of that particular corner of it you occupy.

“People just love bacon right now,” he said. “You look at foodservice or retail, it’s included in more and more products. Bacon used to be just a breakfast staple. Now you go into an upscale restaurant and you see candied bacon for $18.”

Hormel launches bacon sweepstakes

Bacon lovers rejoice —through Dec. 12, Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Foods is giving customers a chance to win a 10 years’ supply of its Black Label bacon and other prizes.

Hormel is advertising the sweepstakes with bright green rectangular game pieces located inside specially marked packages.

“The goal of the sweepstakes is to reward our Hormel Black Label bacon lovers by giving them a chance to win a 10-year supply of bacon, igniting yet another legendary moment in their lives,” said Samantha Hovland, brand manager at Hormel Foods.

During the promotion period, there will be a supply of specially marked packages of bacon online and at participating stores. To participate without making a purchase, consumers can visit BRINGHOMEBLACKLABEL.COM and complete and submit the registration form within the promotional period.

“We know our consumers are motivated by gaming, sports and winning,” said Jenny Rechner, associate brand manager at Hormel Foods. “We are excited to give consumers the opportunity to bring home the bacon for 10 years.”