Bacon plays a larger-than-life role in many consumers’ lives — it’s more than just food to them, it’s a symbol, an indulgence and an experience.
“Consumers often cook bacon for their family and friends and have a lot of pride in providing the best quality experience for those they care most about,” said Jenny Rechner, brand manager for Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Black Label Bacon. “Throughout our research, consumers have also told us that bacon is a comfort food for them. Especially over the past couple of years in the pandemic, consumers have told us they seek out bacon as a ‘mental health food’ that can improve their overall well-being.”
There are a number of trends that are impacting the category in 2022.
“Bacon is more popular than ever,” said Drew Calvert, vice president of prepared pork for Niman Ranch, Northglenn, Colo., who noted the company is seeing growth in five key trend areas within the category.
“The first is a claims-driven trend, with consumers looking for transparency from brands, as well as sustainable choices and humane animal care choices, and we’re finding that those are of particular interest within the premium shoppers who tend to have larger basket sizes,” she said.
Health-conscious consumers are also looking for clean ingredients in their bacon choices, especially those without antibiotics and added sugar.
“You see these high-protein diets continue to grow in popularity, and no-sugar bacon is an appealing, high-flavor ingredient that these diets are leaning towards,” Calvert said.
A third trend Niman Ranch is seeing is the non-traditional bacon cut, such as a Canadian bacon that’s appealing to a health-conscious consumer who is looking for a breakfast meat that has the smokey flavor, Calvert said.
“Different hardwood smokes are another trend. Consumers are really looking for something different in the category and finding those fit the bill. Having a nuance of an applewood or hickory allows them to experiment with a nice, sweet flavor.”
Bacon as an ingredient is also something that is a trend, such as adding bacon into sausage. For instance, Niman Ranch recently put together a bacon breakfast sausage that is a link but has the flavor of bacon as well.
Convenience bacon has shown significant growth over the past several years, including both fully cooked and microwave bacon.
“Many consumers find these options convenient to use on sandwiches or in salads or with eggs,” Rechner said. “Consumers are also busier than ever, and especially in smaller households, these options are convenient for them in a time crunch.”
Hormel offers a wide array of products in the convenience bacon space, including Hormel Black Label Fully Cooked Bacon (both regular and family pack options), Hormel Black Label Microwave Ready Bacon, and Natural Choice Fully Cooked Bacon.
Mel Coleman Jr. of Coleman Natural Foods, Westminster, Colo., noted that consumers are demanding regulation changes requiring a more humanely raised, better quality meat supply, and the company requires farmers to raise their pigs 100% gestation and farrowing crate free, which results in healthier, stronger animals that can exhibit natural behaviors throughout their life.
“The pandemic has resulted in consumers being more keenly aware of their health and wellness,” he said. “Shoppers are more interested in where their food is coming from as well as, in the case of meat, how livestock is raised and meats are processed.”
With all that in mind, the company recently transitioned its Uncured Applewood Smoked Bacon offering to be sugar-free.
“For Coleman Natural customers adopting diets that advocate reducing sugar, this product meets those needs, without sacrificing the high-quality flavor we are known for,” Coleman said. “In addition, we never use artificial ingredients or preservatives in our processed items—just simple, clean and great tasting products consumers can feel confident about.”
Francis Yupangco, executive director of marketing for Telford, Pa.-based Godshall’s New Angus Steak Bacon, noted the consumer demand for alternative proteins like turkey and beef bacon have grown by double digits over the last two years.
“In 2021 alone, beef bacon unit sales have increased by over 15% nationwide and continues to grow in 2022,” he said. “Our consumer research indicated that consumers 45 and under purchase turkey bacon eight times more frequently versus consumers over 45. Additionally, the same consumers stated that they had high willingness to try other bacon meat types, particularly beef bacon.”
Initially, supply chain shortages in pork bacon resulted in a big jump in beef bacon sales. However, as consumers tried the product, sales have continued to grow and show no signs of slowing.
“Additionally, there are many consumers who do not eat pork and trying to reduce their pork bacon intake and have chosen to substitute with beef bacon,” Yupangco said. “In the beef bacon category, we have our traditional real wood smoked cured beef bacon, which has achieved 80% unit sales growth over the last 12 months. We also introduced Angus Steak Angus Beef Bacon in January to broaden our beef bacon portfolio and the consumer response has been astoundingly successful.”
Godshall’s has also broadened its product line with the introduction of its Organic and Applewood No Antibiotics Ever products. The company also finished a complete brand refresh, new website and packaging with key claims to appeal to this key consumer group.
Impact of pandemic
During the pandemic, when stocking up was important to customers, many companies saw an increase in bulk packs.
“They are looking for value in this space, and the bulk packs especially make sense when cooking for a large gathering with family and friends,” Rechner said. “Some consumers even portion it out so they can cook smaller amounts at a time and always have bacon on hand for later.”
In March of 2020, Total Breakfast Meat category sales were up as much as 110% compared to the prior year according to IRI data, driven by strong consumer demand and people buying multiple packages. That strong demand continued throughout the remainder of 2020 and into 2021 with category sales consistently up 20-30% from the year prior.
It’s not unusual to see stores place all the bacon items in a refrigerated set together, but savvy grocers have found success by mixing it up.
“We have seen success through bunker displays on raw bacon, as well as endcap displays on fully cooked bacon, which doesn’t require refrigeration,” Rechner said. “Although bacon is typically on consumers’ grocery lists, these displays spark their interest when looking for a special deal. Brands are also able to capture new buyers through impulse purchases and potentially retain them if they have a good experience.”
Since Godshall’s angus steak bacon is a new product, the company has invested heavily in in-store sampling, social media influencers, targeted digital advertising and other on the channel marketing campaigns.
“Our consumer research indicates that re-purchase intent is over 80%,” Yupangco said.
When it comes to marketing, Calvert feels supermarkets should be looking not only at what’s happening in the store, but also in the digital marketplace.
“Looking at digitally-targeting through geo-targeted social media ads but showcasing more than just the products,” she said. “Adding the claims would make a difference to the consumer. For example, we partner with retailers on these ads and we have them target our farmers and our animal welfare commitments. That’s something that the key demographic of customers appreciates.”
Additionally, in the store, traditional marketing materials like signage and window clings are still important, but so is something like scannable QR codes, which can tie back to recipes or the farmers behind the business.
“We found this helps retailers drive sales and attract more premium buyers” Calvert said.
And once the world turns the corner on COVID, sampling is always considered a great way to bring customers to bacon products.
“Having a brand ambassador who can tell the story at the tastings and make personal connections I think does make a difference,” Calvert said. “Getting the product back in consumers’ mouths is important.”