Trends are notoriously fickle in the food industry. Something comes along that sets the culinary world aflame, and chefs and food companies scramble to capitalize upon its popularity. Then, a year later, it’s forgotten, and people have moved on to the next big thing. Does anyone remember that five years ago, one of the biggest items in the food world was… toast? Google it, it’s true.

While some foods flourish and then fade, bacon has maintained perennial popularity. Not only is it a mealtime staple at every daypart, but it is entrenched in American pop culture as well. Bacon is everywhere, from memes on the Internet to T-shirts at clothing stores. There are bacon air fresheners and scented candles, and there is the Macon Bacon, a baseball team in the Coastal Plain League that debuted last year.

Most importantly, bacon has been on a long-term growth trend, reports Patrick Flemming, brand strategist for Midan Marketing.

“Bacon is universal giver of flavor. Foodservice especially keeps finding new ways of adding and promoting bacon items,” he says. “Consumers respond when bacon is part of a new item or promoted feature. With the pork industry expanding, that will mean more bacon to fill the demand.”

One might think that restaurants had run out of ways to utilize bacon on their menu, but it hasn’t happened yet.

“Anywhere there is a need for flavor, bacon will be there,” Flemming notes. “Bacon is being added to all forms – salads and snacking are growth areas as well as sandwiches and wraps. Bacon can add a flavor in small amounts, making it the meat condiment.”

It would come as no surprise that bacon’s popularity at retail means that store shelves are crowded. The largest companies tend to snag the most shelf space, leaving smaller companies with limited opportunities. Meat markets have the benefit of stocking their cases with their own product, but they still need to offer customers something more than the mass-produced, widely available bacon options. New and different is always a good start, Flemming says.

“There has been growth in artisanal and specialty bacons – custom smokes that add different flavor or different cures that provide unique flavor. Even form, from slab bacon that lets customer cut the thickness they like, to different thicknesses that promotes the flavor profile. Also, convenience is growing, and pre-cooked is an opportunity for premium flavor products,” he adds.

Louis Muench of Louie’s Finer Meats, located in Cumberland, Wis., notes that more of his customers are buying bacon for more than just a breakfast meat. 

“They like bacon-wrapped steak and chicken. Plus, they’ve been using it for seasoning,” he says. “One time, I had a seminar from a famous chef, and the question was asked to him, ‘What is your favorite condiment, and what do you see as a trend among Americans?’ And he said ‘Five letters, B-A-C-O-N.’ I’ve seen that as well.” IP