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Bacon: is there anything it can’t do? Consumers appear to be asking that very question, and processors — throughout the entire food industry — appear willing to answer that question for consumers.

Consumers, in turn, have kept bacon on their shopping lists, as evidenced by retail data collected by Information Resources Inc. (see Top Brands and Vendors charts on Page 22). The $2.1 billion refrigerated bacon category grew by 2.27 percent in the 52 weeks ending July 12, 2009 — the heart of the current economic crisis.

Bacon’s allure certainly comes from its versatility, ease of use and powerful taste. Unlike some food products, bacon tastes great on its own or as an ingredient or value-add to a main protein (think, bacon-wrapped filets,

for instance).

Bacon’s flavor also marries well to a variety of smoke flavors and spices, giving processors many opportunities for flavor combinations both now and in the future. Processors have taken advantage of that versatility, launching an average of nearly 100 new products mentioning bacon in the last five years up to 2008 (see Annual New Bacon Products chart on Page 24). This year is on pace for fewer launches, but bacon is still finding its way into the mainstream, even beyond the meat and poultry industries.

Breaking boundaries

All it takes is one quick search for “bacon” of Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD), for bacon lovers to rejoice, and for processors to realize that bacon is a force to be reckoned with in product-development spheres.

At presstime, The National Provisioner did such a search, and found a wide variety of new products and line extensions involving bacon in the U.S.

But these new products and extensions aren’t limited to center-of-the-plate meal items. Some companies, even outside the meat and poultry industries, are taking bacon and bacon flavoring to places it’s never been seen — or, in this case, tasted.

According to GNPD, Bakon is a bacon-flavored vodka available in Washington, Idaho, Montana and Oregon. The company’s Web site states that “Bakon Vodka is a superior quality potato vodka with a savory bacon flavor. It’s clean, crisp, and delicious. This is the only vodka you’ll ever want to use to make a Bloody Mary, and it’s a complementary element of both sweet and savory drinks.”

Mintel explains that this is a radical variation from other fruit-based vodkas and liquors that are advertised as refreshing or chilling.

Bakon gives consumers an alternative to whiskey or scotch, while providing a smoky or salty flavor not often found in vodka.

“Drinkers or bar-patrons are flooded with so much choice that deciding what to try becomes an overwhelming task,” the report states. “But, when enticed by the smell of bacon it certainly makes the choice easier: thanks or no thanks.”

Another specialty item making the pop-culture rounds lately is chocolate-covered bacon bars. Mintel filed a report on Mo’s Bacon Bar from Vosges Haut-Chocolat after its release, stating, “Meat-based flavors are not exactly common in confectionery, but represent an unexplored avenue for manufacturers looking for an alternative mix of flavors.”

The report adds that bacon and chocolate might not seem to be an instinctive match, but it is a category that is growing in certain settings and should evoke some interest among some consumers.

Indeed, the marriage of chocolate and meat seems to be catching on with some consumers, as they are exposed to Central and Latin American flavors at authentic Mexican and Latin American restaurants. Sweet-savory-spicy is a flavour combination that has worked extremely well in the snack-food arena, and it appears to be making its way into the protein business, led by certain cuisines. Ordering a steak with a chocolate poblano mole draped over the filet at an authentic Mexican restaurant, for example, isn’t as foreign an idea to many consumers as it might have been decades ago.

In the non-food category is J&D’s Lip Balm, which features a Bacon flavor. According to the GNPD report: “The product is claimed to keep lips from chapping while constantly reminding ‘why bacon is the king of meats’.”

All those specialty products, and one wonders if processors are jumping on the bacon bandwagon with new products. A quick search of new bacon products on GNPD reveals that they are, in fact, doing so, not only developing new bacon products, but also using bacon as an ingredient or value-added piece to a commodity product. One example: Quantum Foods’ Simply Gourmet Turkey Tenderloin Mignons (which are wrapped in bacon), released this summer in retail stores around the nation. NP