Into the Frying Pan

By Lynn Petrak
Special Projects Editor
Bacon sales heat up as consumers look for new flavor profiles and high-protein products.
As Chef Emeril Lagasse likes to say on his popular Food Network television show, “Pork fat rules.”
Bacon, long a favorite for breakfast and as an ingredient for other meal occasions, has been part of the overall pork industry movement toward higher demand, higher prices, and higher supplies, as the sizzling appeal of pork bellies continues.
“This year has seen a lot of change with the markets. They are experiencing much higher retail [prices] than a year ago, but consumers are still picking bacon up at the store and ordering it at the restaurant — it’s still a mainstay,” observes Bud Matthews, senior vice president for Cudahy, WI-based Patrick Cudahy Inc.
Recent market research bears out bacon’s continued popularity. Chicago-based Information Resources Inc., (IRI) relays that bacon sales climbed 10.1 percent over the past year, with dollar sales pegged at more than $2.1 billion. Private-label sales rule the segment at more than $392 million, followed by brand leaders Oscar Mayer, a Madison, WI, division of Kraft Foods, and Hormel Black Label from Austin, MN based Hormel Foods Corporation.
One sub-segment worth watching is pre-cooked bacon, now offered by many (if not most) of the top brands. “It is continuing to grow,” says Bo Manly, president of Premium Standard Farms, Kansas City, MO, which offers a wide range of bacon products. “If you took the trend where it is today and project it ahead five years, I think there may be more bacon on the pre-cooked side than the fresh side, both for retail and foodservice.”
High-protein wonder
Whether pre-cooked or fresh, bacon is another protein that seems to have become a focus for followers of high-protein diets. “Certainly, Atkins [diet plan] is measurable in terms of impact, and I think it’s changing the dynamics,” observes Manly, adding that the nation’s largest processing companies are using more of their pork-belly supplies for their own bacon brands based on demand.
Being a mature category does not preclude new product penetration. Springdale, AR-based Tyson Foods, Phoenix, AZ-based Bar-S Foods, and Patrick Cudahy, among others, rolled out thick-sliced bacon in the past year. On the flavored side, Smithfield, VA-based Smithfield Foods added a Naturally Hickory Smoked Cracked Peppercorn-Coated Bacon, while Patrick Cudahy has seen increased consumer interest in the maple-honey and double-smoked varieties it introduced in 2003. The hot pre-cooked segment keeps expanding, as brands like Farmer John from Vernon, CA-based Clougherty Packing Co. and Jimmy Dean from Chicago-based Sara Lee Corporation have added pre-cooked bacon slices to their product mix.
Packaging is an emerging area for change in this category as well. Manly says Premium Standard Farms is transitioning its Lundy brand of bacon to the Premium Standard Farms banner, with new packages and labels debuting this fall. Patrick Cudahy is also evaluating packaging needs, says Matthews.
“Manufacturers are always looking for ways to make it easier for consumers,” he notes.