By Sam Gazdziak, Senior Editor
Bacon’s popularity in the foodservice arena goes far beyond the breakfast sector.
Whether as a side item or added to a biscuit sandwich, bacon remains a breakfast staple in the foodservice industry. Certainly, when it comes to eggs or pancakes, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect protein companion. However, the foodservice industry has successfully added bacon to lunch and dinner items as well, showing just how versatile it can be. None of that development would have happened if bacon wasn’t such a popular product, of course.
“About 34 percent of all Americans eat bacon on a regular basis,” or at least once every two weeks, says Harry Balzer, vice president of The NPD Group, a marketing research firm. That number has remained fairly stable for the last couple of years, he adds.
At home, 71 percent of bacon is consumed at breakfast, Balzer notes, and that is the exact same percentage it was 20 years ago. “If it’s going to occur outside of breakfast, it’s going to occur at dinner time,” he adds. That trend does not necessarily hold true in the foodservice industry, however.
“Clearly, foodservice has benefited from the introduction of cold sandwiches at lunch time over the last 20 years,” Balzer says, pointing out the rise of Subway, Quizno’s, Panera Bread Co. and other sandwich shops.
Foodservice operators in the quick-service restaurant are certainly counting on bacon to drive sales. Quizno’s menu, for example, features seven sub sandwiches that include bacon, including its newest item, the Baja Chicken sub. That sub includes chicken, bacon, cheddar cheese, fresh cilantro and sweet and smoky Baja sauce. Two of Subway’s toasted subs also feature bacon as an ingredient.
The usage goes far beyond sandwich shops. Bacon has been a staple ingredient of many hamburger chains. Wendy’s latest burger offering has been dubbed “The Baconator”, and features six strips of hickory-smoked bacon on top of two quarter-pound burger patties and two slices of cheese. Burger King’s BK Stacker sandwich, which was introduced last year, can be built with up to four hamburger patties and eight strips of bacon.
Naturally, bacon is still the meat of choice on the breakfast menu. Hardee’s, which had a successful run with its meat-loaded Monster Thickburger a few years ago, reincarnated the concept this year in the form of a Monster Biscuit, which includes three half-strips of bacon, not to mention a sausage patty and four slices of shaved ham.
Outside of the QSR industry, bacon remains a popular item. Chili’s, for example, has incorporated it into almost every facet of the menu, from appetizers and salads to the main course. The Mesquite Chicken Salad and Boneless Buffalo Salad have applewood-smoked bacon among the chicken, greens and other ingredients. Several of the restaurant’s fajita and chicken entrees use bacon, not to mention many of its burger and sandwich offerings.
California Pizza Kitchen uses bacon as an ingredient for its BLT Pizza, naturally, but it also includes bacon in its California Club and Jamaican Jerk Chicken pizzas. Balzer says that although bacon tends to be slightly more adult-oriented and male-oriented, it is consumed by just about everybody.
“Men are 7 percent more likely to eat bacon than the average American, and women are 4 percent more likely, and children, whom I didn’t think would even be in the market, are only 17 percent less likely,” he adds.