Bringing Home the Bacon

By Megan Pellegrini, contributing writer

The breakfast sausage and bacon category is heating up with creative, value-added products.
Wt wasn’t long ago that roll sausage seemed to be well on the way out, notes Nancy Cowen, director of marketing for Bob Evans Farms. But now even this old standby is alive and kicking again thanks to the current breakfast craze, which seems to extend to all things breakfast-related.
Certainly, McDonald’s and its fast-food competitors are showing a renewed interest in the $40 billion breakfast category. In this year alone, Starbucks launched breakfast sandwiches, Burger King introduced a cost-conscious breakfast menu, some Wendy’s and Potbelly’s began offering breakfast items, and Taco Bell and Subway both announced plans to begin serving breakfast items. For its part, McDonald’s will soon be launching a $1 breakfast menu and trying to encourage franchise owners to open their doors by 5 a.m.
Early risers have plenty of breakfast options in the grocery aisles, as well. In early 2000, the Atkins Diet was a boon to the breakfast sausage and bacon category. Now that there’s not a single fad diet in the spotlight, consumers are back to good old calorie counting and creating their own diet strategies.
Although consumers still want satiety and taste in their morning grub, more than 40 percent are concerned with fat content, according to an April study from Chicago-based Mintel International Group. A reluctance to overindulge could be reflected in the $2.85 billion category’s relatively flat numbers this year. According to ACNielsen, based in Schaumburg, Ill., as of June 30th, the category was down by less than 1 percent.
Top 5 Refrigerated Breakfast Sausage/Ham Brands*
Top Brands Dollar Sales Dollar Sales % Chg YAgo Dollar Share Unit Sales Unit Sales % Chg YAgo
1. Jimmy Dean $186,808,800 15.20 21.16 63,360,400 14.73
2. Bob Evans $116,072,400 (1.35) 13.14 34,642,360 (0.41)
3. Private Label $73,680,420 4.07 8.34 31,710,730 2.68
4. Johnsonville $68,828,780 3.03 7.79 21,070,890 3.45
5. Tennessee Pride $46,738,720 1.98 5.29 16,977,750 1.94
Total Category $883,023,200 (1.44) 100.00 332,558,100 (2.49)
*TOTAL U.S. - F/D/MX (supermarkets, drugstores, and mass merchandisers (excluding Wal-Mart)), for the 52 weeks ending July 15, 2007.

Source: Information Resources Inc.

Top 5 Refrigerated Bacon Brands*
Top Brands Dollar Sales Chg % Dollar Share Unit Sales Chg %
1. Private Label $411,431,300 2.82 20.17 142,548,700 (1.19)
2. Oscar Mayer $411,255,100 4.75 20.16 107,061,600 2.90
3. Hormel Black Label $137,363,200 5.40 6.73 38,996,030 2.12
4. Farmland $69,108,690 (1.44) 3.39 21,323,890 (7.15)
5. Bar-S $64,913,880 (7.78) 3.18 24,907,920 (12.03)
Total $2,040,190,000 (0.93) 100.00 642,363,400 (5.38)
Source: Information Resources, Inc. (IRI), Chicago. Total U.S. F/D/MX (Supermarkets, drugstores and mass merchandise outlets, excluding Wal-Mart)
The good news is that one-third of breakfast eaters still take into account protein content when selecting breakfast products. Sausage, in particular, is consumed by 75 percent of U.S. households, reported Mintel. However, to ease the morning commute, consumers are more inclined to prepare sausage on the weekends (47 percent) than the weekdays (26 percent).
“We seem to have customers who are still taking the time to cook breakfast, but there’s also tremendous growth in the pre-cooked business,” says Mike Townsley, executive vice president of Bob Evans Farms food products division in Columbus, Ohio. “Convenience is the nature of the game, and that’s where growth has been.”
Bob Evans has embraced the convenience trend by launching its Bob Evans Express line of fully cooked sausage and bacon and Snackwiches, a line of breakfast sandwiches. Bob Evans posted sales gains of 1.5 percent to 2 percent last year, noted Cowen.
Sara Lee, the Downers Grove, Ill.-based leader in the total breakfast protein market, is also offering portable, convenient options with its breakfast sandwiches, heat-and-serve bagged sausages and omelets, and the kid-friendly Pancakes & Sausage Stick. Its Jimmy Dean Breakfast Bowls and Jimmy Dean Breakfast Skillets also allow consumers to prepare their breakfast with little mess or fuss. Indeed, Mintel reports that almost half of breakfast carnivores eat their meal in the form of packaged, pre-made breakfast meals or in breakfast sandwiches.
Consumers still want taste, however. And roll sausage seems to be one of the ways they can pump up their recipes. According to ACNielsen, roll sausage saw a nearly 4 percent jump in volume in 2006, after a long period of decline.
“It’s used as an ingredient for all meals, not just breakfast,” says Townsley. “People want flavor and seasoning that is pleasing to the palate. They don’t want bland ground beef.”
Bacon is also moving beyond breakfast and can be regularly found in sandwiches, crumbled on salads or accompanying chicken, green beans and other items on the dinner plate.
What’s more, the precooked bacon segment is also growing. ACNielsen reports that precooked bacon sales have grown 9 percent since last summer.
“This isn’t surprising as consumer trends continue to move toward premium and convenient products,” says Beth Goeddel, senior brand manager for Madison, Wis.-based Oscar Mayer, a subsidiary of Kraft Foods. “Both are well aligned with consumer trends.”
The new Oscar Mayer Stay-Fresh Reclosable bacon package addresses lingering consumer dissatisfaction with traditional bacon packaging.
“It’s the first true packaging innovation in the category in the past 80 years,” says Goeddel. “Bacon packaging really needed improvement, and we’re happy to have meet the consumer need for a no-mess, reclosable container.”