Why the Bacon Trend Will Never Be Over

Food retailers and brands find even more uses for this perennially favorite food
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
The Daily's brand of bacon
The Daily's brand of bacon from Seaboard Foods continues to expand into the retail sector with trending products like steak-cut bacon.

People joke about their love of bacon, but it’s true that this is a foodstuff that appeals to consumers on many sensory levels and, as it turns out, on many occasions.

Over the years, public figures have weighed in on the ubiquitousness, usefulness and uniqueness of bacon. “You know, it’s hard to beat bacon at any time of day,” admits actor Nick Offerman. Comedian Jim Gaffigan draws laughs with the observation: “Bacon’s the best. Even the frying of bacon sounds like applause.” Famed chef and cookbook author James Beard once said that his ideal last meal would consist of bacon and eggs, and noted, “There are few sights that appeal to me more than the streaks of lean and fat in a good side of bacon, or the lovely round of pinkish meat framed in delicate white fat that is Canadian bacon.”

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Today’s food analysts agree that the allure of bacon extends across dayparts and applications. “Eighty percent of people say they like or love bacon,” asserts Patrick Fleming, new business development manager at Midan Marketing, in Chicago. “What else as a country can we agree on? Even when there are down-market conditions, demand stays strong. Bacon complements so many meals, it’s an ingredient, and it always delivers on flavor. I’ve done bacon interviews for a long time, and people will ask, ‘Is the bacon trend over?’ No, it will never be over. There is always innovation, a new daypart, new thickness, new flavor.”

Anne-Marie Roerink, principal and founder of San Antonio-based 210 Analytics LLC, agrees. “Bacon is quite unique in that it does have a strong indulgence role, but at the same time it also plays an important role in many ‘everyday’ meals, from a topping on a salad [to] the classic bacon and egg, or to enhance a burger,” she says. 

According to Roerink’s insights, the bacon category has held its own. “Bacon prices spiked well before several of the other proteins started gearing up, but experienced deflation in 2023,” she notes. “This brought consumers back to bacon, resulting in a strong pound performance in 2023, though the deflationary conditions meant that dollars were down year on year.”

Data from Circana OmniMarket Integrated Fresh, a Chicago-based market research company, affirms that bacon in many forms has remained in shopper baskets. For the 52 weeks ending Jan. 28, sales of fresh packaged bacon reached $5,898,880.631, while sales of deli service bacon hit $5,719,145 and sales of frozen bacon rang up $3,811,214. Salad toppings with bacon came in at $712,500,951, and refrigerated salad toppings/bacon bits reached $904,367 in that time frame.

Other market research bears out the enduring appetite for bacon. According to Chicago-based insights firm Mintel, 61% of consumers continue to eat the same amount of bacon as they have before, and nearly half said that they’re interested in trying new products, preparations and flavors. 

Bacon makers agree that bacon is a force to be reckoned with as a product and category. “Bacon continues to be such a beloved household staple in the U.S.,” notes Emma Pierce, brand manager for Daily’s Premium Meats, a 130-year-old brand that became part of Merriam, Kan.-based Seaboard Foods in 2005. “It has a very high household penetration.”

According to data cited by Pierce, penetration for bacon exceeds 70% of all households with members between the ages of 25 and 64 and comes in at 76.6% for households with members between the ages of 55 and 64. Even consumers under the age of 25 enjoy bacon, which enjoys 70% household penetration among that crucial demographic.

Add in the statistics on ready-to-cook and heat-and-eat bacon, and you come up with a food that’s versatile and available across several categories. Even the adult beverage and bakery departments have been known to offer items made with bacon.

 Oscar Mayer's new line of Scramblers
Bacon is a star ingredient in many packaged goods, too, like Oscar Mayer's new line of Scramblers.

New Takes on Tradition

As sales figures show, a majority of bacon is purchased in the form of fresh strips derived from pork belly. Many consumers still cook up raw bacon in traditional ways and for classic meals like omelets and BLT sandwiches, but some are experimenting with other recipes as they continue to cook a lot at home in the wake of the pandemic and during an inflationary era. 

“It’s not just limited to a few strips of bacon with eggs for breakfast – we are seeing it incorporated in pizzas and even in doughnuts. Bacon can be added to anything savory and to sweet dishes as well,” observes Pierce, who points out that bacon is an easy and effective way to punch up the eating experience. “Being able to add bacon to a recipe gives it more variety.”

As people widen their recipe repertoire – often inspired by posts on social media platforms like TikTok – bacon brands are giving consumers more product options. “When you look at all of the different types of bacon offered in a retail grocery store, there’s a flavor and product for almost everyone,” says Midan’s Fleming, citing the advent of bacon offerings for those with certain dietary interests. “If it’s sugar, curing or whatever else was an obstacle, there’s now a bacon to meet that need.”

There are some trends in the category. As Daily’s expands its reach into the retail sector following a long history in foodservice, the brand finds that consumers are embracing thicker slices and flavored bacon varieties. “We use all-natural hardwood to smoke our product and smoke using slower cycles,” says Pierce. “We use premium ingredients for curing as well.”

One new offering has generated particular buzz among home chefs, she adds. “Most recently, we launched a steak-cut bacon, which has been really very exciting, and we have an ultra-thick bacon in the L-board format, which puts a different spin on bacon, with a meatier cut that’s perfect for people who love bacon,” she explains.

Other bacon brands have fared well with thicker cuts, flavorful smoking techniques and seasonings as shoppers look to do more with fresh bacon. Boar’s Head, based in Sarasota, Fla., offers a Butcher Craft Thick Cut Bacon as part of its collection, while Oscar Mayer, from Kraft Heinz, based in Chicago and Pittsburgh, touts its Naturally Hardwood Smoked Thick Cut Applewood bacon.

“There are a couple of things with thick-sliced or steak-cut bacon,” notes Fleming. “It delivers on more flavor because it’s thicker, and it usually results in less shrinkage, with a better bite. It also holds better if you add it as an ingredient, so it extends across dayparts.”

For its part, the venerable Jimmy Dean brand under the Tyson Foods Inc. umbrella includes Thick Cut Applewood Smoked and Hickory Smoked Premium Bacon varieties. Demand is so strong for these and other bacon products that Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson recently opened a new $355 million production facility in Bowling Green, Ky., to further innovate with new bacon flavors, cuts and products for brands such as Jimmy Dean and the fast-growing Wright label. 

“Bacon is a growing category based on consumer demand, both at home and at restaurants, and our expanded production will enable us to lead this growth and drive innovation,” notes Melanie Boulden, Tyson’s group president of prepared foods and chief growth officer. 

Retailers have also upped the ante in fresh bacon with their private label premium versions that inspire people to use bacon in a host of applications. The Good & Gather portfolio from Minneapolis-based Target includes a No Sugar Uncured Bacon; Monrovia, Calif.-based Trader Joe’s offers an Uncured Dry Rubbed Sliced Bacon; and the Frederik’s by Meijer premium store brand from Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Meijer includes a Naturally Hardwood-Smoked Thick Cut Bacon and a Double Smoked Center Cut Bacon.

In addition to fresh bacon, other forms of bacon make it easy for consumers to add this bit of pork flavor to a wide range of dishes throughout the day. Microwaveable bacon has been on the market for decades now, and it has also expanded to include more premium varieties. 

Likewise, bacon pieces and bits in both shelf-stable and refrigerated forms are a go-to ingredient for home cooks. Innovations continue in these segments, too, as evidenced by launches like Jimmy Dean’s Hardwood Smoked, Chopped, Uncooked Premium Bacon, ready to be pan-fried for an accompaniment or ingredient.

The plant-based boom of the past few years has included the introduction of bacon made from plant sources, which can likewise be incorporated into meal and snack occasions. Examples include Veggie Breakfast Meatless Bacon Strips from the MorningStar Farms division of Chicago-based Kellanova, and Smart Bacon from LightLife, of Turners Falls, Mass. 

Of course, bacon has long been a star ingredient in foods and remains a go-to addition for products spanning dayparts and categories. Bacon-topped pizzas remain popular, with new items like a Gorgonzola & Bacon with Pear Chutney pizza from Albertsons Cos., based in Boise, Idaho, and a Sharp Cheddar and Uncured bacon stone-fired pizza from Tillamook County Creamery Association, of Tillamook County, Ore.

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Bacon Bits
Salad toppings with bacon came in at $712,500,951, and refrigerated salad toppings/bacon bits reached $904,367 for the 52 weeks ending Jan. 28.

Egg bites and other heat-and-eat egg-based products are also big right now as high-protein foods remain in demand. The Applegate Farms LLC division of Hormel Foods, in Austin., Minn., has expanded into the breakfast segment with a new line of Applegate Natural Frittata bites, including one variety made with uncured bacon. Kraft Heinz’s Oscar Mayer brand has gotten into this space, too, with Oscar Mayer Scramblers featuring a Bacon and Velveeta option. 

Bacon flavor makes its way into foods and beverages in unexpected ways as well. For instance, the Funky Buddha beer company, of Oakland Park, Fla., brews up a Maple Bacon Coffee Porter, while Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart has carried a bacon peanut brittle product from Goodlettsville, Tenn.-based Brittle Brothers.

Doubling Down on Bacon 

In addition to carrying more and different bacon SKUs in the meat case and center store aisles, grocers can satisfy bacon-loving shoppers and grow their sales in other ways, including spotlighting premium bacon offerings in the service case. “This allows people to buy as much or as little as they wish, but also provides a way for even greater in-house innovation and limited- time offers,” points out Roerink. “Additionally, by bringing it into the full-service case, the butcher has an opportunity to upsell by suggesting a bacon-wrapped variety of the meat people are purchasing.”

Regarding that point, because bacon has a reputation for making other foods better, retailers often add bacon to their prepared foods and in-store restaurant menu items. For instance, Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans Food Markets has offered ready-to-cook bacon-wrapped scallops, while The Giant Co., based in Carlisle, Pa., rolled out bacon-wrapped jalapeños stuffed with cream cheese. 

To inspire consumers to think of bacon for more eating experiences, retailers can leverage merchandising tactics. “Bacon also tends to play a star role in cross-merchandising displays aimed at breakfast,” observes Roerink. “While most retailers focus on creating dinner cross-merchandising displays, some will rotate the items by time of day, and America’s love for bacon can certainly result in a nice upsell there.”

Bacon can be added to many merchandising efforts, in fact. “That’s where retailers have a great opportunity to help ideate on usage occasions and be rewarded with extra sales,” says Roerink, sharing some examples: “A small independent [recently] featured a recipe of cabbage with kale [and bacon], made in the oven or air fryer as a carb-friendly, delicious way to make cabbage. Another put packaged bacon next to ground beef.”

Providing ideas also encompasses how-tos, and many retailers spotlight bacon as an ingredient in their company-developed recipes. Cleveland-based Heinen’s, for instance, has shared tips for making baked maple bacon mini donuts and a BLT dip, while The Kroger Co., based in Cincinnati, has posted recipes for preparing bacon candy, bacon-wrapped apricots and maple bacon popcorn.

Brands, too, give consumers food for thought when it comes to the many ways to prepare and enjoy bacon. “As we start to focus more on our retail presence, we know it’s important to inspire consumers on how to use our products, so we regularly share recipes on our website and social media platforms,” says Pierce. “We also partner with creators, like social media influencers, and challenge them to come up with new recipes.” Daily’s recipes cover a host of sweet and savory applications, including bacon risotto, honey jalapeño glazed bacon, savory bacon jam and a doughnut ice cream sandwich. 

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