US love affair with bacon hits fever pitch

Sales of the smoked meat rose nearly 10% to an all-time high of close to $4 billion last year.

By MSN Money Partner Feb 11, 2014 3:55PM
By Charles Passy, MarketWatch

How far can the bacon boom go?


It's a question that veteran "As Seen on TV" marketer Scott Boilen asked when he was given the opportunity to introduce yet another bacon product to an already crowded marketplace. 


But Boilen couldn't resist the invention, a simple gizmo that turns a few strips of bacon into an edible shell. And so the Bacon Bowl was launched by Boilen's Allstar Products Group via a series of infomercials in late 2013.

In a brief period, Boilen's New York-based company has sold more than 2 million units of the $10.99 bacon cooker, making the Bowl a success story potentially on par with the Snuggie, to name Boilen's biggest "As Seen on TV" hit.


The lesson? Never underestimate the power of bacon, says Boilen: "It's almost become a cult-like food."


Indeed, for food marketers and foodies alike, bacon is the gift that keeps on giving, a culinary trend that unlike, say, cupcakes, never seems to get old. Bacon sales in the U.S. have increased in each of the last four years, according to market researcher Information Resources, Inc. In 2013 alone, sales climbed 9.5 percent to an all-time high of nearly $4 billion. A survey by pork supplier Smithfield even found that 65 percent of Americans would support the idea of making bacon our "national food."


The bottom line: "It's a bacon nation, and we just live in it," declares The National Provisioner, a trade publication that tracks the meat business.


While one might think the rough economy would have stifled the boom, some food industry insiders and observers believe it's what's helped foster it. It's no secret that in tough times, Americans turn to comfort foods from their childhood, as in meatloaf and mashed potatoes. 


Bacon falls in much the same category, says blogger and self-proclaimed "Bacon Queen" Amy Vernon, but it's even more potent by virtue of its "distinctive smell." In other words, when the scent of that sizzling pork fat hits your nostrils, you're back at the family breakfast table.Close-up of bacon strips (© Alice Day/The Food Passionate/Corbis)


But just as important, bacon is a food that has adapted well to the foodie culture of the last decade, perhaps because it's so multidimensional. "Need some fat to balance an acidic dish? Bacon. Need something salty to balance the sweet? Bacon," says chef Kyle Rourke of the critically acclaimed Red Star Tavern in Portland, Ore.


It's also a food that lends itself to kitschy festivity. Why else would there be such a thing as a Bacon Bowl? (Or for that matter, a bacon wallet ?) Add it up and bacon, once a down-home food, has acquired a kind of cultural currency and cachet.


It's "the gentrification of bacon," says "Bacon Queen" Amy Vernon.


This never-ending bacon boom has taken many forms, beginning with the sheer varieties of strip bacon now on the market -- thick-cut, thin-cut, specialty smoked, peppered, you name it. Smithfield, for example, has recently added cherry wood and apple wood-smoked and sea salt-flavored varieties to its lineup. There’s also a growing do-it-yourself movement in bacon, with chefs -- or just plain bacon freaks -- making their own. (All it takes is a slab of pork belly, a little brine and some time in the smoker.) 


"My house-made bacon usually maintains a more pork-like texture," says Todd Mitgang, chef of the newly opened Bo’s Kitchen in New York, where the bacon is featured an upscale version of a BLT.


On top of that, there's what might be dubbed the everything-is-better-with-bacon trend, with a host of new products commanding space on store shelves or on restaurant menus. Think bacon and chocolate (Black Pig Meat Co., a California-based gourmet brand, offers its Piggy Pops ). Or bacon and booze (yes, there’s a bacon-flavored vodka ). Or bacon and ice cream -- a concept that has gone so mainstream that in 2012, Burger King (BKW) introduced its Bacon Sundae , billed as “a cool collision of salty and sweet.”


And if you're really, really into bacon, there are now bacon-themed restaurants in New York and Chicago and bacon-themed festivals everywhere from Hoboken, N.J., to Ann Arbor, Mich. (the Bacon Today website compiled this list . There's also been a bacon festival of the non-edible variety -- as in a bacon film festival that bacon giant Hormel organized in New York last year.


Of course, there's perhaps only so far the bacon boom can go. Even a few years ago, foodies were saying that they were starting to suffer from bacon overload -- and "The Bacon Backlash," to quote the headline of a Wall Street Journal article, seemed inevitable. (As Boston chef Ken Oringer said in the story, bacon has "been overplayed so much and my taste buds are tired of it.") 


And needless to say, many nutritionists take a somewhat dim view of bacon -- not only because of its high fat and sodium content, but also because of the fact that bacon often contains chemical preservatives that have been linked to cancer. 


Nutritionists thus encourage bacon lovers to try alternatives, including tofu products that are often dubbed "facon." The only problem? "Don't expect it to be bacon because it isn't and won't ever be,” says Alicia Armeli, a nutritionist based in Washington state who's researched the risks of preservatives in cured meats.


Still, Scott Boilen, the marketer behind the Bacon Bowl, says you can make a perfectly acceptable bowl from such bacon substitutes. Then again, he also says there's nothing like the real thing, whether it's combined with pastrami or a Caesar salad or mac 'n' cheese, to name some ideas suggested by Bacon Bowl users. But it all begins with that strip of pork that never seems to lose its salty, smoky and fatty appeal.


"It's almost like, 'Don't touch my bacon,'" says Boilen.


More from MarketWatch

42Comments
Feb 11, 2014 4:50PM
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Bacon is universally AWESOME. Alone, in dip, appetizers,  side dishes, entrees, on salads, wrapped around other meat. Just awesome! bacon can go in almost anything and make it better. BACON!!

Feb 11, 2014 5:49PM
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Does anybody notice that people who follow religious proscription against pork products (BACON) have a sh****tier attitude towards life. Bacon, food of the gods. Great mood enhancer. Use drones to blanket the middle east and all of the "stans" with bacon creating a new, kinder method of warfare.
Feb 11, 2014 5:04PM
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Six strips with eggs for breakfast. Half a pound in three BLTs . . . those were the days. But then the stuff couldn't hold its own at one to two dollars a pound; and sales now proclaim $3.99 per as such a deal.

 

So it's been about five pounds total in the last five years or so. As much as my taste buds decry the results, my overall health is thankful. One thing's for sure - turkey "bacon" is not any competition. Does that stuff suck, or what!

Feb 11, 2014 4:14PM
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Some Dennys' have a side breakfast menu, "Baconalia"....that says a lot, folks.  My hometown in inland s. Calif. has a gastrobpub named "The Salted Pig".  Packed solid after 5 pm during happy hour.  At least it's not "The Salted Dog", which are big in S. Korea...oops, not PC. 
Feb 11, 2014 5:06PM
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Yeah... Long story short, Bacon is damn good and its comfort food.
Feb 11, 2014 6:46PM
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 Grampa Gustafson; 
   Well let me tell you something now, Johnny. Last Thursday, I turned 95 years old. And I never exercised a day in my life. Every morning, I wake up, and I smoke a cigarette. And then I eat five strips of bacon. And for lunch, I eat a bacon sandwich. And for a midday snack
 
 
John Gustafson;
    Bacon.
  
  Grampa Gustafson;
   Bacon! A whole damn plate! And I usually drink my dinner. Now according to all of them flat-belly experts, I should've took a dirt nap like thirty years ago. But each year comes and goes, and I'm still here. Ha! And they keep dyin'. You know? Sometimes I wonder if God forgot about me. Just goes to show you, huh?
Feb 11, 2014 6:11PM
Feb 11, 2014 7:12PM
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AND over 50% of the bacon producers in the U.S. are OWNED by Chinese companies .
Feb 11, 2014 5:17PM
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Since they figured out normal cholesterol is essential and the poor oils (canola, soy, sunflower, safflower) they use in frying, and hydrogenate to make that god awful invention margarine, we can all take pleasure in eating normally again.  My uncle has been studying nutrition, allergies, and the Merck manual for 50 years.  Ten years ago his body would not tolerate inflammatory foods containing carbs (fruit, grain, potatoes, beer) to the point he was bedridden for almost a year at age 69.  Now, at 77, he eats only meat and low-carb veggies and he plays basketball and wants to go back to the Philippines for some female companionship.  He puts butter in his coffee!  Chugs flax oil.  Don't ever use steroids that cause your body to stop making the cholesterol it needs.  Women need more than men and the upper 200's is best.
Feb 11, 2014 6:41PM
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Belive it or not but bacon is the only meat that will turn a vegan into a bonafide meat eater
Feb 11, 2014 6:42PM
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I know I'm dreaming but I'm hoping someone will make bacon a health food
Feb 11, 2014 7:37PM
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Bacon wrapped asperagus is a tradition for us when camping. The veggie takes some of the guilt out of all the bad stuff about bacon. Unfortunatly, at $6 or $7 for a 12 ounce package means we only get bacon a few times during camping season. The only way the price comes down is the old supply and demand thing. Don't buy as offten, the price will come down.
Feb 11, 2014 7:00PM
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REAL MEN (AND WOMEN) EAT BACON!! 


This article made me hungry for a good ole fashioned BLT.  Take it from me, if you can find Big Buy Harwood Smoked Bacon made by Seaboard Foods out of Shawee Mission, KS it's DEEELICIOUS and thick cut. I pick up several pounds a month at my grocery store for $2.89lb.


Ok how can you "thumbs down" unless you're a health nut vegan.

Feb 11, 2014 7:08PM
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Oh and the grocery store I go to sells bacon cheddar 1/3 lb angus beef burger patties out of their butcher counter for $4.99 lb. It's open air so you can see them fresh grinding the beef  then mixing in the cheddar and bacon chunks all together to form the patties. Grill it off and Top that with some saute'd onions and mushrooms with REAL Best Foods mayo, bit of yellow mustard,lettuce, and a slice of beef steak tomato. MMM... Dinner tomorrow LOL
Feb 11, 2014 7:56PM
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don't buy bacon in a store, get it from a local country butcher.  research it to know if you're getting chineze company owned (smithfield foods for example).  they have a terrible record on animal abuse.

avoid anything to do with those filthy creatures:  the chineze, not the pigs.
Feb 11, 2014 7:01PM
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When is someone going to invent halal bacon, so that muslims can also enjoy this salty, fatty goodness?  Yum.
Feb 11, 2014 4:35PM
Feb 11, 2014 8:07PM
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I have gotten a tub of bacon/horseradish dip in the fridge section of the food store.  Not bad...bacon cheeseburger with fries and a garlic dill pickle can't be beat.
Feb 11, 2014 4:58PM
Feb 11, 2014 6:56PM
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This disgusts me because everyone wants to be a glutton but no one wants to know where their food comes from.
Pigs are fed more than just healthy food.
They live in stalls, unable to even turn around.
They are forcefully inseminated time and time again, babies ripped away after only 2-3 weeks.
Pork contains trans fat, antibiotics, hormones--all contributors to heart disease and obesity. 
Pigs are very social animals that experience joy and pain, they scream in terror as other pigs are slaughtered as the smell of feces and blood overwhelms them.
Do the research yourself and decide if you are the one who must be the pig.
Does big Ag really control you to the point that you eat whatever they give you?
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