Bring on the Bacon

 
“We now cook over 200,000 strips of bacon every year…a strip of bacon every minute we’re open.”
—Chef John Berryhill, Bacon restaurant

Imagine 16 tons of bacon. That’s about the weight of the 512,000 bacon strips Chef John Berryhill estimates he cooked from the time he introduced his signature Berryhill Bacon in 1995 until he opened his popular Bacon restaurant in May 2011 in Boise, Idaho.

   “We now cook over 200,000 strips of bacon every year…a strip of bacon every minute we’re open!” says Berryhill, who also owns Boise’s fine-dining Berryhill & Co., and Plan B Lounge.

   The restaurant, which the chef says was “born for those who love bacon,” has seen sales soar since its debut almost three years ago. The casual, counter-service breakfast and lunch bistro offers dishes made with eight varieties of its namesake ingredient: Berryhill Bacon, Super Hot Bacon, Chocolate Bacon, Kurobuta-herbed Bacon, Pancetta Bacon, Tempeh Bacon, Candied Bacon and Maple Rosemary Bacon. The Smoked Turkey and Berryhill Bacon sandwich is a best-seller.

   “We’ve definitely benefitted from the bacon craze,” says Berryhill, who notes that Bacon (the restaurant) has garnered national attention on the Travel Channel and in the March 2014 issue of the Food Network’s magazine.

   Bacon is just one example of a restaurant bringing home the bacon by featuring the cut of pork most consumers currently favor.

   In Chicago, there’s Burke’s Bacon Bar. When Chef David Burke hung his Open for Business sign at this bacon hot spot in The James Hotel last August, it was the culmination of his dream to open an eatery that paid homage to one of his favorite ingredients.

   Today, hotel customers, as well as residents of the surrounding Gold Coast neighborhood, flock to Burke’s grab-and-go style sandwich shop for the palm-sized, bacon-centric, $4 “handwiches” that are making Burke’s Bacon Bar a go-to spot. Burke locally sources several varieties of artisanal bacon, including Benton’s Tennessee Bacon and Niman Ranch Pepper Bacon, which he uses on the “handwiches” and in more playful, subtle forms like crumbs and jam.

“We now cook over 200,000 stripsof bacon every year…a strip of baconevery minute we’re open.”

—Chef John Berryhill, Bacon restaurant

Photo courtesy of Bacon

At Bacon, customers order from a counter, where they can see the cuts of pork and other items being served.

   Even in health- and diet-conscious San Francisco, the Bacon Bacon food truck purveys everything from a Bacon Fried Chicken Sandwich with bacon mayo to Spicy Belly Fries with pork belly trimmings to Chocolate Covered Bacon and Bacon Caramel Corn for dessert.

A Craving that Won’t Quit

   With all the press about consumers’ desire for healthy, low-fat, low-sodium, preservative-free food, bacon seems an unlikely customer favorite. Yet as the Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch reported in February, bacon sales have sizzled to an all-time high.

   In fact, sales have grown every year for the last four years, climbing to a record high of $4 billion in 2013, MarketWatch said.

   The National Pork Board reports that Americans eat about 1.5 billion pounds of bacon annually. Nearly one-third of that amount is consumed as an ingredient, the National Pork Board says. Studies also show that more than half of all households (53 percent) report they always have bacon on hand.

   Other data also points to consumers’ continuing love affair with bacon. Smithfield, a top pork supplier, found that 65 percent of Americans would support the idea of making bacon America’snational food. Further proof: the bacon-dedicated website, bacontoday.com, lists 33 bacon festivals scheduled around the country from late February through early November this year.

Manufacturers Innovate to Increase Market Share.

   With customers craving all things bacon, companies that produce pork are finding innovative ways to get their cuts into bacon lovers’ hands.

   In early February, Eckrich (part of John Morrell Food Group, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods) announced expansion of the Bacon Lovers Deli Meats line it introduced in May 2012.

   “We have seen and heard a lot of interest in the Bacon Lovers line since our initial launch,” said Charles Gitkin, vice president, marketing, R&D and innovation for the John Morrell Food Group, said when announcing the expansion.

   The Bacon Covered Ham, Bacon Ranch Chicken Breast, Bacon Covered Club, Applewood Smoked Turkey Breast with Bacon and Peppered Bacon Covered Roast Beef, all made with real bacon, arenow available at grocery retailers nationwide.

   Eckrich also launched “The Best Idea Ever” advertising campaign, which reinforces the notion that bacon really does make everything taste better. The national campaign is comprised of radio, television, digital, social media and in-store advertising elements, and includes spots on United States of Bacon, a new show hosted by Chef Todd Fisher airing on Destination America channel.

   Last October, Hormel Foods Corp. took bacon on a show business route. The company invited independent filmmakers to create movie shorts featuring bacon, and then brought the best of more than 130 entries received to the 2013 International Bacon Film Festival in New York City.

   “We’ve had contests with amateur chefs for the last four years to create recipes with bacon. We said, ‘What about bacon films?’” Terrill Bacon (yep, that’s really his name), Hormel’s product manager, said.

   The winning three-minute film, “Portrait of a Bacon Enthusiast,” featured a character named Devin whose mission was “to spread the gospel of bacon.” Equipped with a banjo and Hormel’s Black Label Bacon, he proclaimed how and when bacon should be consumed: “Greasy, greasy, crunchy, crunchy, breakfast, dinner and for lunchie,” his lyrics proclaimed.

   According to Steve Venenga, Hormel’s vice president for meat products marketing, the creative promotion gave the company a leg up on the supermarket shelf. The contest definitely drummed up interest; the Hormel-sponsored films have drawn about 500,000 views on YouTube. Farmland is another pork producer reaching out to consumers in creative ways. For the fourth year running, the company was a premiere sponsor of Kansas City’s “Bacon-Fest—The Other Fundraiser,” which benefitted the Rehabilitation Institute ofKansas City last August.   

   Farmland hosted a bacon eating contest, and held the “Everyday Bacon Brilliance” VIP sampling event that showcased Cheesy Bacon Bread, Peppered Bacon Potato Salad, Sweet ‘N Spicy Bacon Pecans and Bloody Mary Bacon Vodka prepared by Farmland’s chef. The company also pitched a Farmland tent where bacon devotees could taste products including Thick Cut PepperedBacon, Thick Cut Hickory Smoked Bacon and Classic Cut Less Fat/Lower Sodium Bacon.

   Additionally, Farmland launched a national media campaign that included a television spot called “For the Love of Bacon,” and introduced new bacon products to the market including Upgrade StackPack Bacon, a thicker, leaner bacon made with sea salt. Also introduced was a line of All Natural Breakfast Meats that includes minimally processed bacon with no artificial ingredients, no addedhormones and no steroids.

Creative Retail and Restaurant Promotions

   Manufacturers aren’t the only bacon pros pursuing bacon lovers’ business. Retailers and restaurants are also doing their creative best to boost bacon sales.

   During National Pork Month in 2013, Hy-Vee supermarkets—in conjunction with the Kansas Pork Association’s (KPA’s) “Your Bacon Starts Here” retail promotion —featured a lifesized cutout of a Kansas pork producer, aswell as meat case signage encouraging shoppers to visit yourbaconstartshere.org and enter to win free bacon for a year.

   “This program has provided a great opportunity for pork producers to show consumers how much care and pride we take in producing safe, quality food,” said Michael Springer of Neodesha, Kan., whose farm and family were featured in a video posted on the website. “We need to take every chance we can to tell consumers about what goes on at our farm. These videos help us accomplish that.”

   On the foodservice side, Zingerman’s Delicatessen in Ann Arbor, Mich., appeals to bacon aficionados in two unique ways.

   The first is Camp Bacon, a four-day extravaganza the company says,“…celebrates all things bacon—from bacon makers, producers, poets, historians and musicians—all brought to you in a full day of learning, eating and fun.”

   This summer, from May 29 – June 1, Zingerman’s will host the 5th annual Camp Bacon at Cornman Farms in Dexter, Mich., with special guests including Bob and Tanya Nueske of Nueske’s Bacon. “Campers” aren’t the only ones who benefit from the pork-centric party: Camp Bacon is a fundraiser for SouthernFoodways Alliance.

   The second is Zingerman’s Bacon of the Month Club, which has been featured on The Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate, and has earned kudos from celebrity chefs Mario Batali, Michael Symon and Bobby Flay. Each Bacon of the Month Club shipmentcontains 12 to 16 ounces of artisan bacon, bacon stories, histories and recipes, plus a free Bacon Booklet primer and pig magnet with the first club shipment.

   Sit-down establishments are capitalizing on the bacon boom, too. At Queens’ Sage General Store in Long Island City, N.Y., owner Leslie Nilsson decided to offer an all-bacon weekend brunch modeled on wine pairings. A big fan of artisanal meats, Nilsson chose Neuske’s bacon from Wisconsin, Dewig’s fromIndiana, and Ham I Am! from Texas to star in a sampler that kicked off the three-course, $25 prix fixe meal that included five-cheese bacon mac ‘n’ cheese and Nilsson’s double chocolate bacon brownie, with bacon bits worked into the batter.

   With all of the new formulations and special promotions flooding the market, this flavorful cut of pork appears well positioned to stay atop consumers’ favorite foods list—which is welcome news for the producers, retailers and restaurants that have committed so much time, and so many resources, to bringing on the bacon.

 

 

 

See how Weber Bacon 702 Slicer will increase your bacon slicing throuhgput, yields and slice quality.

During an all-bacon weekend brunch, Queens’ Sage General Store in Long Island City, New York, featured five-cheese bacon mac ‘n’ cheese similar to the dish featured above.

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