Popularity appears permanent
Back in early 2009, Seth Zurer was a soon-to-be first-time father (an unemployed one, at that), trying to figure out where his career was headed. One late-night phone call, taken when he was lying in bed with his pregnant wife, helped set the course.
“My friends and I are theater guys. They had seen a puppet musical about craft beer that night and were so inspired that they wondered, ‘What could we feel so much love for that we could write a musical about?’” Zurer recalls.
Bacon was the answer. By the next day they’d created a Bacon Manifesto. Instead of a musical, that manifesto morphed into Baconfest—an annual Chicago event that has grown from an inaugural party with 75 guests and 10 chefs to a sizzling, two-day, sold-out foodie event that attracted nearly 5,000 people. Massive amounts of bacon were prepared and served by 170 chefs representing a wide variety of restaurants ranging from modest sandwich shops to small Mexican carnitas spots to James Beard Award-winning establishments.
“Nueske’s donated 8,000 pounds of bacon,” says Zurer, whose team determined that the amount of bacon that fed the fest’s bacon aficionados would stretch 25-1/2 miles!
By Kathleen Furore
Premium product, creative recipes keep the category sizzling
“Bacon has seen its status in pop culture continue to rise in recent years with the growth of bacon festivals, the popularity of extreme bacon recipe dishes, and restaurants dedicated to bacon popping up across the country,” says Michael Merritt, senior director of retail brand marketing for Smithfield. “What began as a fleeting food craze has firmly established itself as a fad that is here to stay, due in part to its trendiness, but mainly because it’s so delicious!”
Smithfield is benefitting from this bacon boom: “Year-to-date, Smithfield Bacon sales are up 36 percent in volume and 28 percent in dollar sales (1) from this same period in 2014,” Merritt reports.
Executives from Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Meats in Wittenberg, Wisc. and North Country Smokehouse in Claremont, N.H. have similar stories to tell.
Nueske’s donated 8,000 pounds of bacon to the Baconfest – enough to stretch 25 1/2 miles!
Despite reports of consumers’ growing penchant for healthy food, their love affair with bacon is still going strong.
According to data from The NPD Group, U.S. foodservice consumers proclaimed their love for “the candy of meats” by eating a whopping 1.1 billion servings of bacon in the year ending April 2014. That’s an increase in servings of six percent over the previous year.
As Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, Inc., noted in his April 6, 2015 blog post titled, “No End to the Bacon Trend,” bacon continues to provide opportunities to innovate – even with health and wellness trends top-of-mind with consumers.
“Innovation can be built on preparation, spice profiles and mixing the salty, smoky and savory flavor of bacon with sweet and hot,” Tristano said, citing Little Caesars Bacon-Wrapped Crust Pizza and LongHorn Steakhouse’s Triple Bacon Sirloin wrapped with bacon, topped with bacon and finished with bacon tomato Hollandaise as examples of creative, bacon-centric dishes. Even baseball fans can jump on the bacon bandwagon: “White Sox fans at U.S. Cellular Field will be able to order bacon flights that include brown sugar, jalapeño, black pepper and barbecue flavors, or just bacon on a stick, improved this year with a maple glaze,” Tristano added.
Industry leaders agree that bacon’s popularity shows no signs of waning.
“There was a big increase [in bacon’s popularity]—a wave that crested in 2008 and has never stopped,” says Megan Dorsch, marketing manager for Nueske’s. “Things like pomegranates and chia may come and go, but bacon hasn’t gone away. Sales don’t lie. We do smokehouse ham and poultry too, but our most popular item is bacon.”
Mike Satzow, executive vice president of sales and marketing at North Country Smokehouse, also reports sales of bacon products continue to skyrocket. “It is a challenge to make enough bacon, and it has been that way for the past seven or eight years!” Satzow says. “A trend by nature goes up and down, but [our bacon sales] don’t go down. Bacon is no longer a trend—it’s a staple!”
Thumbs up for Baconfest – an annual Chicago event that has grown to a sold-out foodie event with nearly 5,000 attendees.
Pi Gallery Bar – The Bourbon Babe; photo by Anne Petersen courtesy of Baconfest.
Photo by Peter Tsai.
While these experts say bacon has surpassed the “trendy” stage, certain cuts and flavor profiles within the category are in the spotlight.
Merritt, for example, sees flavor trends that began on the culinary side trickling down to the retail channel.
“Over the past few years, chefs in restaurants across the country have been experimenting with smoking meats using different wood varieties, increasing consumers’ interest in these flavor profiles and creating a demand at retail,” he says. “To meet this request, we’ve launched several new bacon flavors including applewood- and cherrywood-smoked varieties. Over the course of the past year, we have seen increased sales in these flavors among consumers.”
Cherrywood-smoked bacon, with its unique sweet and salty profile, is the fastest growing flavor at retail, with Smithfield Foods leading in the flavor category, Merrit says. “That said, our Smithfield Hometown Original Bacon remains our top seller with 40 percent of all domestic sales (2),” he adds. “Consumers are also venturing out to explore different cuts such as thick cut bacon, which now makes up 20 percent of all of bacon sales (2) and continues to grow.”
New cuts and flavor profiles
Mike Satzow, executive vice president of sales and marketing at North Country Smokehouse
Triple-Thick Butcher Cut Applewood Smoked Bacon, packaged six to eight slices per pound in retail packs, is a top-seller for Nueske’s. “Grilling is becoming popular and thicker cuts work well for grilling—people have been grilling our Triple-Thick Butcher Cut Applewood Smoked Bacon in steakhouses and at home,” Dorsch says. “Sweet, savory flavors are still doing well, too. There has been a resurgence in the popularity of brunch, and people appreciate quality. By paying more they get more flavor and they see the consistency, as well. And a little big goes a long way.”
North Country Smokehouse’s Applewood Smoked Cottage Bacon is a best-seller. Created from the center of the pork butt, it is leaner than the company’s regular applewood smoked bacon, with a richer flavor than the Canadian style product. “It is the perfect cut for burgers because it is round and covers the patty,” Satzow says. “We’re seeing major growth with our cottage bacon due to the popularity of upscale hamburgers.”
Uncured, nitrite-free and certified humane products are also doing well. “That is a big trend in health and wellness,” Satzow adds.
Smithfield Foods top seller is their Hometown Original Bacon.
Clearly, consumers are embracing bacon, sampling new cuts and flavors in their search for bacon nirvana. But behind the scenes, what role do slicers play in ensuring high-quality products?
“A good slicer will provide a consistent slice thickness, accurate portion weights, able-to-grade leanness, and lay out a perfect draft of shingled sliced bacon—no thrown or out of place slices,” Jeff Bushman, Nueske’s business analysis director explains.
The challenge for Nueske’s, however, is that unlike the majority of bacon producers, the company doesn’t press its bacon prior to slicing. “Most slicing equipment designed and built to slice bacon does not work for us, due to the natural shape and curl of our slab bacon,” Bushman says.
That’s why Nuekse’s has turned to Weber. “The Weber slicers we have are able to slice our un-pressed slabs very well,” Bushman notes. “Our slicers work well with all slice thicknesses.”
"Bacon has seen its status in pop culture continue to rise in recent years with the growth of bacon festivals, the popularity of extreme bacon recipe dishes, and restaurants dedicated to bacon popping up across the country.”
— Michael Merritt, senior director of retail brand marketing, Smithfield
High speed and a continuously sharp blade are key to slicing the high-quality bacon at North Country Smokehouse. The Weber 402 Slicer and a Weber sharpener meet that need, Satzow says. “Slicing temperature is also critical,” he adds. “We slice at 24° to 28° F. It is important to follow strict parameters so you get good, clean slices at a price with maximum yield; and sanitation is always paramount.”
However you slice it, bacon looks like it will be cooking well into the future.
Baconfest’s founder and bacon aficionada Zurer, perhaps, sums up this meat’s permanent popularity best: “Across the board, people like bacon—it is an affordable indulgence!”
(1) IRI Data, Total US MULO YTD thru 4.12.15
(2) IRI Data, Smithfield Bacon Total US MULO 52 week thru 4.12.15
Types of BACON
Bacon, a slab of meat that is cut from the underside of a pig or pork loin, is sold fresh, cured, or smoked. Some of the most popular types of bacon used in cooking include:
Pancetta: Italian-style bacon cured with peppercorns, salt, and cloves; packaged in a roll similar to sausage and sold by the slice.
Irish bacon: A lean meat cut from the eye of the pork loin that is cured by smoking; similar to boneless pork loin roast in appearance; can be sliced thick or thin.
Canadian bacon: Cut from the pork loin from the back of the pig; has fewer calories and less fat than American-style bacon; tastes a bit like ham and often has been smoked and cured.
American-style bacon: Cut from the stomach of the pig, this bacon is cured in salt and then smoked; a streaky texture and very fatty; rind taken off before slicing (often thinly).
Slab bacon: A single piece of large bacon with the rind left on; sometimes roasted over corncobs for additional flavor.
North Country Smokehouse Applewood smoked bacon
Peppered bacon: Coated with coarsely ground pepper; spicy; makes a delicious sandwich.
Applewood smoked bacon: Cured with the smoke from burning pieces of applewood, which gives the meat a rich and delicately sweet flavor.
Fatback: A slab of fat that is cut along the back of the pig; can be used as lard for frying or sautéing or cut into barding strips and wrapped around lean roasts; also used to line pate pans or terrine. Before cutting it into sheets, fatback is placed in the freezer so that it is easier to slice.
Gypsy bacon: A Hungarian specialty, gypsy bacon is a slab of bacon roasted and seasoned with paprika. It is cut into thin slices and then served on rye bread. It is often sold in Hungarian or German markets.
TURNING BEEF TO BACON:
If it looks like bacon, smells like bacon and tastes like bacon, then is must be….Schmacon?
That is the name of one of the newest products tapping into consumers love affair with all things bacon. Made with whole-muscle smoked, uncured beef and a proprietary spice blend, Schmacon is all natural, nitrite-free and has a crispy finish that rivals that of traditional pork bacon.
A 2014 recipient of the competitive Food and Beverage Innovation (FABI) awards from the National Restaurant Show, Schmacon has been
available to the foodservice market for just over a year. Starting in June, retail packages will appear in grocery stores nationwide.
“Schmacon is different, delicious and unlike anything else on the market. The taste and
texture are incomparable,” says Howard Bender, the inventor of Schmacon and CEO of Schmaltz Products, the producer of Schmacon.
“Great taste is the key. Schmacon enables restaurants to offer a more personalized experience, such as an upgrade to beef or a healthier option that adds flavor and crunch to current food trends,” says Bender. “At home Schmacon is an easy and delicious way to add beef to any meal. It can top a burger, wrap around vegetables, or be used as a topping on potatoes or mac and cheese.
For more information about Schmacon, visit www.schmacon.com.