For the first time in recent memory, overall retail bacon sales declined for the 52 weeks ending Jan. 28, 2024, at just under $5.9 billion (down 6.7% from the same period the previous year), according to Circana OmniMarket Integrated Fresh, a Chicago-based market research firm. Meanwhile, on a cost-per unit basis, bacon’s price decreased to $6.05, which was down 6.7% from a year ago. As most shoppers and processors would attest, many bacon packages shifted to 12 oz packages versus the traditional 1 lb packages, which might explain some of ebbing in price. According to most bacon processors, demand is still high, but across-the-board, many consumers opted to pump the brakes on some mainstay product purchases in light of inflation over the past year-plus. To ride out the inflation storm, many diners and shoppers at retail, opted to trade down in their selections at the meat case and on menus.

“When prices come down, you’d expect sales to go up, but that didn’t happen last year in bacon,” said Chris DuBois, executive vice president of Fresh/Protein practice leader at Circana. “We did some analysis and we found that 10% of the households that bought both bacon and eggs frequently back in 2021 stopped buying bacon from 2022-2023. I think a lot of that was due to egg pricing, which really got high. Surprisingly, that group chose eggs. For bacon marketers, the key for 2024 is bringing those protein-loving households back into the bacon category.”

One category of bacon that saw exponential growth in dollar and unit sales over the past year included Fresh Refrigerated Salad Toppings/Bacon Bits, with sales creeping toward $1 billion and increasing over 264% last year. Unit sales were up 450% at more than 115,500.

“I can’t think of a product that bacon doesn’t make better, and bacon bits can be added to so many dishes and desserts,” DuBois said.

New product innovations and premium products continue to be launched in the bacon segment as many consumers won’t deny their craving for their favorite strips of pork. New and established processing companies in the segment are looking to claim their piece of the pie with some focused on pricing and others on premium quality.

“We’re seeing more high-quality offerings coming into the category and they don’t have complicated ingredient panels,” DuBois said.

“Bacon pricing matters and I think you’re seeing heavier competition too,” he added. “This is likely a nice pocket for growth for these brands going forward.”