The bacon industry has changed a lot in the past decade and a half, says Neil Dudley, vice president of sales of Hamilton, Texas-based Pederson’s Natural Farms.
“Seventeen years ago, our company was trying to find out what to do with bellies. Bacon had not hit the wave yet,” Dudley says. “Then, probably 10 to 12 years ago we started looking around, thinking, ‘What can we do to get more bellies?’”
Bacon has continued to ride that wave of popularity in the ensuing years, Dudley says, and he doesn’t see it breaking anytime soon.
John Hernandez, breakfast meats brand manager at Austin, Minnesota-based Hormel Foods, couldn’t agree more.
“Consumers are passionate about bacon and can’t get enough of it,” he says. “The bacon category continues to grow year-over-year as consumers keep finding more and more ways to use bacon outside of breakfast.”
Whether it’s being used as an ingredient in a favorite dish, in an appetizer or to elevate a main course, the multiple varieties and flavors available to consumers today mean there’s something for everybody, Hernandez says.
Hormel’s Black Label Original, Black Label Applewood Smoked and Natural Choice Cherrywood Smoked bacon, for instance, create more reasons for consumers to want to use and enjoy bacon, he adds. “Bacon is one of those unique products that makes everything better.”
Foodservice, new varieties, social media drive growth
Bacon’s popularity continues to grow year-after-year — for a number of reasons, Hernandez says. First, social media provides bacon lovers with a platform to engage and inspire other consumers to enjoy bacon in new and engaging ways. The surge and growing popularity of experiential events such as the Bacon and Beer Classic has created an engaging and exciting platform to rekindle consumers’ love for bacon.
Second, Hernandez says, restaurants are adding bacon to everything on their menu, from breakfast items to appetizers to desserts, inspiring consumers to find new and creative ways to use a product they love.
Finally, retailers are in tune with consumers and providing them with a variety of flavors, cuts, convenience and health options to remain relevant with changing needs. “Bacon is extremely versatile and compatible with diet trends such as keto and is paleo-friendly, which has helped with its popularity in recent years,” Hernandez says.
Oscar Mayer, a brand of Chicago-based Kraft Heinz, also continues to see steady demand for superior quality, great-tasting bacon, says Matt Riezman, associate director of marketing.
“Recently, we’ve seen a growing interest in cooking bacon outside of the breakfast mealtime, so we launched new products to help inspire further usage, whether it’s within salads, sandwiches, brunch or beyond. Oscar Mayer is always looking ahead and keeps an open mind for the potential to expand on products that consumers know and love, like bacon.”
Bacon popularity has continued to increase as consumer interest in new flavors grows and bacon lovers find new ways to use cook bacon outside of the breakfast mealtime.
Oscar Mayer meets that demand, Riezman says, by consistently delivering the gold standard of bacon that’s high-quality, tastes great and comes in a variety of cuts and flavors.
“Above all, consumers are looking for food they can trust, and Oscar Mayer sets the gold standard for bacon lovers who are seeking a high-quality bacon product. We do this by hand-selecting the best cuts and then naturally sugar curing and naturally hardwood smoking our bacon – it’s in our DNA. And as a brand that takes extra care to make high-quality bacon, we are uniquely positioned to deliver on this trend.”
To ensure it has enough bacon to meet the surging demand, Pederson’s has gotten more involved in raising pigs “the way we want them raised,” Dudley says. The company has secured its own supply and fostered relationships with people who are more like-minded on the production side, he says.
By “like-minded,” he means producers who share Pederson’s commitment to producing bacon with no additives, made from animals raised under the strictest welfare standards. And there’s no trouble meeting demand once the supply has been secured.
“Consumers continue to be very inclined to what we’re doing,” he says.
Pederson’s currently has about 10 SKUs in grocery retail, Dudley says. Among the offerings cherrywood and applewood-smoked bacon and bacon flavored with honey, barbecue and jalapeno.
But by far the biggest recent success for the company, Dudley says, has been its no-sugar bacon, Dudley says.
“That’s been the thing that really hit our niche and has done well for us,” he says. “People are realizing that sugar is basically an addictive drug. It’s not any good for fueling what our body needs to grow, regenerate and heal itself. I feel so lucky that we got into this early on.”
That was five years ago. At the time, when Pederson’s pitched it to its existing retail customers, they “kind of laughed us out of the room,” Dudley says.
“But they told us, ‘You’ve been around, we’ll put it out there.’ Well, those people did very well, quickly.”
Thicker-sliced bacon is also trending up, Dudley says. Pederson’s makes a thick-cut “steak house bacon” that steak houses will put on their appetizer menus, among other applications.
Looking ahead, a trend that could be coming to the bacon industry is demand for what Pederson categories as “indulgent” bacon — the exact opposite direction of the company’s successful low-sugar products.
“A lot of BBQ shops, a lot of chefs, are making their own bacon, and there’s where I think that indulgent bacon will come from,” he says. “There’s been a little experimentation, but nothing that’s viable in the market yet.”
The trends in the bacon retail industry, Hernandez says, center around giving consumers more options to enjoy bacon and cater their selection to specific dishes or diets. Thicker cuts, unique smokes and flavors, and different packaging sizes allow consumers to purchase the bacon that meets their exact needs.
Convenience, health, clean-label
“Convenience offerings also continue to be a key growth opportunity in the category,” he adds. “Our Black Label Microwave Ready Bacon has grown at a double-digit rate as consumers look for faster and less messy ways to prepare bacon. Finally, the category is seeing significant growth in health and clean label options which aligns with a growing consumer segment looking for these options.”
Hormel Foods is committed to providing consumers with options that meet their dietary needs and preferences. The company recently invested over $132 million at Dold Foods in Wichita, Kansas, in late 2017 to expand its bacon production capacity in order to capitalize on bacon’s growing popularity.
“The expansion allows us to drive growth on our vast, existing portfolio of products and continue to drive excitement in the category through innovation and delivering unforgettable eating experiences,” Hernandez says.
An example of those innovations: Hormel’s Black Label 24 oz Thick Cut Stack Pack Bacon Varieties (Original, Cherrywood, Pecanwood and Brown Sugar) now come with a zipper for resealability and added convenience.
Consumers have recently gravitated towards bolder flavors in their meats, including bacon, Riezman says. And it’s a trend that shows no sign of stopping any time soon.
“We’re constantly listening to consumer preferences and looking for ways to evolve our offerings,” he adds. “Just last year we released new offerings in both our raw and fully cooked lines to fit a growing consumer demand for bolder, more exciting flavors.”
Oscar Mayer also now offers a low sodium option and Oscar Mayer Natural Bacon, which is free of all the ingredients that people don’t want without sacrificing the taste of Oscar Mayer bacon.
Other new varieties introduced in just the past year, Riezman says, include Maple Bourbon Bacon, made with real Evan Williams bourbon, and Cracked Black Pepper Bacon, available both as raw bacon or fully cooked for those that desire a more convenient, less messy way to get their flavored bacon.
“As bacon’s popularity continues to grow, Oscar Mayer is proud to set the tone for what’s next as the leader in the bacon category,” Riezman says. “ We’re looking forward to continuing to bring exciting to bring bold, new flavors to the iconic Oscar Mayer bacon products that our fans know and love. We’re truly passionate about creating bacon that provides great taste and superior quality every time.”