The average American eats 18 pounds of bacon a year. With a 75 percent household penetration, it’s one of the most widely consumed foods in the country. That all adds up to a retail bacon category worth roughly $10 billion in annual business.
Bacon truly does make everything betterNick Schweitzer, Black Label Bacon brand manager
What’s at the core of this long-running love affair? “Bacon truly does make everything better,” says Nick Schweitzer, brand manager of retail breakfast meats at Hormel Foods. “It has an indulgent, unique flavor. Everything from the smell to hearing it sizzle intensifies that incredible taste. It can even elevate everyday vanilla ice cream by contrasting saltiness with sweetness.”
Hormel Foods has been excelling at the art of making bacon for over a century and continues to break new ground. Bacon product sales have experienced years of strong growth, including gains in smoked products and significant growth in the Natural Choice® brand. However, it’s not because people are simply waking up and smelling the bacon. “A few years ago, 70 percent of bacon was consumed in some way at breakfast,” says Schweitzer. “All of the growth is being propelled by other occasions: in BLTs, on a salad, in appetizers, as a part of dinner items.”
The public’s insatiable appetite for rashers isn’t just happening at home. “Bacon has been a huge culinary trend at restaurants,” says Stephanie Bowe, consumer insights analyst for Hormel Foods, who notes that more than three quarters of restaurants now serve bacon dishes. “We’re seeing everything from bacon-heavy burgers in the fast food category all the way to bacon-infused desserts at fine dining establishments.”
Bacon has always commanded a die-hard, cult-like following. However, the last decade has seen the public’s reverence for rashers taken to smoking new heights. “Bacon was one of the first food items to gain a large following online, and that’s when the trend really blew up,” says Heather Lauer, author of “Bacon: A Love Story.” “Not only was there more visibility to the various ways in which you could cook bacon, but the cultural celebrations of bacon grew exponentially as people discovered new ways to honor their favorite meat.”
A simple search of “bacon” online brings back over 170 million results, which includes things such as restaurants that have bacon in the name, books written about the meat, recipe websites where every recipe in the collection uses the adored product, songs about bacon, places to order bacon to be shipped right to your home, a brand of vodka made with bacon, photos of giant piles of the stuff (who could ever eat that much bacon anyway?!), and even a site dedicated solely to T-shirts that have bacon references on them.
To capitalize in the surging online interest in bacon, Hormel Foods launched BlackLabelBacon.com, where bacon buffs can experience musician, actor, and comedian Reggie Watts create a sizzling song made with the sounds of frying up a skillet full of bacon. They can learn about the International Bacon Film Festival and a bacon powered motorcycle. There are recipes galore. Entrepreneurial fans can even apply to get their pioneering bacon-centric projects backed on Kickstarter.
At Hormel Foods, the team constantly strives to give bacon aficionados more options that go beyond regular rashers. In 2014, the Hormel®Black Label® bacon brand debuted a series of intensely flavored specialty bacons—Cherrywood, Brown Sugar, Jalapeño, Maple Black Pepper, Pecanwood and Applewood—which have become some of the most successful and sought after bacon products on the market.
This year, the company continued to be at the forefront of bacon innovation with the release of its Premium Double Smoked bacon, which is smoked twice over a proprietary blend of hardwoods. “That brings out the bark, so the bacon flavor really transfers over to other foodstuffs very nicely,” says Schweitzer, who recommends wrapping it around items such as jalapeño poppers, chicken wings and pork chops. “The bacon has a rich, deep smoke flavor with nice natural sweetness.”
But, looking forward, Hormel Foods aims to be at the forefront of bringing bacon into the dessert category with the creation of candied bacon. And in an effort to bring the restaurant experience into the home, there will be new thick cuts to allow home cooks to easily and conveniently mimic professional chef-style pork belly.
Who knows what happens after that? There’s only one thing for certain. “Bacon will never die,” says Bowe. “It’s a cornerstone of our business and a huge contributor to our portfolio.”