Bacon market remains hot

The bacon craze is proving to be more than a passing fad.  |  Michael Raine photo illustration

DES MOINES, Iowa — Everything’s better wrapped in bacon.

At least, that’s how the pork market acted last year, pushing pork belly prices high as demand surged.

It provided a lot of cash value to the overall pork carcass and gave farmers more dollars in their pockets.

Was it just a fad? Has it faded away?

“No, we still have some tremendous momentum behind this,” National Pork Board domestic markets manager Jarrod Sutton said at a presentation during the World Pork Expo.

“Bacon has a tremendous wave of momentum behind it.”

While bacon demand is not skyrocketing like it was last year, it appears to have held on to a lot of the extra demand it saw last summer, with January and February purchases by food manufacturers suggesting plans to push bacon-related purchases in the hot summer barbecuing market.

“It continues on that upward trajectory at the normal rate,” said Sutton, wryly referring to bacon as “the protein that helps other proteins succeed.”

At one time bacon was a discount product, popular for greasy breakfasts but little else.

Then sparks of food marketing brilliance began producing eureka moments such as the bacon double cheeseburger, and bacon began to sometimes trade as a premium product.

Bacon-wrapped steaks and seafood have become common in recent years, and bacon is now almost automatically assumed to be part of restaurant salads.

In that leap from narrow and non-premium food product to big dollar indulgence, bacon has developed similarly to chicken wings.

At one time wings were almost throwaway chicken components, hard to clear. Then bars and restaurants discovered that deep fried chicken wings were the perfect accompaniment and facilitator to beer-drinking, and demand and prices took flight.

Pork demand remains strong this year, and is likely to stay so, at least for now and unless the U.S. domestic economy slides toward recession, Steve Meyer of Kerns and Associates said.

“For the time being consumers feel great,” said Meyer.

Many in the market are watching for signs of a recession brewing, considering the incredibly long period of growth since 2008. While some signs could suggest the business cycle is in late stages, many analysts have wrongly called for recessions in the last six years and there is no proof yet that one is imminent.

U.S. meat stocks are ample and world supplies are large, so any hit to overall demand and consumption would hurt prices, a number of analysts at the Expo said.

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