Slideshow: Better with bacon

by Monica Watrous
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CHICAGO – Food formulators are still hog wild about bacon.

The flavor remains a favorite in unexpected snacks, from crackers to confections. Recent launches from the Campbell Soup Co., Mondelēz International and the Kellogg Co. suggest the breakfast staple hasn’t lost its sizzle. Mondelēz in March rolled out Ritz crackers seasoned with flavors of bacon and cracked pepper, and Kellogg has added a limited-edition bacon variety of Pringles, which is available exclusively in Wal-Mart stores.

Still, some may wonder whether the pork product has peaked. According to Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insight at Chicago-based Mintel, the answer is yes and no.

The spike in niche products (bacon-topped cupcakes, anyone?) five or six years ago greased the pan for mainstream food makers to take on the trend today. 

“When it comes to flavor trends, often you see the biggest companies get into the trend at the end, when you see the numbers start to drop,” Ms. Dornblaser said. “In the beginning, the trend had bacon in some really oddball places, like bacon chocolates or bacon on cupcakes. To me when you see a flavor being used in unusual ways, quite often then the biggest companies wait awhile before they get into it to see if it will be a fad or not. For a big company like Mondelēz, it is a lot of time and a lot of cost, so they want to make sure it is absolutely the right thing for them to do.”

The number of product launches featuring bacon as a flavor or ingredient dropped in 2013, she said, but two factors may signal some staying power for egg’s sidekick. First, the flavor has surged in new pet food products, she said.

“You tend not to see flavor trends in pet food that don’t also appear in human food,” she said. “They’re oddly connected.”

Second, several major meat processors, including Kraft Foods and Hormel Foods, recently have repositioned their bacon offerings as gourmet products. Kraft has repackaged its Oscar Mayer Butcher Thick-Cut bacon in a sleek white wrapper, and Hormel has expanded its Black Label line with cherrywood and pecanwood varieties, presumably to stand out in a sea of applewood-smoked products.

“There have been some really interesting introductions lately, which makes me think that while bacon as a flavor in unusual categories may be a bit past the curve, that the idea of bacon as a flavor whether in strips or something else is still very much with us and is not going away anytime soon,” Ms. Dornblaser said.

The premium positioning also may justify higher price points to offset rising pork costs, she suggested. A boom in the breakfast category also may explain the high occurrence of new bacon products on the market.

“I think there is room for bacon, but I think what will happen is a backing off of extreme bacony-ness,” Ms. Dornblaser said. “That’s just not really sustainable. I think there’s always going to be a place on any fast-food or fast-casual restaurant menu for sandwiches that have bacon involved and breakfasts that have bacon. I do think we will continue to see in some sweet applications, but that really will be something that’s quite niche, whether it’s bacon in cupcakes or in chocolate bars. I think there will always be a place for those, but I think their height of popularity has probably started to slide already.”

Click for a slideshow of snacks featuring a bacon flavor.

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