Bacon retains its buzz

Earlier this year, a US company took bacon enthusiasm to a new extreme with the launch of a new bacon coffin, complete with bacon shading finish and a bacon air freshener “for those who love bacon to death”. The coffin was the latest in a line of bacon-related products that have hit the market of late, including bacon lip balm, bacon soap, bacon perfume and bacon jam. Bacon, it appears, is the new big thing and Twitter is awash with odes to bacon sandwiches.

The British, of course, have long led the way in the love of bacon. Whether or not bacon coffins will find their way across the Atlantic remains to been seen, but retail sales have soared over the past year. Data from Kantar Worldpanel suggests that the bacon market in Britain was worth £1.3bn (52 w/e 19 February 2012), with annual growth of 4.4% in value and 3.1% in volume. 

Rashers are the strongest performing sector in the bacon market, accounting for 72% of sales. Rashers showed solid volume and value growth of 4.4% and 4.1% respectively (52 w/e 19 February 2012). “This £40m uplift in sales has been primarily driven by shoppers buying bigger baskets, with the strongest-performing retailers substantially increasing their Y for £X offerings,” says Kantar Worldpanel analyst James Todd. 

Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) research and insight executive Matt Southam says that rasher sales have also been boosted by an increase in the popularity of cooked breakfasts.

“There were nearly 3% more bacon rasher breakfast meal occasions last year and we have seen the same rise in sausages, which suggests that the cooked breakfast occasion has really benefited from the economy over the past year,” he explains.

“Cooked breakfasts are a cheap way to have a filling meal and we have seen the same sort of trends happening out-of-home. People see a cooked breakfast as an opportunity to have a substantial meal and really fill up for the day.”

However, the biggest emerging trend has been the use of bacon in main meals, says Southam. “The main thing we have noticed is that there has been big increase in consumption of bacon at evening meal occasions,” he says. “It is a cheap protein in comparison with some fresh meat alternatives and it is an item which is always well-promoted, so it is in tune with what consumers are looking for.”

Although many consumers are finding ways to integrate bacon rashers into evening meals, such as chopping them up and throwing them into a pasta dish instead of chicken or pork steaks, others are turning to bacon joints. Data from Kantar Worldpanel suggests that value sales of bacon joints increased by 4.6%, while volume increased 1.2%. “Bacon joints have seen a big increase in sales over the last 18 months,” says Southam. “If you are looking for a roasting joint or a piece of meat that is going to feed the family, it is a cheaper way to do that.”

Like rashers, joints have benefited from supermarket promotions. “Retailers are really pushing them hard and including them in their three-for-£10 offers,” Southam adds. 
Within the market, the premium sector has seen the biggest growth, increasing by 10% in volume and 9% in value in 2011. However, Southam points out that this is from a relatively small base. “The premium sector is still quite small compared to, say, the sausage market, which has quite a substantial premium sector,” he says.

Southam adds that value products also outgrew standard last year, although again from a relatively small base. “Considering how big a market standard is, you could argue that they are all contributing to the growth that has been seen in bacon,” he says.

Healthy bacon also saw 10% growth last year, in both value and volume. However, Southam again points out that the sector is very small. “Healthy is less than 3% of the market in value terms. It doesn’t take a lot of extra sales to get an uplift. You can say that healthy bacon is growing fast, but I wouldn’t say there was a massive exodus to people looking for healthy bacon. It would only take a promotion for a few weeks in that year to see that uplift in sales,” he says.

In terms of retailer share, Tesco dominates the bacon sector, although Marks & Spencer (M&S) saw strong growth in bacon sales in 2011. “Tesco continues to hold the largest market share, accounting for 24.2% of sales, but this has been diluted by the strong growth of hard discounters and M&S,” says Todd. “Of the Big Four supermarkets only Sainsbury’s extended its market share, but still continues to under-trade in bacon, while with the exception of Tesco, Waitrose and hard discounters, all other retailers over-trade.”

Bacon in foodservice

A tough economy has also boosted bacon sales in the foodservice sector. Recent figures from NPD Crest revealed that bacon servings increased by 29.5% last year, bringing the total number of out-of-home bacon servings to 725 million in 2011. The large majority of these were bacon sandwiches, which are the fastest-growing out-of-home meal or snack, although total bacon servings grew by 2% in both the pub and workplace/education channels in the last year.

Despite strong sales, however, Bpex foodservice manager Tony Goodger says the bacon foodservice market presents challenges for UK producers. “Bacon is always a bit of a conundrum in foodservice and is a difficult product for Bpex for a whole host of reasons, mainly the reluctance of foodservice outlets to put country of origin on menus,” he says.

Goodger says that there has been a shift to more British bacon being served in foodservice, but through unusual channels. Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, for example, have started serving 100% British bacon in their in-store cafés.

“We would like to see the other in-store restaurants and large coffee shop chains following suit. We think there is a good opportunity for all of those businesses,” he says. “For multiple retailers, it reflects well for them to be serving the same good-quality food that they have on their aisles.”

Although Goodger is keen to encourage more foodservice outlets to choose British bacon, he warns that there could be a bit of a supply problem because the UK consumes more bacon then it produces. However, he says this could be solved by careful alignment of bacon products. “It would ease the supply situation if we could get bacon, when served as a sandwich, to be streaky bacon and, when served as a centre plate item, to be back bacon. You need visual appeal for bacon in a breakfast, but not when it is in a sandwich,” he explains.

Goodger would also like to see the foodservice sector follow the example of retail and serve more bacon products during the day as main meals. “There is a good opportunity to do premium cured bacon chops. I don’t see any reason why you could not do a beer-cured bacon chop and serve that at lunch or evenings as a main meal,” he says.

He adds that bacon rashers could also be sold outside the sandwich and breakfast occasions. “Chefs are missing a trick – if they are serving breakfast, they are going to have bacon on-site, so they might as well use it through the day,” he explains. “Bacon is still good value, it makes a great base ingredient and can add flavour to less-flavoured meats such as chicken. Chefs could also upsell by offering warm bacon lardons on salads for an extra £1, just as we see in burger bars offering a rasher of bacon with their burger.”

When it comes to supplying the foodservice sector, Goodger advises that consumers should aim for quality rather than quantity. “My advice to anyone who wants to supply bacon into foodservice is twofold. Don’t go for the rasher count, go for quality. Don’t go for the ever-thinner, nearly transparent rashers, go for 
thicker-cut bacon to get more mouthfeel, better bite,” he says.

Health is also an important aspect to consider for foodservice. “As far as health is concerned, there is plenty of product innovation from businesses looking to meet demand,” says Goodger. “For example, the Foodservice Sector winner in the recent ‘Red, White and Bacon’ Awards was a ‘Smoked Cooked Back Bacon’ from Southover Food Company, which is well within the FSA recommendations for salt content. The company, which has recently received Red Tractor accreditation, has signed the Public Health Responsibility Deal’s F2 Salt Reduction pledge to commit to reducing 2010 salt targets by a further 15%.”

Looking ahead

Looking to the future, Goodger says there is plenty of opportunity to increase quality bacon sales in the catering sector. “Bacon is a fantastic ingredient for all types of menus; quick-service, fine dining and in the cost sector. It is hugely versatile, delivers a punch of flavour to dishes and the fact that there are now so many catering suppliers offering a wide range of affordable, quality, premium bacon varieties, is hugely encouraging,” he says.

Southam says there has been a
 slight slowdown in the year-on-year growth of the retail bacon market, but predicts that sales will remain steady this year.

“Bacon has been the strong winner of the recession. It is a popular product anyway and that, combined with it being heavily promoted at a time when consumers are really promotion-sensitive, means strong sales,” he says.

“The only reason that the bacon market wouldn’t perform well again in 2012 would be if there was a big drop in promotions, which is unlikely to happen because the supermarkets seem fairly set in their ways in terms of how much is promoted. Additionally, budgets are going to remain tight and bacon is a cheaper way to feed the family.” 

With buoyant sales and evident opportunities both in foodservice and at retail, the British love of bacon looks set to continue in 2012 and beyond.

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