Reading the nutrition facts for bacon should be enough to make health-conscious Americans avoid it forever. Yet people can’t seem to keep their mouths off the fatty and salty pork product.
Enthusiasts’ mania has led to sizzling sales growth for small companies in the business of bacon and bacon-inspired products, including self-described “bacon lifestyle” company J&D’s Foods, chocolatier Vosges Haut-Chocolat, and novelty-goods retailer Archie McPhee.
Despite the sluggish economy, sales of bacon products were up 11.2 percent in the year ended August 2011, according to data from the National Pork Board. That’s a healthy $2.44 billion in annual revenue. Another food-trends research company, the NPD Group, reports that bacon is more likely than ever to show up on dinner plates, not just as a breakfast side dish.
To understand the cult popularity of bacon, you must think beyond the slice.
Creative small businesses have introduced bacon-infused vodka (for extra zing in that Bloody Mary), bacon chocolate (for those who crave salt with their sweets), bacon bandages, bacon gummy candy and candy canes, bacon lip balm, and even bacon-flavored personal lubricant and massage oil (no joke).
“J&D’s Foods continues to grow. Our sales more than doubled year-over-year from 2010 to 2011. We expect the same growth in 2012,” says Justin Esch, co-founder of the Seattle-based company. Although the private company doesn’t disclose revenue, he describes it as a multimillion-dollar, bacon-flavored enterprise.
“Whether or not you love bacon, you have a bacon lover in your family,” he says.
Katrina Markoff, founder and owner of Chicago-based Vosges Haut-Chocolat, estimates that bacon-related chocolate products generate a couple of million dollars in sales annually. David Wahl, principal for Archie McPhee in Mukilteo, Wash., says bacon products (such as bacon bandages and bacon air fresheners) have been the retailer’s top category for the past five years.
What makes a bacon business sizzle? Here are five things to know.
1. Season and region matter, but not as much as you might think. Approximately 600 million pounds of the 1.7 billion pounds of bacon consumed in food-service organizations during 2010 [PDF] was eaten by folks in the South, according to Pork Checkoff, a research service funded by the National Pork Board. But people in the Northeast and Central regions of the United States also consumed more than 400 million pounds each year per region, respectively.
Although sales are generally steady throughout the year, J&D’s Foods and Vosges Haut-Chocolat say they experience seasonality to their sales. As you may expect, Goose’s Golden Eggs: Bacon & Eggs candy (dark-chocolate eggs filled with bacon caramel) from Vosges does especially well at Easter. J&D’s Foods, meanwhile, sells more of its seasonings, such as Bacon Salt and Bacon Rub, during the summer months when more people are grilling.
2. Get ready to get friendly with the U.S. government. When Vosges Haut-Chocolat decided to include bacon in its organic chocolate seven years ago, it was required to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on plant certification — which is now an ongoing expense in training and compliance. Likewise, J&D’s Foods Baconlube personal lubricant was subjected to approval by the Food and Drug Administration.
3. If it looks like bacon, it should taste like bacon. When Archie McPhee first introduced its gummy bacon candy, it opted for strawberry flavoring. That, apparently, was a mistake. “Our number-one complaint about it is that it doesn’t taste like bacon,” Wahl says.
Tasting like bacon is exactly the appeal of J&D’s Foods Bacon Salt, a zero-calorie and zero-carb seasoning that is kosher, too, and Baconnaise, which is exactly what it sounds like, mayonnaise with bacon flavoring.
4. Bacon transcends age and gender. Vosges Haut-Chocolat increased its male demographic when it added its bacon chocolate line, but the bacon chocolate even appeals to 2-year-olds, Markoff says. “I didn’t realize that bacon elicited such a strong response,” she adds. More recently, Vosges Haut-Chocolat has branched out into experimenting with beef jerky and chorizo. It also has been commissioned to create a cinnamon-sugar bacon bar and a pepper-encrusted bacon bar for two different organic-foods grocery chains.
Similarly, J&D’s Foods clientele ranges from “young hungry guys” to health-conscious consumers who crave the bacon taste but are trying to avoid the fat. One of the best-selling outlets for its individual products is QVC, Esch says.
5. There’s no accounting for taste. So, about Baconlube. It was conceived as an April Fool’s joke, but when almost 3,000 people signed up for the waiting list, J&D’s Foods decided to turn it into a real product.
In March 2012, the company introduced another outrageous product, J&D’s Bacon Coffin. When ISBB asked Esch whether the coffin was a hoax, he insisted that it is not. Priced at $2,999.95 (plus shipping and handling), the casket is pretty much what you would expect, except it is painted to look like it is wrapped with bacon.
“One of the most common things that people tell us is that they love bacon to death,” Esch says. “People have been immortalized in crazy ways, so why not?”
Photo courtesy Rebecca Smith Hurd.