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The business of bacon: Finding stories in our national meat

A plate of bacon sushi by Flickr user Chris Gladis

Bacon is its own food group – and it’s the national meat.

Or should be, according to devotees of the savory smoked sow.  It does seem to be on the tip of nearly of tongue lately, one way or the other, from the traditional eggs-and breakfast plate to upscale dishes and desserts.  It even was the centerpiece of the elimination challenge on a recent Food Network reality show.

So it should be no surprise that demand for bacon is driving up the wholesale cost of pork bellies, according to this USAT article, and we’re paying about $1 a pound for their rashers.  Localizing this story is a great way to explore supply-and-demand economics, the ripple effect on producers, processors, distributors, restaurants, grocers and consumers – who’s taking what as a cut of that extra dollar, for example?  And what happens long-term when producers boost their income by keeping supplies low?

It’s a global issue that – if you’re in a pork-raising region – may have implications for exporters; this Guardian piece notes that pork belly prices just hit an all-time high in the  U.K. as well.

And if you’re a novice to meat futures, here’s the Investopedia article on pork belly trading.

Write it well and your readers will relate.  Americans eat nearly 18 pounds each of the porky treat every year, according to the most prevalent statistics on the Web, and “bacon mania” has led to bacon bras, bacon bandages and bacon lip balm among other kooky adaptations.

A review of some recent stories about the salty strips also is a good lesson in how a fresh look at even the most commonplace commodity or a few questions about gyrating grocery-store prices can provide fodder for timely stories about trends in consumer goods, financial markets, entrepreneurship and more.

This somewhat dated Business Week article says annual spending on bacon is around $2 billion. (The article is worth a read for its structure and sources but not for au courant market info.)

This SignOn San Diego writer took the contrarian route, probing claims of  skyrocketing per-capita bacon consumption. The article – aside from being a great read — notes some interesting sources and is a great example of the pitfalls of re-quoting statistics without investigating original source material.

The BaconToday blog is an homage to its namesake food, and highlights financial news about the pork market to recipes for chocolate covered bacon.  Other iterations abound, from bacon salt and bacon popcorn to Vosges Chocolates $7.50 bacon candy bar.

Look for artisanal bacon producers or other culinarians near you producing specialty bacon items, from cupcakes to “camp bacon.”  Check restaurant menus and talk with area chefs and culinary instructors about the rise in bacon as an ingredient – and what else they see on the horizon.

Take a look at artificial bacon flavoring, bacon substitutes and non-edibles like bacon wallets,  bacon lip balm, and bacon cookbooks.

Best of all, go beyond bacon.  Other ingredients like pomegranate and acai have become avant garde in recent years, while now even private store labels are offering cage-free eggs and other products once considered eccentric.

Take a hint from the links in this post, then stroll your region’s supermarkets, chat off deadline with grocery distributors, poke around foodie websites and keep an eye on commodity markets – and you’ll be among the vanguard in spotting upcoming product and pricing trends that affect employers and investors in your region.

About the Author

Veteran financial writer Melissa Preddy served as a business writer, editor and columnist for The Detroit News from 1995 to 2008, is a Michigan-based freelance journalist. She now works as a writer and editor for a medical research unit of the University of Michigan Medical School. Follow her daily posts. | E-mail: Melissa Preddy

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