Very few items scream America in the morning like sizzling strips of bacon. This American tradition was originally synthesized by PR “Founding Father” Edward Bernays, who was able to demonstrate, before modern scientific studies countered the claim, that a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs was very healthy. Thousands of doctors were enlisted to research and present the claim, which was so powerful it created bona fide American tradition.
This tradition almost went the way of quilting when scientific research showed several negative effects of excessive bacon consumption. By 1989 Oscar Meyer, Tyson Foods, Hormel Foods and many other purveyors of America’s favorite cured pork product began looking at a slowly but consistently ebbing trend in consumption.
However, Americans have always enjoyed risk, especially a delicious one, so recent years have seen a shift in attitudes towards the crispy, meaty strips. Used in moderation as a garnish or ingredient, or simply eaten sparingly, bacon has become common again. It graces almost every possible sandwich, soup or salad, and there are now restaurants that serve exclusively bacon. This year the United States Department Agriculture released figures showing that American consumption of bacon over the last winter was the among highest it had been since tracking of pork bellies began in 1957. Yearly consumption is catching up, as farmers struggle to bring enough pork bellies to market to meet a raging consumer demand.
The greasy thanks for this epicurean Cinderella story goes to a new generation of foodies and a couple of fairy god-fathers - Tom Bush and Mark Schweiger. These two inventive businessmen realized that it wasn’t just the health mess created by bacon that prevented many Americans from enjoying their traditional guilty culinary pleasure - it was the actual mess. Every time bacon is cooked, whether on the stove or in the oven or microwave, there is oily splatter everywhere, (as many readers remembering being hit with splattering grease can surely attest). So, Tom Bush and Mark Schweiger introduced pre-cooked bacon to the American shopping aisle.
Of course, Oscar Meyer and other large bacon producing corporations were unwilling to sell or market it back in 1995 when Bush and Schweiger pitched them. So, Bush and Schweiger turned the other cheek, said “Oh ye, of little faith,” and went on to reverse the market trend. They eventually sold their successful company SHK Foods to Con Agra for $30 Million.
Ready to eat bacon now hogs about 10% of the total bacon market- about $400 million out of a $4 billion industry. The pre-cooked bacon success may even be reverberating to the larger bacon and pork markets. Americans bought about 14% more bacon in 2016 than 2013 according to the research firm Nielsen, and according to the USDA, total pork supply has reached its highest levels since market tracking began in 1915. It seems, at least for the time being, that Americans are pigging out.