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Bacon mania: Not even rising prices can stop it

Prices of pork are skyrocketing, but America is still begging for bacon.

Americans increased their consumption of the salty meat by 6 percent to 1.1 billion servings in the 12 months through April, according to a survey by consumer market-research firm NPD Group. The increase happened despite a 9.1 percent rise in the price of bacon and related products during the period.

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Daniel Loiselle | E+ | Getty Images

"It's so versatile, you can use it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, sweet or savory. … It's just a a great food, and I've loved it forever," said Brooks Reynolds, founder of the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival. "I think you have to make sacrifices, and what better sacrifice than to buy some great bacon."

The expanding market for bacon, however, is not just a porcine affair.

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While pork bacon servings have increased by 2.3 percent and continue to dominate the market, marginal bacons (beyond the obvious turkey and chicken bacons) are where the real boom lies. Beef bacon (yep, that's a thing) accounts for about 0.1 percent of the market, but its unit shipments have increased by 53 percent. Duck bacon, which accounts for an even smaller share of the market, has seen its unit shipments more than double.

"It could very well be that people are looking for meat varieties or meat options to kind of bring down the costs," said Kim McLynn, public relations director for the NPD group.

"It could be one particular chain of restaurants that effects the change, but it could also be another variety of things: a different menu item or offering different varieties of bacon."

“Madame Freda” sandwich with duck bacon.
Source: Jack’s Wife Freda
“Madame Freda” sandwich with duck bacon.

Jack's Wife Freda, a restaurant in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood, does not serve pork. Instead, it dishes out a multitude of fare featuring its own house-cured duck bacon, including a "Madame Freda," a hot sandwich with bacon, bechamel sauce, fried egg and cheese similar to a croque madame, and a revamped frisee aux lardons—a salad with poached egg, bacon and Dijon.

"We wanted to have a substitute that was close to bacon, so we tested a few things and started curing duck, since we had already done duck prosciutto, and it worked and has done really well," said owner Dean Jankelowitz. "People seem to want to try it immediately when they see it on the menu: 'Duck bacon, duck bacon? What do you mean duck bacon? I have to try it!' they say. It's very popular. Plus, we already have a good breakfast crowd."

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Beef bacon, meanwhile, has been around for a while. It is known usually as "beef frye" and is a kosher alternative to pork bacon.

"It's gone over quite well" said Bryan Gryka, head chef of Milt's Barbeque for the Perplexed, a kosher meat establishment in Chicago. "But since there are a lot of people in the kosher community who want it, as well as a surge in popularity, it's causing the supplier's price to almost double."

Gryka said that the impression of the public seems to be that kosher beef is healthier than pork, though "it's definitely not true." He also said that the beef bacon tends to taste meatier and calls for more tenderizing and seasoning than the porcine type, and that the item is a very large seller for the restaurant.

Despite the niche markets within the bacon industry expanding, there is still room for the pork purist.

"We stay true to form," said Jay DiEugenio, owner of the Bacon Mania food trucks in L.A. and Sacramento. "I always say there's only one kind of bacon. Turkey bacon, duck bacon, etc. — we don't bother with it."

Bacon Mania has not raised its prices in the past two years, yet every item on its menu, from the Mac'n Bac'n to the deep-fried, bacon-wrapped brownie and cinnamon roll bites, contains the savory treat.

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DiEugenio said that while his business has indeed increased with the market, the rise hasn't exceeded expectations. Also, he noted that the company hasn't done as many curbside "park-and-hope" sales as it did a year ago, adding that it was more effective to go to specific events.

"I don't know if this is just bacon prices or foodies, but now if we just pull up somewhere it's not like we have a line for four hours. Now we go to festivals and beer tastings, and because people are already indulging they'll come out," DiEugenio said.

—By Bo McMillan, special to CNBC.com

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