Food & Beverage

Good news for bacon lovers: US rolling in pork bellies

Good news for bacon lovers

News from the federal government Tuesday afternoon should make lovers of bacon smile.

America's fat with bacon.

Supplies of pork bellies in cold storage jumped in January. Bacon comes from the belly of a pig. An increase in supplies could mean there's less demand, less consumption. Generally, that could drive bacon prices lower.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports there were nearly 62 million pounds of pork bellies in cold storage last month. That is up 14 percent from the month before and 13 percent higher than year-ago levels.

There is more bacon in storage, waiting to be sold, than any month since last May. As for pork overall, the USDA said supplies hit a record in January, "since the data was first recorded in 1915."

It is possible that bacon no longer smells as sweet to consumers. Also, pork producers may have so completely recovered from a 2014 swine flu epidemic which decimated supplies that they're now frying up the bacon market with too much pork.

Or both.

The news that supplies in cold storage jumped caught some off guard. The Maloni Report, which tracks wholesale food prices for the American Restaurant Association, predicted pork belly supplies would drop in January. "Everyone and their mothers expect that January bacon demand remained relatively robust," wrote economist David Maloni, who is usually spot on with predictions. "After all, that is certainly the longer-term trend." He points out that pork consumption rose in 7 of the last 9 years.

Then there was an earlier note on consumer trends, which quoted Morgan Stanley's chief economist, Ellen Zentner, as saying, "The bacon business appears to be immune to the consumer trend toward healthier cuisine."

That immunity is being tested.

The good news for consumers is that the price of bacon has been trending down for the last four months, though it's still slightly more expensive than a year ago. The current national average is $5.66 a pound, compared to $5.59 last year. At the same time, egg prices are trending down, too. If those movements continue, breakfast will not only be the most important meal of the day, but it will also be the most affordable.