A surge in demand for strange — or at least non-traditional — bacon dishes has led to a startling rise in the price of bacon. But while the price you’re paying at the grocery store has jumped, processor-packaging tricks mean you might not have noticed.
“The prices have steadily increased over the past couple of years,” says Gary Stordy, public relations manager for the Canadian Pork Council.
In June, Statistics Canada reported that 500 grams of bacon cost $6.95 — that’s up 9.6 per cent over January, and up nearly 40 per cent since the beginning of 2013.
The Canadian Pork Council says it’s mainly due to bacon being integrated into a number of foods where it might not normally be expected.
“We’re seeing bacon on doughnuts, we’re seeing bacon-flavoured ice cream,” says Stordy.
“Candied bacon, for example, which is a dessert. This product is being served at breakfast as bacon and eggs, lunch on your hamburger, and then after dinner [for dessert].”
Bacon, or sometimes pork belly — the part of the hog from which bacon is made — is also showing up in more dishes internationally, says Stordy, such as in a Japanese pork belly dish on the menu of a sushi restaurant he recently visited.
Then there is the popularity of bacon-like products, such as pancetta, which is cured pork belly, and guanciale, another cured meat made from the pig’s jowl.
“It’s all adding [to the demand],” says Stordy.
South of the border, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that frozen reserves of pork belly at the end of last year fell to 17.7 million pounds — the lowest December inventory in six decades.
Pork bellies are typically stocked in cold storage at the end of the year and pull consumers through to the summer months, when bacon consumption is highest. But over this past winter, demand remained strong, so there were far fewer reserves.
Compounding that demand spike are issues with supply.
“Inventories are much lower than they used to be,” says Sylvain Charlebois, a food policy expert and dean of the Rowe School of Business at Dalhousie University.
Many pork producers opted to leave the business after series of events affected their bottom line over the past few years, Charlebois says, including a warning from the World Health Organization that eating bacon and other processed meats can increase the risk of cancer, and a porcine epidemic diarrhea outbreak in 2013 and 2014 that decimated stocks.
“There are [fewer] producers in the market right now to produce bacon, so that’s why it’s much harder to increase inventories overall,” he says.
Still, according to Agriculture Canada, Canada’s pork production is up 3.4 per cent so far this year over 2016, when our pork exports hit a record value of $3.8 billion.
Will prices keep going up?
Despite limited options to dramatically increase supply, Charlebois says he doesn’t foresee bacon prices increasing much more in the future.
“You don’t want to go beyond what consumers are willing to pay.” he says. “And frankly I’m just not sure the market can move on to pay more.”
Instead, he says consumers may find less and less bacon in the packages on store shelves — but at the same price.
“What has happened in recent years is that processors have played around with the quantities. So instead of actually buying a package of 454 grams, you’re more likely to find packages of 375 grams or less. So they don’t actually go beyond that $7 mark per pound.”