The industry has long used bacon as a way to spice up menus, but until recently, marketers did little to promote adding the pork strips to customers' burgers. Now, for an additional 50 cents or $1, customers can add bacon to their order just as they would a slice of cheese.
From in-store displays at McDonald's Corp. restaurants that trumpet "Make it bacon," to Culver's Franchising Systems' TV spots pushing "Shakes and bacon" in the Midwest, fast-feeders are pushing pork. Even Subway, known for more healthful fare, understands bacon's appeal.
"Even though we have seven sandwiches with under 6 grams of fat, the customer has a choice to go beyond that," said Nick Hautfeld, supervisor of new-product development at Subway, who noted that bacon is added to 1% to 2% of all its sandwiches sold.
Both taste and profit are driving the bacon binge.
"Consumers like the taste and operators like the margin," said Ron Paul, president of restaurant consultancy Technomic. "Anytime the operator can raise the average check and have consumers like it, it's a plus."
IN LOVE WITH FAT
Consumers' thumbs-down of "healthier" fast-food, such as McDonald's McLean Deluxe, also has helped fuel sales of bacon-laden fare, said Chuck Levitt, senior livestock analyst at Alaron Trading Corp. "The surge of bacon sales in fast-food restaurants is because . . . [people] love the taste of fat."
He added that when fast-food restaurants tried to wring the fat out of burgers, sales plummeted. "So they found the fattiest thing they could find to get people eating hamburgers again."
A spokeswoman for McDonald's, which has been pushing its "Made for you" custom-preparation cooking system in restaurants, said bacon gives consumers more choice.
A Burger King Corp. spokeswoman said the popularity of bacon is strong among ethnic consumers, noting that the flavor profile of bacon and cheese scores particularly high among African-American and Hispanic consumers.
"So we've created special [point-of-purchase] displays to add bacon and cheese to Whoppers as a fully dressed sandwich," she said.
The fast-food frenzy for bacon has also been a boon for the pork industry. A study by the National Pork Producers Council showed bacon sales jumped to 1.38 billion pounds last year from only 28 million pounds in 1992. And the food-service industry now accounts for 70% of total bacon sales, up from only 20% a decade ago, said Larry Cizek, director of food-service marketing at the council.