Whether it’s white- tablecloths or white paper bags, there’s no denying pork demand has grown as a result of an increase in foodservice usage.

From 1996 to 1999, foodservice use of pork grew at double the rate of total foodservice. That means pork is taking market share from other products. During that time, foodservice has served up an additional 1.3 billion pounds, gobbling up pork that otherwise would have been dumped on the retail market.

The growth has been well distributed, with pork making gains in all foodservice segments.

Larry Cizek, foodservice marketing director for the National Pork Producers Council, cites programs like the “Taste of Elegance” as an example of how pork has been promoted to foodservice, particularly in white-table-cloth restaurants.

Total pork volume in foodservice rose 17 percent from 1996 to 1999, while total foodservice volume grew only 8 percent.

Pork was the third leading item mentioned on foodservice menus (behind cheese and tomatoes), according to the 1999 Chain Account Survey Menu Report.

The convenience and portability of some pork products has increased the attraction for foodservice vendors and customers. Several nationwide quick-service restaurant chains have run promotions involving pork chop or loin sandwiches over the last couple of years.

But perhaps the biggest reason for pork’s success is the same reason foodservice has grown as a whole: the booming U.S. economy. As people make more money, they go out to eat more often, so a down turn in the economy could reduce the amount of pork sold in foodservice and negatively affect demand. At least that’s what has happened in the past.
“Consumer’s use of restaurants may have become so mainstream that it may be hard to get away from eating out,” says Cizek. “If anything, it may result in trade-offs to more economical restaurants.”

Trading to a cheaper restaurant will not be a severe
blow to pork, as all restaurant groups have increased pork use. What’s more, the increased use has involved all kinds of different cuts
and products.

Of course, most recently bacon has been the undisputed winner in pork’s foodservice expansion. Bacon use alone hasadded $10 to $12 per hog marketed in the United States. Also, bacon is the fourth most popular ingredient on foodservice menus, with 152 chains using bacon on at least one product on the menu.

New regulations have increased the cooking time required for foodservice burgers, tending to make them well-done and dry. Bacon helps to enhance the burger’s flavor, hence bacon’s increasing popularity, notes Cizek.

There’s no reason to believe bacon’s popularity will fade, but there are other trends on the horizon as well.

“I expect ethnic foods will continue to grow,” says Cizek. He points to the Hispanic market as having strong potential. In fact, the Hispanic population is growing so rapidly that the U.S. Census Bureau expects it to double in 30 years to 65 million people.

So, if bacon keeps holding up its end of the foodservice bargain and other pork cuts continue to thrive as well, it will expand overall pork’s sales. That helps keep demand for your hogs up and boosts the prices you receive.