There’s something undeniably irresistible about bacon in all its smoky goodness, and countless restaurants are proving that bacon’s not just for breakfast anymore.

“People have shown an incredible appetite for bacon, and food industry observers have named bacon one of America’s top food trends for the last couple years,” says Paul Perfilio, national foodservice marketing manager for the Pork Checkoff. “Restaurant operators have come to us to learn more about bacon, and we’ve also approached a number of chain operators to help them learn more about bacon’s possibilities.”

Since October of 2008, the Pork Checkoff has sponsored a number of bacon-themed educational workshops for various restaurant chains. In addition to explaining how bacon is made, Perfilio details what the chains need to know to offer their customers high-quality bacon products, including how to determine whether customers will pay for a better bacon, tips on selecting the right vendor or processor, slicing options, curing solutions and other practical considerations that are important to operators that buy large quantities of bacon.

The highlight of the three-hour seminar, which is presented to executives from the marketing, operations, culinary and logistics departments, includes the “bacon buffet.”

“We offer to them the opportunity to sample as many as 20 different kinds of bacon from various national, regional and local brands,” says Perfilio, who notes that options include a variety of flavors, thin-cut bacon, thick-cut bacon, natural and organic bacon, along with fully cooked and par-cooked variations. “We want to give them a complete taste of what’s available, as well as help them find better products and save money, whenever possible. We hope this leads to the additional use and menuing of bacon.”

This information is timely, since bacon continues to become a bigger piece of the foodservice business for pork. According to Pork Checkoff data:

• 69 percent of all foodservice operators buy bacon.
• 77 percent of non-commercial operators (including foodservice companies that supply hospitals, schools, stadiums and more) buy bacon.
• From 2004 to 2009, bacon’s presence on fast-food restaurant menus rose from 62 percent to 64 percent. It also rose from 85 percent to 88 percent on family dining menus. During this time, some of the biggest bacon menuing increases have occurred with fast-casual restaurant chains (59 percent to 68 percent), and casual dining restaurants (81 percent to 88 percent).

“We’re seeing bacon on everything from Wendy’s Baconater™ sandwich to Starbuck’s artisan bacon sandwiches to a five-spice bacon offered as part of a TGI Friday’s menu item,” Perfilio says. “Bacon truly has become mainstream, and it continues to defy the critics who said this trend wouldn’t last.”