According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) there are currently 17.7 million pounds of pork bellies in storage. This may sound like a lot unless you realize that this figure is the lowest it has been since 1957, which is when the USDA began keeping records. What is causing this rather unexpected bacon shortage, and will pork producers be able to keep up with demand? Here’s what you need to know.
Reason for the Drop in Pork Bellies
Pork bellies, the section from which bacon is derived, are normally frozen and stored during winter to ensure there is enough product to meet the higher demand during summer. Thus far in 2017, the demand for bacon has been so high that pork bellies were turned into bacon almost as quickly as they were produced, leaving less meat available to be stored. Several things have led to a higher demand for bacon, including:
- New methods of marketing that have successfully increased sales.
- The development of innovative products such as bacon treats for canines that have proved widely popular.
- High attendance at events such as the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival in Des Moines, IA, which provides people with plenty of unusual ways to enjoy bacon.
- All-day breakfast menus being offered at more restaurants, particularly nationwide chains.
- More menu options that include bacon as an ingredient.
High Number of Exports
Higher-than-usual exports have also contributed to the low inventory. The Pork Council reports that pig farmers are currently exporting around 26% of their products, leaving less meat available for American consumers. Even so, pork industry analysts claim that Americans are unlikely to run out of bacon, despite the fact that we now have less than half the amount in storage that was available a year ago.
Effects of the Shortage
The immediate effects were seen in the way of higher market prices for pork bellies. As an example, wholesale prices in February 2017 were around $1.71 per pound, which was an increase of 37 percent over the same time period a year ago. Higher pork belly prices will ultimately mean an increase in bacon prices at the grocery store. While costs have not risen significantly yet, consumers are bound to pay more in the months to come.
Price Increase Likely Temporary
Industry experts believe that any price increase will be only temporary, and that the market will stabilize rather quickly. Pork industry economist Steve Meyer claims there is no reason to be concerned that bacon will be unavailable or unaffordable. He states that pork production is scheduled to increase by about three percent this year, which will help to offset some of the demand. At least four new pork processing plants are currently in the works as well.
Only time will tell whether or not the current bacon shortage has a detrimental effect. Even so, the one thing that is for sure is that people love bacon, and that it will continue to be a popular food item even if it winds up costing more at the grocery store.