The pork predicament is real: Demand is growing, but so are costs. Sixty-nine percent of consumers eat pork on a weekly basis, up from 65% in 2014, according to Technomic’s 2017 Center of the Plate: Beef & Pork Consumer Trend Report, powered by Ignite. However, pork prices were 3.1% higher in November 2017 than in November 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. To hedge increases, operators are finding inexpensive pork cuts to menu or are offering pork on the sidelines, such as in sauces or as apps or sides. Here are four pork preps growing on menus, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor.
1. A school lunchbox classic
Mentions of fried bologna are up 26.7% in the past year. Fried bologna sandwiches are a classic, inexpensive lunch in school cafeterias, and the nostalgic handheld is popping up in both traditional and amped-up versions at restaurants. Sagebrush Steakhouse & Saloon offers a $6.49 no-frills version with thick-cut fried bologna, American cheese, lettuce, tomato and spicy mustard. Amped-up versions feature specialty sauces or ingredients such as mortadella (like at Fado Irish Pub & Restaurant). Regional variations from the Midwest, Pennsylvania and Appalachia—a trendy region—also exist.
2. Pig candy
There are numerous names for it—candied bacon, pork candy, pig candy, etc.—but all mean the same thing: smoked bacon coated in some type of sugar. Candied bacon mentions are up 45.2% in the past year. Last year, First Watch rolled out its version, dubbed Millionaire’s Bacon, which features four slices of hardwood-smoked bacon baked with brown sugar, black pepper, cayenne and a maple syrup drizzle. Chicago-based chain Pork & Mindy’s sells Pig Candy (bacon dusted in brown sugar and slow-smoked until brittle) by itself at both its restaurants and in Chicago sports arenas, or in a BLT at its restaurants.
3. Embracing XO
Called out in August as an on-trend ingredient hitting the menu mainstream, XO sauce—a spicy seafood sauce with chili peppers and ham that originated in Hong Kong—saw menu mentions rise just 0.8% overall in the past year, but a whopping 33.3% when it comes to appetizers. Due to their lower cost and shareability, appetizers are considered by consumers to be less risky than entrees for trying new flavors, according to Technomic’s 2017 Starters, Small Plates & Sides Consumer Trend Report, so operators are particularly looking to this mealpart for global sauce innovation. Twelve-unit Hakkasan offers numerous appetizers and entrees with housemade XO sauce, including scallop dumplings and fried cod.
4. Give me some skin
Dubbed pig skin, chicharrones, crackling or pork skin, mentions of the pork product are up 0.7%, but, like XO sauce, mentions are much more prominent in apps and sides, the latter of which saw mentions of the ingredient rise 7.7% in the past year. Some 21% of consumers say they would eat pork crackling at restaurants, according to Technomic’s Beef & Pork Report. Crispy pork skins are light, airy and crunchy, often served as a shareable item by themselves or in a sampler. Chevys Fresh Mex recently launched $4 chicharrones as an LTO, while Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque debuted chili topped with an IPA-infused chicharron.