In what is likely a response to consumer demand for healthier items, or an operator response to pricier beef, pork's presence on restaurant menus nationwide has jumped 7 percent in the past year.
According to foodservice marketing research firm Technomic, the increase is part of an overall shift toward rustic, natural ingredients such as Chipotle's use of naturally-raised pork for its carnitas.
Bernadette Noone, director of Technomic MenuMonitor, a searchable online database that collects information about restaurant menus quarterly, said there are various reasons behind pork's rise. For example, the cost of beef has risen sharply this year, while pork hasn't been nearly as volatile. In its Q3 earnings call, Domino's Pizza CFO Michael Lawton said the top commodities have increased more than 8 percent over the same period last year.
"The higher cost of beef has made pork a nice substitute in combo dishes," Noone said. "Where customers were once seeing chicken and beef on the menu, they may now see more affordable chicken and pork dishes."
Additionally, according to Technomic's 2011 Beef and Pork Consumer Trend Report, health is the primary reason cited among consumers who expect to purchase pork more often at restaurants, according to Noone.
Bacon sends numbers up
Noone added that the popularity of bacon is another factor in the overall rise in pork dishes.
"For the last few years we've seen bacon-related menu items increase by over 7 percent annually," she said.
The versatility of bacon has put it front and center among numerous product launches throughout the past year. Darrel Suderman, Ph.D., president of Food Technical Consulting and founder of Food Innovation Institute, said this is because bacon is an American favorite, which makes it a low risk ingredient in product innovations. It's also one of the few food products that can incorporate a smoky flavor, and its salty taste can be an easy way to spice up existing flavors.
The QSR segment in particular has provided a boon for bacon. The NPD Group reported that total bacon servings have held steady throughout the past two years, but at QSR establishments, there has been an increase in bacon products by 7 percent in 2010 and 2 percent so far in 2011.
New pizza launches boost numbers
Technomic's MenuMonitor tracked new menu items with pork from July through September of this year. Pizza establishments had an abundant representation, from Amato's Pizza's new Cuban Panini to Breadeaux Pizza's Bar-B-Que Pork.
Some other new items contributing to the pork increase in that timeframe include:
- Domino's Pizza: Fiery Hawaiian Pizza.
- Figaro's Pizza: Pizzazz Pepperoni.
- Godfather's Pizza: Pepperoni Calzone.
- Happy Joe's Pizza & Ice Cream Parlor: Bacon & Bacon Omelet Pizza; Chicken Bacon Ranch Pizza; Combo Calzone; Combo Pasta; Denver Scrambler; Hoagie; Italian Panini; Matador Pasta; Nacho Joe Pasta; Pizza Hero; Southwestern Scrambler; Southwestern Style Omelet Pizza; Taco Calzone; and Western Scrambler.
- Hungry Howie's Pizza: Pepperoni Plus, Pizza Sub Special; and Works Pizza.
- Little Caesars: 3 Meat Treat; Ultimate Supreme Pizza.
- Marco's Pizza: Old World Magnifico.
- Mark's Pizzeria: Calzone Toppings; Chicken Bacon Ranch Pizza; Hawaiian Pizza; Meatlovers Pizza; The Supreme Pizza.
- Me-N-Ed's Pizzeria: 4 Topping Brick Oven Baked Pizza; 5 Topping Brick Oven Baked Pizza; Hot Hawaiian Pizza; Tuscan Harvest.
- Pagliacci Pizza: Salame Picante.
- Papa John's: Sausage Sensation.
- Pizza Inn: Pepperoni Wraps.
- Pizza Patron: Large Pepperoni Pizza.
- Sarpino's Pizzeria: Chicken Alfredo Calzone; Turkey Club Sandwich or Panini.
- Snappy Tomato Pizza: Old World Alfredo Pizza; Old World Bacon & Tomato Pizza; The Spicy Italian Meat Pizza; The Ultimate.
- Steph & Andy's Pizza Plus: Bacon Cheese Fries; Classic Deluxe; Duplicate Toppings; Ham & Cheese Hoagie; Meat Extravaganza; Super Deluxe.
- Toppers Pizza: Baconstix Topperstix; Italian Sausage & Peppers Grinder; Original Toppers Pizza Grinder; Pepperonistix Topperstix.
- Westshore Pizza & Cheesesteaks: Meat Lasagna; Pepperoni Rolls.
Read more about trends and statistics.
Photo provided by stevendepolo.
Alicia Kelso has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.