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Hold the bacon: Pork bellies aren’t being panic purchased like eggs, beef

Bacon
While bacon long has been a popular breakfast meat, pork belly’s popularity owes more to its use in restaurants. And no one is going to restaurants these days.
(Ben Nelms / Bloomberg)

As restaurants around the U.S. close, prices for the cut of pork used to make bacon have plunged to lows not seen since Bill Clinton was president.

Pork bellies have tumbled to about 41 cents per pound — the lowest since 1999 — according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, compared with 93 cents two weeks ago. That’s in contrast to some other foods such as eggs and beef that have surged as people prepare more meals at home during coronavirus lockdowns.

While bacon long has been a popular meat at breakfast, pork belly’s popularity in recent years owes more to its use in restaurants. Bacon tops burgers and doughnuts, is wrapped around dates, and the cut of pork is included in bowls of steaming ramen.

“Over time, the share of bacon that moves through the retail channel has shrunk,” said Bob Brown, an independent market consultant in Edmond, Okla. “We prefer to order bacon on our hamburgers or biscuits from the drive-through rather than take home a pound of bacon from the grocery.”

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The U.S. government has extended social-distancing guidelines at least through April 30 in a bid to contain the spread of the coronavirus. That means many restaurants won’t have sit-down diners for several more weeks, potentially keeping pressure on pork belly prices.

However, grocery stores could soon begin offering sales on cheap bacon. Traders could also stow away cheap supplies for when economic activity starts to pick up.

“Bellies remain a buy if you’ve got the storage space to hold them,” said David Maloni, executive vice president of analytics at supply-chain-technology company ArrowStream.


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