COLUMBIA — For Jay Gallatin, an overnight custodian at Walmart, cutting back on bacon is out of the question.
During a typical week, Gallatin, 28, who has been nicknamed "Bacon Boy" by his wife, said he eats eight to 10 pounds of the cured meat and “that’s regulating myself."
“I could eat bacon for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he said. "My wife thinks it's ridiculous. She says she's never seen anyone eat so much bacon."
Gallatin said he considers bacon a health food of sorts.
He said it is one of the few foods he will eat when he's sick, and he thinks eating bacon regularly will improve his longevity.
"Some people have been eating bacon every day, and they live to be 90 to 100 years old," he said.
And, according to Gallatin, when he went for his last checkup at the doctors, his vitals and his cholesterol levels were fine.
His favorite way to eat bacon?
“Oh, Lordy, that is just about the hardest question I’ve ever been asked.”
Experts say bacon costs more than ever – the average retail price around the country in August was $4.35 per pound – but people are still buying as much of the stuff as when the price hovered around $3.50.
Paul Simon, a spokesman for Schnucks Markets Inc., said the grocery chain hasn’t seen any drop in demand for bacon.
Simon said the store is absorbing as much of the price increase as possible to keep prices stable, but that Schnucks hasn’t been able to cover the entire price increase.
Ron Plain, an MU agricultural economics professor, said one of the reasons bacon remains in high demand is because there is no good replacement product.
“Nothing tastes like bacon" he said. "With respect to lots of meats, there are fairly close substitutes. For bacon, there is no substitute. It has that rather unique texture and very distinctive flavor, and you know, that’s one of the characteristics of the product that makes it different from a lot of other meats.”
Another possible reason?
“Because it tastes great,” said Steve Meyer, an economic consultant for the National Pork Board. “I mean, this is a product that adds flavor to anything you put it in, and it’s great on its own, too.”
Meyer isn’t alone in his beliefs.
“I like bacon, I like hamburgers with bacon on it, I like bacon for breakfast and I like bacon bits on salads,” Plain said. “It adds a distinctive taste that I enjoy and a lot of other people do, otherwise sales wouldn’t be as good as they are.”
Besides bacon maintaining high consumer demand, economists say there are other reasons that explain the jump in bacon prices.
One reason prices have shot up is because there were fewer numbers of hogs slaughtered and a smaller stock of frozen pork bellies, the part of the pig that bacon is made from, this past year.
“That’s put a real pinch on supply as we’re gone through August,” Meyer said.
In the past year, the price of hog feed has also been higher than expected, which put an additional strain on hog farmers.
"Hog feed prices and production costs have risen all summer — a time when they were actually expected to fall — and costs are now about 30 percent higher than they were before 2007 when ethanol use of corn began to increase sharply," Meyer said.
Economists also said that the price of bacon tends to spike in August because of the popularity of bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches.
“We get that kick in demand every time this year because BLTs are a seasonal product,” Plain said.
Lastly, economists say the constant demand for bacon probably has something to do with it becoming a fashionable food product.
“One of the interesting things about foods is that they tend to go through cycles of popularity, and in recent times bacon has become an ‘in’ food item,” Plain said. “Trying to explain food fads is tough. Chicken wings are popular right now, too, and why that is I don’t know either.”
Despite bacon’s celebrity food status, experts say consumers should expect some price deflation in the coming months.
“At some point we’ll get some adjustment,” said Scott Brown, the program director of livestock and dairy at the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at MU. “I don’t think we’ll be talking about these prices being at this level forever.”
“We could go higher for the next couple of months, even though we’re at an all-time high. But I expect we will get some weakening of those prices as we get into 2011,” he said.