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Data Confirm Sharp Increase in Bacon on Burgers and More

httpv:// through enjoying a McDonald’s Angus Bacon Cheese or Wendy’s Bacon Deluxe or Carl’s Jr. Western Bacon Six Dollar Burger, the thought occurs: Doesn’t it seem like almost every burger now is bacon topped? Like the McDonald’s Australia commercial at left, the menu mantra appears to be, “Bacon. Bacon. Bacon.”

And, in fact, the lingering suspicion that restaurant meals are much more bacon-laden than ever turns out to be true. However, while burgers are ahead of the menu pack in adding on bacon, quick-service restaurants (QSRs) aren’t alone in playing this game.

Data compiled for by Chicago-based researcher Mintel shows that just since 2005 the number of menu items of all types that include bacon is up 26.5% at all (quick- and full-service) restaurants. QSRs have put on the bacon at a remarkable but less robust rate: +23% since 2005.

biggie2Certainly burgers have contributed to the bacon tsunami. Mintel finds that the number of bacon-topped burgers at all 580 restaurants in its Menu Insights database soared from 424 in 2005 to 576 in 2009, a 35.8% increase. At QSRs, the increase has been a Whoppering 32.9%, although that’s a bit less than for all restaurants.

If the biggest increase is not at QSRs, where is the bacon bulge coming from? Look at some recent menu revisions by full-service chains and the numbers are understandable. Yes, the Sassy Pepper Jack Burger  added by the Perkins Restaurant & Bakery chain has bacon, but so too do its new Chicken & Spinach and Honey Mustard Chicken Crunch salads as well as its Smoked Bacon & Ham Omelette. O’Charley’s Prime Rib Pasta would seem to have proteins covered, but there’s bacon added. Applebee’s new BBQ Chicken Salad  and Ruby Tuesday’s Club House Salad have bacon, as do Chili’s new Classic Chicken Tacos Texas Cheese Fries. Bacon’s everywhere.

burger3chartFull-service restaurants have been right in lockstep with QSRs when it comes to bacon burgers. For every Wendy’s Baconator there’s also a T.G.I. Friday’s Teriyaki Bacon Burger, Applebee’s Fire Pit Bacon Burger, or Bennigan’s Black & Bleu Bacon Burger

Which is fine. The intent here isn’t to criticize any of these chains, their menus or, heaven knows, bacon. Love ’em all. The point is that if there’s a ton of additional bacon on menus, it’s not solely the responsibility of QSRs or the burger category. With a nearly 36% increase in just four years, there’s plenty of bacon for everyone.

You can’t invite bacon to the party without its sidekick sodium coming along, and there are unquestionably many menu items that go over the top. McDonald’s Angus Bacon & Cheese has 2,070 mg of sodium, or more than a day and a half’s recommended intake. And it’s not alone, is it, Mr. BK Double Stack? If, as many suspect, sodium sensitivity is the 800-lb.-gorilla food trend for 2010 that the foodservice industry doesn’t want to acknowledge, the bacon addiction could keep restaurants on the hot seat. But if so, can we cook bacon on it?