Dire predictions of a bacon shortage in the coming year notwithstanding, pork is actually currently in large supply, and chain restaurants are making use of that fact by introducing new menu items.
Commodity expert John Barone, president of Market Vision Inc., said high corn prices have resulted in hog producers liquidating their herds rather than feed them, bringing prices for hams down by 11 percent, bellies by 12 percent, and trimmings down by 24 percent compared to a year ago.
Although prices are expected to return to 2011 levels before next Easter, in the meantime, chains such as Red Lobster, Noodles & Company and Smith & Wollensky are adding new pork items to the menu for the fall. Here's a look at some of those items:
Raleigh, N.C.-based all-you-can-eat buffet chain Golden Corral rolled out a promotion inspired by flavors of the tropics at its 482 units, including Hot Island Pork Ribs flame-broiled with jalapeño barbecue sauce.
Broomfield, Colo.-based Noodles & Company has added braised pork shoulder — marinated, seared, slow-roasted and then hand-pulled — in both a pulled pork sandwich on ciabatta and on macaroni & cheese that's drizzled with barbecue sauce and topped with crispy onions. Those are limited-time offerings, but the pork also can be added to any other item for $2.69 at the chain’s nearly 300 restaurants.
Outback Steakhouse rolled out a sweet glazed pork tenderloin over garlic mashed potatoes for $11.99. The casual-dining chain based in Tampa, Fla., has 775 units.
Ram Restaurant & Brewery, which has 17 restaurants in the Pacific Northwest and Indiana, introduced potato skins topped with Cheddar Jack and pepper Jack cheeses, pulled pork, barbecue sauce and chopped red and green onion, served with barbecue-garlic sour cream, for $9.99. It also offered Notorious P.I.G. — pulled pork with bourbon barbecue sauce, sautéed onion, Anaheim pepper, red bell pepper and pickled red onion on a baguette, for $12.99.
Red Lobster’s new Wood-Grilled Pork Chop is part of its “15 under $15” menu targeting budget-conscious customers at its 675 units. The dish is a pork chop served over mashed potatoes with apple compote and peach-bourbon barbecue sauce and a choice of side. A subsidiary of Darden Restaurants, Red Lobster is based in Orlando, Fla.
Shari’s Restaurants, a family dining chain with 103 units, based in Beaverton, Ore, celebrated the blackberry harvest with items including a pulled pork slider with coleslaw, pickles, and blackberry barbecue sauce. Three sliders are sold with three hot dogs for $8.49.
The 9-unit Smith & Wollensky steakhouse chain, based in Boston, is adding a pork chop to its menu: a double-cut Berkshire served with chorizo baked beans and garnished with crispy sweet potatoes, for $38.
Consumption of animal protein in restaurants in general has declined since the economic collapse of 2008, falling by 3.5 percent overall between 2009 and 2011, according to a volumetric study from industry research firm Technomic. But consumption of pork, which represents 20 percent of all foodservice protein by weight, fell just 0.8 percent over that period.
The fastest-growing types of pork consumed included hocks and shanks, which rose 12 percent; ground pork, which rose 9 percent; and Italian specialty meats, which rose 3.4 percent.sausage and bacon, which still make up the vast majority of pork consumed in restaurants, rose 1.5 percent and 0.8 percent, respectively.