Last week, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange laid to rest a 50-year-old tradition: trading pork-belly futures – more specifically, frozen pork bellies.
If you didn’t know, pork bellies are used to make delicious, glorious bacon. So you might wonder, as I did, why they decided to end the trading when bacon is quite possibly the most popular meat in the supermarket. Turns out, that’s just the problem.
A half-century ago, bacon was served for breakfast, but the height of its popularity came in late summer – BLT season (or BBTs, in which you sub a flavorful basil mayo for the lettuce). March was a close second, due to a number of Easter brunches calling for the savory breakfast meat.
According to NPR’s story on pork bellies:
“Traders realized they could buy up shares of frozen pork bellies in Chicago warehouses and sell them off when demand for bacon rose. [...] If it cost them a dollar a pound to keep bellies in storage for a month, if they could sell those March bellies for a dollar and a half higher than they had [bought] them in February, they could make fifty cents a pound by doing so.”
And so it went for five decades… until the industry – and the consumers – changed. Consumers today want fresh bacon – not frozen, month-old bellies that have been sitting in some warehouse. And, probably more importantly, they want bacon year-round, all the time, so there’s no reason to trade on its futures.
Anyway, here’s to the end of an era – and to a weekend filled with maple-glazed bacon (and probably a BLT, too).