With a growth rate outpacing all other proteins in the foodservice industry, pork is hot. In fact, pork is the foodservice industry's fastest-growing protein in each of the past two years, according to a study from Chicago-based Technomic, Inc.

The study, “2013 Volumetric Assessment of Pork in Foodservice,” noted that total pork sold through foodservice outlets reached a record-breaking 9.25 billion pounds, reflecting a volume increase of 462 million pounds over 2011 when the survey was last conducted. The 2.6% increase outpaced the total protein growth average of 0.8% and the 1.5% total growth of the foodservice industry itself.

"We are pleased to see such positive growth in foodservice, especially carnita meat, shoulder/butt and pulled pork," says Stephen Gerike, director of foodservice marketing for the Pork Checkoff, National Pork Board, Des Moines, Iowa. "The volumetric study shows that operators are leveraging pork's versatility."

Since 2011, fresh pork has driven growth of the total pork category, increasing by 3.5% on an annual basis. Sales of processed pork also grew 2.3%, largely driven by sales of ham, breakfast sausage and bacon. Sales of these traditional breakfast meats represent 56% of the carcass-weigh equivalent.

Other study highlights include:

• In categories where both uncooked and pre-cooked pork offerings exist, sales grew at about the same rate.

• In categories where bone-in and boneless pork are available, sales of both versions increased since 2011, with boneless growing at a slightly faster rate.

"Pork cuts can be used across the menu as a basis for many trending global recipes, as an individual ingredient or as a center-of-the-plate item," Gerike says. "It's also interesting to note that the popularity of pork spanned all day parts and was not limited to morning or evening."

The study also showed that of the 24 pork product categories reviewed, 22 demonstrated positive growth in sales. On a per-pound basis, bacon grew the most between 2011 and 2013, up 102 million pounds. Carnita meat—a traditional Mexican preparation of pulled or diced shoulder of pork—shoulder/butt and pulled pork grew the fastest by percent with a compound annual growth rate of 8%, 6.6% and 6.4%, respectively. Ground pork, Canadian bacon, whole loin, Italian specialty meats and ribs also demonstrated notable growth.

"When it comes to the three major day parts—breakfast, lunch and dinner—pork is almost equally represented, but sales grew most aggressively in the areas of breakfast protein and snacks," Gerike says. "It's clear that pork is on the foodservice menu across all segments, and full-service and limited-service restaurants represent about two-thirds of all pork volume sold."

The Technomic study reinforced results released by the USDA on Aug. 23. As of July 31, frozen pork supplies held in inventory were down 3.5% from June. The reduction in frozen inventories, given slightly lower year-to-date pork production, lower exports and higher retail pork prices, reflects the strong pork demand seen since February.