McDonald’s and Wendy’s are leaning into free bacon while the trade war pushes pork prices to their lowest point in a decade — but both say it’s a coincidence

McDonald’s Cheesy Bacon Fries. Katie Canales/Business Insider
  • McDonald’s and Wendy’s have both unleashed bacon-heavy dishes in the newest front of their battle to win over diners.
  • At the same time, pork prices are hitting record lows, reaching the weakest price per pound in a decade.
  • The prices are due to a surplus caused by the trade war, which is preventing exports.

Have you eaten some free bacon lately? There may be a political reason for that.

McDonald’s and Wendy’s have both been promoting bacon-heavy dishes in the newest front of their battle to win over diners.

McDonald’s has added bacon options to nearly its entire menu, with the addition now available for Big Mac and Quarter Pounder burgers. It’s also released Cheesy Bacon Fries as a new menu item nationwide.

To celebrate these additions, it held a “Bacon Hour” offering free bacon for 60 minutes on January 29.

Not to be outdone, Wendy’s unleashed a promotion on its Baconator Fries, named after its bacon-laden cheeseburger, the Baconator. The idea is much the same: cheese and bacon on fries.

Wendy’s also offered free Baconators around the same time, starting on January 28 and ending February 4, for customers placing orders on the delivery app DoorDash. It followed that up with free Baconator Fries for users making a purchase with the app through February 17.

Read more:

We compared McDonald’s new cheesy bacon fries to Wendy’s Baconator Fries – and the winner is painfully clear

Why so much bacon? Well, the easy answer is that people like bacon, and restaurants are trying whatever they can to lure in customers.

But there may be more to it than that.

Wendy's mcdonald's bacon cheesey fries 3
Wendy’s Baconator Fries. Katie Canales/Business Insider

Falling pork prices

Pork prices have cratered in the past year. In fact, the meat is now selling at its lowest price in a decade, according to Bloomberg. There are a few reasons for this, including retaliatory tariffs China placed on pork products exported by the United States.

All that cheap pork could look mighty tasty to a fast-food restaurant trying to lure in more customers.

“Bellies for bacon continue to show a lot of volatility and that is where it seems like a large part of the fast-food market is buying,” David Anderson, an agricultural economist at Texas A&M, told Business Insider. “There may be some opportunities to price in lower costs and expand some profits or plan to run some special items using pork given its lower prices.”

However, fast-food promotions require a lead time, which, depending on the chain, could affect their rollout.

“Bacon prices are also interesting because they are highly volatile,” Anderson said. “The swings in prices have been quite large over the last few years. Even recently, while pork prices are lower, bacon has surged higher than a year ago before falling back. [Pork] bellies seem to be the area that is different from the overall level of pork prices.”

“Lower pork prices do likely add some opportunity to do these promos,” he said.

Both McDonald’s and Wendy’s said that the new promotions are not directly tied to falling pork prices.

“We’re always listening to our customers and evolving our menu as their preferences change,” a spokesperson for McDonald’s said. “At our scale, introducing a new menu item that impacts our 14,000 U.S. restaurants is a decision that requires advanced, meticulous planning, testing, evaluation and partnership with suppliers, animal welfare experts, chefs, nutritionists, supply chain experts and franchisees.”

Wendy’s had a similar response.

“Wendy’s generally doesn’t adjust its marketing calendar based on short term changes in commodity prices,” a Wendy’s spokesperson told Business Insider.

Even if falling pork prices aren’t directly tied to these promotions, it’s safe to say the cheaper prices mean the meat may land on more dinner tables soon, in whatever form that may be.