KANSAS CITY (B)--The U.S. food service sector's use of pork grew 17% from 1996 to 1999, which accounted for 1.3 billion additional pounds of pork served within the industry, according to a study conducted by the National Pork Producers Council. The popularity of bacon-topped sandwiches, sausage pizzas and rib dinners helped fuel the increase.

Pork items responsible for much of the growth were ham, bacon, pork sausage and baby back ribs. Pork's 17% jump was more than double the 8% overall increase experienced by the U.S. food service sector over the three-year span.

Several pork items enjoyed a 19% or more surge in usage during the period, including specialty sausage, St. Louis-style ribs, bacon and pizza topping. And, in the study, restaurants and other food service outlets indicated a trend of using more precooked convenience or value-added products rather than fresh products.

The study's findings are supported by a separate food service survey that indicates the number of new pork items on menus more than doubled since 1995, the NPPC said. The group is planning a follow-up study to measure food service operator attitude and use of pork.

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