President Trump loves fast food.  

During the government shutdown in January, he bought McDonald's and Burger King for the Clemson University football team's White House visit. During the 2016 campaign, he tweeted a photo of himself eating a bucket of KFC chicken on his plane.

But even the president might not have realized that a highly controversial thing he did last year would mean that fast food restaurants like McDonald's and Wendy's could make a lot more money after changing their menus. 

In fact, I'm pretty sure nobody really predicted it. 

In short, if you love bacon, and you're excited to see how much McDonald's, Wendy's and other fast food chains are suddenly pushing it hard, you can trace the reason why it's so lucrative back to Trump's China trade war.

The timeline is something that anyone who loves fast food or lawmaking will find fascinating, and it goes like this.

  • January 2018:    President Trump levies his first tariffs on Chinese imports, specifically solar panels and washing machines at 30 to 50 percent.
  • April 2018:    The Chinese government strikes back, slapping 25 percent tariffs on 128 U.S. products. Among them: pork, which is an important U.S. agricultural export.
  • July 2018:    Trump adds another set of tariffs against China, this time on 818 other categories of profits adding up to $50 billion. Also that month, China hits back even harder, raising its tariff on U.S. pork even higher, to 62 percent.

In case you're wondering why China focused on U.S. exports like pork and other agricultural products, the answer became clear quickly.

"It's pretty apparent that these countries will go after, by and large, Trump supporters from a political base standpoint since items exported by red states are the ones being targeted," Ken Maschhoff, chairman of Maschhoff Family Foods and co-owner of the nation's largest family-owned pork producer, told CNBC.

Sure enough, it started to work. By September, U.S. pork prices had fallen sharply. Depending on the variety, they're now at their lowest point in five or even 10 years

Which brings us to the fast food restaurants. 

Have you noticed the one food item they've been pushing lately like no other?

It's bacon. Last Month, McDonald's held a "Bacon Hour" during which the chain offered -- well, free bacon. Plus, new menu entries like cheesy bacon fries, and the ability to add bacon to basically any other menu item. Want your Big Mac with bacon? Not a problem.

Around the same time, Wendy's jumped in, with bacon-laden offers like a free bacon cheeseburger if you spend $10 ordering from them on DoorDash, and then started giving away free bacon fries for using the Wendy's app.

Of course, bacon is also hugely popular in the United States, fast food or no fast food. We don't just eat tons of bacon. We also consume an insane number of bacon-flavored products, including toothpaste, vodka, chips, gum, popcorn, and ice cream.

So putting bacon on things isn't exactly a risky business strategy.

Also, as David Anderson, an agricultural economist at Texas A&M, told Business Insider when it reported on much of this, it would have been very hard for any large to look at what was happening with pork prices six months ago, and rush more bacon-themed promotions to market this quickly.

Spokespeople for both McDonald's and Wendy's said as much.

So, it's not as if President Trump started the trade war, and sometime in early 2018 they realized, you know what? China's going to tax bacon, and that's going to make the price go down.

Still, even if it wasn't quite planned, the fast food giants are almost certainly making much more money on these products now than anyone could have predicted a year ago, simply because the ingredients cost less.

And because people and brands tend to keep doing things that do well for them, at least until they no longer do well, you can probably expect more doubling down on bacon.

Which brings us all the way back to President Trump.

Because regardless of how you feel about him, or the wisdom of the trade war with China, or really anything else going on in Washington, you've got all that to thank for cheap bacon.

And so do McDonald's and Wendy's.  

Published on: Feb 18, 2019
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