Consumers continue to fork over more of their hard-earned cash to pay for the rising cost of bacon during the summer seasonal peak for consumption, as smaller U.S. hog herds led to an unprecedented dip in meat inventories.

Wholesale pork bellies, cured and sliced to make bacon, have surged 72% in the past year to $1.43/lb., the highest price since at least 1998, even surpassing pork loin prices, according to government analysts.

Chicago Mercantile Exchange reports indicate pork supplies in cold storage have plummeted 73% in the past year through July, reflecting the economic downturn in the U.S. hog industry over the past three years.

Consumers ramp up bacon purchases in August when tomatoes are ready for harvest in the Midwest, so they can enjoy bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches, says Altin Kalo, a commodity analyst for Steiner Consulting Group. He says prices for pork bellies will probably decline later this year as demand slows, but prices will be record high for each month due to continuing tight supplies.

“What you have with bacon is what economists call inelastic demand, meaning it doesn’t vary much,” says Chris Hurt, a livestock economist with Purdue University. “If a person wants a BLT sandwich, and likes that in summer when their patio tomatoes come on, then it doesn’t make a difference if bacon is $2 a pound or $6 a pound. They’re going to go out and buy it. When it’s in short supply and a lot of people want it, they’ll pay a higher price.”

The National Pork Board says the United States consumes more than 1.7 billion pounds of bacon annually at restaurants and other foodservice establishments. Bacon is the second fastest-growing pork item in foodservice behind ground pork.