Groff's Meats takes off

by Bernard Shire
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Groff Meats logo
 
While it wouldn’t have been unusual 100 years ago to stand on a small town’s Main Street and watch cattle and hogs being driven to a butcher shop for slaughter, in 2017, that sight would be considered a bit out of the ordinary. Yet right now, hogs are still being slaughtered at Groff’s Meats on Market Street in the center of Elizabethtown, a small town located in Pennsylvania’s iconic center of agriculture, Lancaster County.

Also, a little unusual is that the small slaughter and processing company is owned by four siblings: Frank and John Groff, who run the plant, and Nancy and Virginia Groff, who operate the retail store — with Nancy also running the business side of things. They are great-grandchildren of company founders Joseph and John Groff.

What’s really exciting for the Groffs, though, is how their business has taken off and continues to rapidly grow — thanks in part to the explosion of interest in and consumption of bacon.

“It’s hard to believe, in a way, but a big part of the growth of our business is due to our sale of bacon — and also pork bellies,” says co-owner Nancy Groff. In fact, many new customers at Groff Meats — located halfway between Lancaster and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s state capital — are drawn to the store and plant, located in the very center of the 10,000-population town, because of the bacon that Groff’s makes in their special way. “People come into the store and buy 5 lbs. of bacon at a time,” Nancy says.

“We make between 5,000 and 6,000 lbs. of bacon a week,” co-owner Frank Groff estimates. In fact, Groff’s bacon has won awards in competitions sponsored by the Pennsylvania Association of Meat Processors, a statewide trade association made up mostly of small and very small meat processors. The processing firm makes two styles of bacon — a dry cured bacon, which is an old-fashioned, traditional style of bacon. The Groffs also make a more commercial injected and pumped bacon, which has a milder flavor. The Groffs double-smoke some of their bacon. “Customers ask — they want a smokier flavor,” Nancy says. They also do a private-label barbecue bacon. And they sell a regional favorite in Southeastern and South-Central Pennsylvania — bacon ends. “A lot of people buy the ends and use them when they’re making bean soup,” Frank says.

Like a lot of smaller meat processors who make their own bacon, Groff Meats bacon doesn’t taste like what you traditionally find on supermarket shelves. It’s different — and much better. “The bellies are leaner and more marbled. We have more control and quality,” Frank says.

Changing customers

Bacon on the rack at Groff's Meats
 
But not everything always stays the same. The region where Groff Meats operates has become more culturally diverse. Many Asians have settled in Lancaster County and nearby areas, including Vietnamese who moved into the area after the Vietnamese War ended 40 years ago. There are newer products like fresh belly of pig, which is very popular among Asians. So, the Groffs are producing a lot of bellies and using bellies, not just for their bacon, but also selling them to customers coming in right off the street. The Groffs have a large wholesale business, including foodservice, restaurants, other processors, stand holders at regional farmers markets and ethnic groceries and markets, and they are large customers of the Groffs’ bacon and bellies. “A lot of Asians are wholesale customers, and often they buy hundreds of pounds of bellies at one time, and they like the bellies with the skin on,” Nancy says.

You could say the bacon is truly is local, not just because it’s made in Elizabethtown, but because the bellies come from pigs in the region. “We buy pigs we slaughter ourselves right here from farmers within the Lancaster County region,” says co-owner John Groff. “Even the bellies that don’t come from pigs we slaughter, they’re fairly local bellies, we bring them in from farmers in the region,” he says with a laugh.

Like a lot of small butchering companies who make a multitude of products, the Groffs are amazed at the popularity of bacon, and how it’s just taken off. “Maybe the chefs on all the cooking shows on TV got people interested,” Nancy speculates. “We have people coming into our store and ask for bacon cut ½ an inch thick. And of course, now people want it with chocolate and cinnamon,” she laughs and shakes her head.

John has another theory. “The fast food places are selling it on top of their burgers. And people buy it to put on top of burgers they grill at home. But because a lot of ground beef sold today is very lean, it doesn’t have as much flavor as traditional ground beef. Flavor comes from fat. So, people want the bacon on top of the hamburger to give it more flavor,” he says.

Frank has his own ideas. “When you’re cooking bacon, it has a wonderful smell, doesn’t it? It’s not just bacon and eggs anymore. You can do a lot more things with it, and you can put it in or on practically everything — cheese, salads.” The Groffs expect the bacon craze to continue for a long time, and to help keep their business growing.

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