Smithfield, Virginia, is a small colonial town in historic Isle of Wight County, in the Hampton Roads area in the state’s southeast. And when people think about the Smithfield brand of meats, so closely tied to the historic town, what often crosses their minds at first might be ham – the iconic Smithfield ham. But bacon has reached the same level within the Smithfield brands, and within Smithfield Foods overall.
“There’s no doubt that bacon continues to grow rapidly across the category, and we’re proud to be the No. 2 bacon brand in the United States,” says Eric Gibson, senior manager at Smithfield Foods.
The small colonial town of Smithfield, Virginia, has roots in the meat business that precede the establishment of the United States. Smithfield’s reputation for producing specialty meats and hams dates back more than 250 years, to the town’s founding in 1752.
“The colonial town of Smithfield was founded along the tributary of the historic James River,” Gibson says. It’s located in the southeastern part of the state, in what’s known as Hampton Roads. “Because of the town’s reputation for manufacturing and processing meat, in 1936 Joseph W. Luter and his son founded a small meat packing company there,” Gibson explains.
The history of the Smithfield company and the town of Smithfield have always been interwoven and remain so. “It was here in the small town of Smithfield that our brand came to life,” Gibson notes. “We have a long tradition of smoking and curing fine meats to perfection, small town flavor,” Gibson says. “Holding on to these core small-town values has helped us build our success over the years,” Gibson says.
“Using a unique curing process and handcrafted approach, they produced the ‘Genuine Smithfield Ham’ which soon won worldwide acclaim as the centerpiece of holiday meals and other special occasions,” Gibson points out. “It was here in Smithfield that our brand came to life. And we have a long tradition of smoking and curing fine meats to perfection, whether it’s hickory-smoked bacon, hand-trimmed ribs, tender marinated loin filets, or the brand’s legendary holiday hams,” he says.
Banking on bacon
But the huge interest and consumption of bacon in the US, as well as the shift by consumers to eating breakfast at non-traditional times, rather than just in the morning, has resulted in a massive increase in bacon sales by the company. “Fifty-four percent of consumers are not only craving bacon, but breakfast at times outside the morning,” Gibson says. So, in addition to a full array of breakfast meats, Smithfield’s offerings have taken off – 12 flavors and cuts, including ready-to-eat bacon.
Not surprisingly, though, Smithfield’s most popular bacon remains its first – Hometown Original Bacon. The different cuts and flavors, in addition to the iconic Hometown Original Bacon, include Thick Cut Bacon, Applewood Smoked Bacon, Cherrywood Smoked Bacon, Lower Sodium Bacon, Sea Salt Bacon, Butchers Cut Bacon, Center Cut Bacon, Peppered Thick Cut, Uncured All-Natural Bacon, Fully-Cooked Applewood and Hometown Original Bacon Bits. But the Hometown Original flavor, which Gibson says is unique to Smithfield, has created a longtime tradition in the company and with its customers and consumers.
“It’s a classic cut and naturally smoked over real hardwood. It’s a flavor to inspire memories,” he says. You could say it reminds people of the food they ate when they were growing up.
Gibson explains how Smithfield bacon is made. “Our Smithfield bacon starts with a wet cure comprised of a combination of primarily water, salt and sugar, and then all-naturally smoked with real hickory chips. The process takes several hours from curing to smoking to package. Overall, the process has remained the same for decades with the assistance of modern technologies.”
Smithfield bacon is an American product, so all the hog bellies for every slice of Smithfield bacon come from this country. “The bellies are from Smithfield hogs that are raised on farms across the United States,” he says. And while Smithfield Foods brands produce many different cuts and flavors of bacon, Smithfield bacon itself continues to lead in volume and distribution for the company.
In explaining the increasing love of bacon in this country, and around the world, Gibson notes the explosion of bacon is no longer a fad. “It’s become a staple in food culture and continues to appear on menus from fast-casual to high-end restaurants,” Gibson says. “At Smithfield, we believe we’ll continue to see flavor trends that begin on the culinary side trickle down to the grocery aisle. As the bacon craze continues, consumers will seek out bacon that offers premium quality and variety in cuts and flavors. In response to this, Smithfield will continue to explore opportunities and strategic partnerships to offer exciting options that consumers will love,” he says.
Consumers can find Smithfield bacon in local retailers across the country. Restaurants looking for Smithfield bacon on a larger scale can get it within the company’s foodservice division.
It seems that of all the foods produced and consumed in this country, meat seems to be one that draws on tradition and memories in a very powerful way. Smithfield is able to draw on that tradition, and on those memories. “For our consumers, our bacon is able to inspire memories of their own hometown, where families, friends and food come together,” he says.