Before there was refrigeration, there was the country ham. Though the product itself goes back generations, today’s top processors have found ways to appeal to the contemporary consumer.

Burgers’ Smokehouse is the largest country ham company in the country. It has grown through key acquisitions over the last two years, such as Clifty Farms and Hobe’s Country Ham. However, a key growth factor has also been in increasing the demand of its country hams, along with its myriad of other products, organically.

Steven Burger, president of the company, notes that the company has worked hard to even out ham sales, so that there are no severe spikes during the holidays and flat sales the rest of the year.

“The individual channels help provide some contra-cyclical benefit. Foodservice is more stable. It has a little bit of seasonality, but not near what the b-to-c side is,” he says. “The internet and catalog sales are clearly the most seasonal side of the business. Grocery is somewhere in between.”

The company is always looking for more ways to be innovative and introduce country ham to consumers in different ways, such as an ingredient of a larger entrée. Burgers’ also has seen an increase in cooked country ham sales, particularly among consumers who are using it in a ready-to-eat format.

Edwards Virginia Smokehouse has made its products available through wholesale, online and direct retail sales. Third-generation owner and curemaster Sam Edwards III jokes that he likes spinning plates, but the company has found benefits to being so flexible. When the Coronavirus pandemic disrupted some of its markets, he worked with his retail customers to keep product on the shelves. At the onset of the pandemic, many stores shut down their full-service deli counters. The company began offering its sliced, ready-to-eat ham products. While some larger store chains weren’t able to adapt quickly enough, many smaller chains or single-unit stores jumped on the product.

“They put it out there, and it just evaporates off the shelves,” Edwards says.

Edwards is currently working with co-packers to produce his products after a plant fire. Before the fire, he was impressing upon his son that the curing process is as much an art as it is a science.

“Before the fire, I was constantly trying to teach the fourth generation the nuances of using your sense of small, taste, touch and eyesight to tweak the aging rooms to give it the flavor profile that we’re shooting for,” he explains. IP