There’s the beef: Meat business thrives on relationships despite pandemic — and looks to future

Jamie Schweid, the now fourth-generation owner of a local ground meat business, thought he was party to a good teaching moment about 20 years ago, when he was just out of college and shadowing his father’s daily business operation. … He was going to watch as his father struck a deal with another growing family business.

And it was a valuable learning opportunity.

But it proved to be an even better business opportunity.

“That was when Five Guys only had around five stores, and the father of the company’s five brothers came to visit our facility and talk to my dad,” Schweid said. “They had a great conversation, and made a handshake deal that — 20-some years later — they’re still upholding.”

There’s a chance you’ve already tasted the ground beef patties of Carlstadt-based Schweid & Sons if you’ve been a patron of the nationwide burger chain today, as it’s one of the company’s main suppliers. It’s also held long-running partnerships with Cheesecake Factory and Fuddruckers.

Jamie Schweid.

Long before it was the secret ingredient behind these well-known foodservice businesses, it had the customarily humble start of a family-owned enterprise.

In the late 1800s, Schweid’s great-grandfather, Harry Schweid, started a butcher shop in New York’s Lower East Side after emigrating from Eastern Europe. Two generations later, Schweid’s father made a business out of selling burger patties to food industry distributors around New York. That business, originally branded as Burger Maker, became one of the first ground beef processors to use Cryovac technology to vacuum-pack burgers for extended shelf life.

The Schweid family in 1994 resettled their business in New Jersey as part of a modernization of their business.

Jamie Schweid, the company’s current CEO and president, took over leadership of the company, along with his brother, when his father retired in 2013. He grew up in the Garden State and couldn’t imagine the company based anywhere but his home state today.

“Since the business moved out to New Jersey, local governments have been incredibly supportive in our growth and development,” he said. “And it’s hard to put a price on that.”

That growth was nearly jeopardized by the pandemic, which shut down the operations of many of the company’s foodservice clientele. The company also had to reckon with shortages and supply chain issues reverberating from the Midwest’s meat industry.

Schweid & Sons’ pork sausage.

But the company’s retail business kept cooking throughout the pandemic shutdowns. And it worked on diversifying its business, which led to the introduction of a pork breakfast sausage patty — the company’s first non-beef product.

The company has also had to contend with shifting market preference during the pandemic and leading up to it. Market insights firm Nielsen released a report in fall 2021 that meat alternatives jumped 60% over a two-year span, as plant-based proteins start to be embraced by consumers as a healthier and more sustainable purchase.

“The way I look at it: There’s a market for everything,” Schweid said. “If you look at plant-based products in the market currently, certainly more customers are using it as a protein, but the data suggests it’s not replacing other protein consumption throughout the week.”

Schweid adds that the business is working with partners to create the first-ever USDA-verified program for climate-friendly beef, he said. The practices used in the feeding and harvesting of those beef products could represent a 10% decline in greenhouse gas emissions in the beef the company sells.

“We’re not stopping there, either,” he said. “It’s just the minimum. We’re going to continue evaluating our supply chain to evolve and increase that reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Farther down the line, Schweid, a self-proclaimed “futurist,” acknowledges that lab-grown meat products could start to become a real market category. SCiFi Foods, which is working on bioengineered meat products, is one of the innovators it’s paying attention to.

“We’re definitely looking into cell-based or culture-based meat,” Schweid said. “I think there’s definitely an opportunity down the road to use that product to be able to support the growth of beef in the country.”

In both the short- and long-term, Schweid’s goal remains the same: Keep the business relationships it’s forged over the company’s history working for both parties.

“What we understand about these partnerships is we have to maintain a level of quality and service to our customers and engage with them to understand what their needs are and meet them,” he said.