PFMA welcomed associate members that offer integrated conveyance systems, energy services, HVAC maintenance and branded consumer foods.
Advance Equipment Sales (AES) has been in business since 1993 and operates a Manufacturers Representative agency. AES acts as the factory salesperson for many products such as fixtures, shelving, refrigeration and equipment. AES strives to represent only the finest manufacturers who share our philosophy of providing the highest quality and innovative products to our customers.
Aero Energy serves large and small companies. As a local business partner, Aero provides SMARTER fuels, systems and service to meet your exact needs including fuel sales and transportation, as well as HVAC, plumbing and electrical services.
BFC Solutions, formerly Bonded Filter Co., merged with PureAir in 2018 to become the largest self-performing, preventive maintenance service provider for commercial HVAC systems in the U.S. The company develops routine planned preventive maintenance programs to identify problems before they become costly repairs. Through its best-in-class patented PleatLink® filter system, coil cleaning, comprehensive site inspections and other value-added services, BFC Solutions keep facilities and HVAC systems operating efficiently to reduce costs and achieve sustainability goals.
General Mills is a manufacturer and marketer of branded consumer foods sold through retail stores. With over 100 brands in 100 countries, General Mills has a strong commitment to doing good for the planet and its communities (including pets!), providing a variety of snacks and meals that are sustainably sourced and delicious. Global and social responsibility has been a part of our mission since our founding days and has been a consistent source of innovation through the decades.
It’s hard to miss the headlines—edible oil production and pricing is headed down a slippery slope. Droughts, low production, the Russian/Ukrainian war, rising prices, increased demand for biofuel usage and other complications are making a major impact on edible oils.
Jason Thomas (right), CEO of Healthy Brand Oil Corporation, recognizes the numerous challenges today. Fortunately, the new PFMA member is educating customers and helping to mitigate rising costs.
Thomas looks at what has affected the industry during two distinct timelines.
“I look at it as the 2014 to 2020 period, where crops around the world had good production, demand was pretty stable, pricing was very stable, availability was very stable,” he said. “Then I look at it from 2020 forward—the world just got thrown completely on its head in every way, shape and form.”
Thomas has been in the business since 2004. About 75 percent of their products go through food service distribution, for example restaurants or a retail setting. Approximately 25 percent of the business serves food manufacturers.
Healthy Brand Oils offer a wide variety of oils and quantities, ranging from soy, canola, sunflower, peanut, olive, avocado oils and more, plus non-GMO, organic and expeller pressed options. Oils are packaged in four sizes, ranging from one-gallon containers to 2,500-pound quantities that serve large manufacturers.
If the variety and options seem overwhelming, the website offers an Oils 101 guide. Plus, the Healthy Brand Oils team is available to walk customers through which oil makes the most sense for each use.
“There are some differences that make each product good for certain uses, maybe not for others. We talk about what you’re trying to accomplish and use the product for,” he said. “Maybe a certain oil brings a certain flavor profile, or maybe if you’re using it in a fryer—some oils will last two and three times the fry time of something that looks exactly the same.”
As different global factors impact different oils, it’s important to know where oils originate, Thomas said. For example, the U.S. provides mostly soy; Canada provides canola; olive oils originate in the Mediterranean; and grape, avocado and peanut oils largely come from Europe.
“Last year, we saw a 30 percent crop failure in the Canadian canola crop. In 2021, there was a 30 percent crop failure in the Brazilian corn crop, and this year, there is a 20 percent crop failure in the Brazilian soybean crop,” Thomas said. “These are major needle movers from the world’s largest producers.”
When crops are low or products are inaccessible, such as sunflower oil in Ukraine, customers might need to switch to another product. Despite the fact that sunflower oil is not one of the most frequently consumed oils in the U.S., countries that do rely on exports from Ukraine are now paying a premium for oils that are typically used in the states.
Another major factor impacting availability is a greater national need for biodegradable biodiesel fuel. Food-grade soybean oil is a more environmentally friendly fuel option, Thomas said, and “what a sizeable producer like ourselves can consume in a year, (biodiesel producers) are consuming it in a month.”
So now what? “We’re entering this time period that is more volatile and harder to navigate,” Thomas said. He separates the situation into two major risks: price and supply.
When there is a period where prices might double or triple, that impacts the manufacturer’s margins in a major way, he said, particularly regarding food where profit margins are already low. Health Brand Oils developed what they call “profit lock” to help customers manage fluctuating costs.
Lee Colonna (right), sales development and relationships management at Healthy Brand Oils, explains that the profit lock initiative connects them with the customer to assess their needs and goals. “We’re partnering with them to find out what works for them in the best way possible with the products we choose, while managing the expectations of what they need now and in the future.”
“If today’s pricing can ensure a profitable trade for the customer, then it’s a logical time to extend coverage and ensure that. If you don’t do that, the market can take it away,” Thomas added.
Supply risk presents a more challenging solution. Supply involves product issues, logistical issues and the impact of a global supply chain, he said. The company only commits to products for which they have a high level of confidence and know they can deliver.
“We can’t solve all the problems, but we think we can help,” Thomas said. “(The customer) might not have the internal know-how or the resources to deal with this. This is a piece of the puzzle that differentiates our offering.”
Colonna also stressed the importance of association membership. “It’s a resource. You can’t be an expert in all things. Having a resource like (PFMA) and bringing the information to your members is huge.”
Thomas anticipates the summer months to remain volatile. That volatility has a way of creeping into every aspect of a business, he said. With corn, wheat and soybean in nearly everything, he stresses the importance of understanding the current environment.
“We’re happy to do our best to help navigate what’s best for our customers,” Thomas said. “It’s something we’re looking at every day and trying to assess. It’s a complicated puzzle.”
What are your top three legislative priorities in 2022? Right now, my No. 1 priority is Senate Bill 690, my open primaries bill. We potentially lost some very good legislators in the House and Senate in this primary cycle, and I believe this Senate Bill 690 would have prevented that. Having a legislature that has the extremes of both parties trying to run the show does not result in good government.
My next top priority is Senate Bill 473, that’s the Bill that Sen. Sharif Street and I have co-sponsored that would allow for adult-use cannabis in Pennsylvania. It’s kind of funny, I’m not a fan of the product. A Republican that’s become the face of legalization, that might sound odd. But from my standpoint, between the medical program and the thriving black market, virtually anybody in Pennsylvania that wants access to cannabis already has it. I look at this as the adult approach to regulation. Might as well catch it, put it in the stores so people know what they are buying and move on.
And this might come as a surprise to you—I’ve worked pretty hard in the Sunday hunting space, and I got a win there, but that’s not what I’m going to list as my third spot. Senate Bill 1042 would reduce the size of the legislature, specifically reduce the size of the House to 150 members. I know somebody always runs a bill that does that, but what makes this unique is that it would put three House members within each Senate district, and that is where I think there is significant change. So, 10 years from now when we go through the redistricting process, the Senate lines would be drawn first, then the House lines would be drawn within that. It would create what I would consider more of a team approach for these regions.
I’ll give you an example: currently, I have six State House reps within my district. Everybody’s all over the place. I really believe, whether they are Republican or Democrat working together, too, if we have three State House representatives within each Senate District, it would create more of a team approach down in Harrisburg for your region, people would be able to get more done, and quite frankly, it would foster some bipartisanship. If they are on your team whether they are Republican or Democrat, I think you’d have more of a tendency to work together.
What is your biggest motivator as a legislator? I ran a very successful business before I decided to run for office. It was my frustration with how Pennsylvania was being run that finally got me to throw my hat in the ring.
My frustrations continue. When I first ran, I was a little naïve about how our state government worked. But now that I’ve been there for almost six years with an insider’s view on this, I’m still frustrated by how long it takes to get something done, especially when you have something that’s polling at 75 to 80 percent from the populace, it shouldn’t be a difficult thing to get done. It seems like with all these competing interests, it’s quite an effort to try and get something together, even when it makes sense for almost everyone’s constituents. I continue to remain frustrated about that.
When I was in private industry, I could literally make a decision on Friday, and on Monday, that’s what we were doing. And now, if I want to get something done, no matter how mundane it seems, it’s typically a two-year battle, sometimes longer, and I really don’t think it needs to be.
Where do you shop locally for food? I’ve become a pretty big fan of Wegmans. I like the layout of their store. It’s pretty close to my home, and their selection is pretty robust. I think they do a good job within the community as well.
It’s a good company, you can tell it’s well run. I’ve never had a bad experience at their store.
We have some of the top-rated sunsets in the world here in Erie, and the sunsets in Maui were almost like ours. For the folks that can’t make it to Maui, they should probably come to Erie this summer.
What is your favorite vacation destination? My wife and I went to Maui back in 1999, and it’s been on my to-do list ever since. I think it’s one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I’ve traveled a fair amount. I like to tell people, with Lake Erie and Presque Isle, I call Presque Isle the Maui of Pennsylvania. I have the experience, I’ve been to both places, and I think they share a lot of similarities. We have some of the top-rated sunsets in the world here in Erie, and the sunsets in Maui were almost like ours. For the folks that can’t make it to Maui, they should probably come to Erie this summer.
What are the biggest challenges for grocers in your district? Right now, they are all having some supply chain issues and rising costs of everything. The inflation rate has to be difficult for our grocers, to try to keep the cost down for their folks. They also are having trouble finding enough employees.
What are your biggest challenges and successes as a legislator? There are two things that come to mind. One of them was a personal goal for me, and that was cracking that old blue law about Sunday hunting. I was able to get that done. I realize in the grand scheme of things that wasn’t a huge issue for all Pennsylvanians, but it certainly affected about a million of us. On a personal level, I’m really pleased about that.
The other thing that was a legislative victory, when I ran in 2016, the Erie School District was on the verge of financial collapse. It had gotten so bad that they were considering closing all of their high schools and just educating the kids through 8th grade. That’s still a state law, believe it or not, that’s all you have to do. We were literally on the brink of collapse here.
As you are probably aware, if you don’t have a functioning school district, it’s extremely difficult to try and do any economic development, because why would someone come here, right? With the help of Sen. Mike Braun, I was able to secure an additional $14 million a year for basic education funding, which was the largest per-student increase in basic education funding in the history of Pennsylvania. I’m really proud of that, it literally changed the dynamics up here. They’re not rolling in cash, but we have a functioning school district and things are getting better.
There are roughly 11,000 children in that school district. Hopefully in the grand scheme of things, it changed the trajectory for those kids.
I think one of my biggest frustrations legislatively, Sen. Braun and I put out a co-sponsorship last year that would have raised our minimum wage to $10 an hour. It included an escalator built into it for inflation, which in my opinion is part of the reason we have such a disparity with our minimum wage sometimes. We’ll go years and years and then we’ll do an increase. But if it had been tied to inflation, notwithstanding this past year, it would’ve gone up 10 to 12 cents a year, nobody would’ve noticed, but we’d probably be at $10 or $12 an hour. Now, since it’s taken so long to get any movement on that, the $10 minimum wage is almost a joke. Private industry has gone well beyond that. I don’t think anybody would dispute that. So I’m kind of frustrated about that. I think it would’ve been a good thing to get done last year.
What is your favorite food or meal to cook? This might not come as a surprise for your readers, but one of my favorite things is to cook a venison tenderloin over a fire down at my camp. Kind of makes sense, right?
What do you like to do for fun? I like to go out on my boat in the summertime and fish on Lake Erie. I’m a very avid archery hunter. I prefer beach vacations. If I’m sitting on a beach with my wife in a lawn chair with a margarita in my hand, I’m a pretty happy cat.