This fall, new members represented products ranging from beaded ice cream to craft dog treats to flexible packaging
Associated Wholesale Grocers, Inc. (AWG) is the nation’s largest cooperative food wholesaler to independently owned supermarkets. The company serves over 1,100 member companies and over 3,100 locations throughout 28 states from 8 full-line wholesale divisions.
Dream2Career, LLC, handles direct hire, seasonal staffing, pathways recruiting, contract staffing, payroll, workers compensation, onboarding, skills training, background checks, time management, benefits management, rewards programs, educational reimbursement program management and quality-of-life programs.
The Masser Family of Companies have grown and delivered quality potatoes to retailers and foodservice operators for more than eight generations. The Pennsylvanian business combines years of potato growing experience with advanced technology and a personal touch to ensure they deliver the quality product to best meet their customer’s needs. The company’s culture focuses on extraordinary service from extraordinary people. Grown where it matters.
As a beaded ice cream pioneer, Mini Melts manufactures some of the most delicious premium ice cream on the market. Founded in Philadelphia, Mini Melts can be found in retailers and entertainment venues nationwide.
Poly Craft is a manufacturer of flexible packaging, including roll stock, pouches and bags with and without lamination. The company also uses recyclable and sustainable film options.
Saint Rocco’s Treats was founded in May 2020 by two brothers with a passion for entrepreneurship, a love for dogs and knowledge of dog treat craftsmanship, thanks to their dad and grandpa. The company aims to foster transparency and quality in the dog treat and food industry through vertically integrated gourmet dog kitchens, human-grade ingredients and five-ingredient recipes Saint Rocco’s Treats are fresh-baked in small batches each week and crafted using an artisan production process. Saint Rocco’s Treats are available in 120+ independent retailers in the tri-state area and online nationwide.
Sharing Excess delivers surplus food to communities in need. Its mission is to bridge the gap between excess and scarcity by partnering with grocery stores, restaurants, wholesalers and farmers to deliver surplus food to a network of nonprofits, food banks and community organizations, alleviating local food insecurity.
What are your top three legislative priorities in 2022? As chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, my top legislative priorities are advancing the reforms recommended by the Juvenile Justice Task Force, pushing comprehensive changes to Pennsylvania’s probation system, enacting comprehensive reform of guardianship laws and prioritizing passage of a constitutional amendment opening a window for adult victims of child sex abuse.
What is your biggest motivator as a legislator? My biggest motivators are cutting red tape, making government more accountable and eliminating unnecessary barriers to deliver positive results for individuals, organizations and communities. My staff and I work very hard to help to solve problems, answer questions, and respond to concerns about state issues and legislation and connect people with available services, resources and assistance.
Where do you shop locally for food? My husband Gary and I shop at various local supermarkets, including Weis Markets, Gerrity’s, Mountain Fresh, Wegmans and Price Chopper.
What is your favorite vacation destination? We enjoy vacationing in the Outer Banks region of North Carolina, taking in the scenery, riding bikes and fishing along the beaches of the Cape Hatteras National Sea Shore.
What are the biggest challenges for grocers in your district? Like many employers, local grocery stores have experienced challenges with recruiting and retaining workers as well as the lack of availability of products due to supply chain issues. The pandemic has also shifted the way consumers shop, and the growing demand for curbside pickup and other online features has placed an added burden on the industry.
What are your biggest challenges and successes as a legislator? Because of my responsibilities as chair of a key committee, and as someone who spends a lot of time negotiating complex legislative solutions, time is always a challenge. The 20th District encompasses all or parts of five counties, representing 116 communities and 22 school districts, so there are unique challenges in the physical distance that must be covered. I often have conflicting requests to attend events, but one of my fundamental commitments as a legislator is to be visible and accessible in all parts of the district.
I am proud of my record of service in the Senate and have worked collaboratively to enact 73 laws, including ensuring victims and families have the opportunity to provide in-person testimony at parole hearings; establishing the Veterans’ Service Officer program to make sure veterans have access to promised benefits, creating the Veterans Trust Fund to provide emergency assistance to needy veterans and their families and implementing ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) accounts to allow disabled individuals to save for their futures. I have also advocated on behalf of residents and local officials to secure the funding necessary for job creation, transportation improvements, and important community-identified projects, such as the newly announced Vosburg Neck State Park in Wyoming County.
What is your favorite food or meal to cook? Gary and I love to cook and entertain friends and family in our home. One of the most requested dishes that we make is Maine lobster macaroni and cheese, which features five varieties of cheeses. However, my favorite meal to cook is Thanksgiving. I always look forward to enjoying my father’s homemade stuffing recipe with our turkey and all the trimmings.
What do you like to do for fun? When I’m not restoring and repurposing antique furniture, I enjoy walking with our English Setter, Finley, spending time with our grandchildren, Bryce and Blair, and relaxing on the deck with a good book.
Famed American chef, author and TV personality James Beard once said, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”
This commonality in the human experience makes issues surrounding food particularly significant. For 70 years, PFMA has dedicated its work to improving access to healthy foods, better jobs and more opportunities in the food and beverage retail industry.
“Our business really is food. It’s bringing people together, it’s bringing issues to the forefront, it’s improving the quality and the climate of Pennsylvania business for the food industry,” said Alex Baloga, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association.
The business of food
When Christy Spoa got out of the U.S. Army in 1957, he headed back to the family’s grocery store in Ellwood City. As a 100-year-old, family-owned community business, every day was different.
“As an independent particularly, as a single store operator, you wore a lot of hats. You might be dealing with the insurance agent in the morning, a buyer in the afternoon and some type of maintenance issue later on,” Spoa said.
“Being in an association, you had an opportunity to learn from others’ experiences. We all had the same issues, maybe in a little different way, but they were basically all the same. For me, it was an education.”
Spoa joined the PFMA Board of Directors in 1987 and was elected chair in 1993. Through his involvement, he realized the importance of his voice as an independent grocer. He had never been to Harrisburg or Washington, D.C., but quickly learned the impact he could make on legislators.
“There was no voice for the independent operator,” he said. “Most of us at that time thought the only people who had a voice were the large chains. And when you talked to the large chains, they were actually glad that the independents were getting involved, because they felt it was a necessary part of the equation.”
Scott Hartman, president and CEO of Rutter’s Holdings, Inc., joined the PFMA Board of Directors in 1999, serving as chair from 2007 to 2008. His father, Stewart Hartman, was board chair from 1995 to 1997.
“This year is 275 years with our farm, 101 years with our dairy and 52 with our convenience store. We’ve been in the food industry a lot of different ways for a lot of years, and Pennsylvania Food Merchants kind of sums it up—that’s what we do,” Hartman said.
Hartman’s board experience allowed him to lead, learn from and exchange ideas with other retailers and suppliers in the industry. “The good thing is, the people in convenience and grocery, for the most part, share, so it was a good opportunity to hear what other people are doing, hear what their concerns are and shape some of the issues of the day.”
While chair, one of Hartman’s priorities was improving technology. Websites and apps were new, and it took time to convince businesses to embrace them. “I remember doing the interviews with various industry magazines saying, ‘Explain what a website is, and why would anyone in the convenience store industry want one?’”
Over the years, Spoa helped to incorporate wholesalers into the association. He worked with the board to tackle food stamp and coupon chargeback issues. Hartman helped to establish and grow the PFMA Thomas R. and Laura Ridge Scholarship. He also focused on evolving PFMA into a self-sustaining association supported through member dues.
The association has expanded in diversity, reach and impact through its history, working to improve and advance the priorities of the food industry in Pennsylvania, Baloga said. PFMA now supports retailers, wholesalers, small and large distributors, CPG companies, suppliers and others working through the food chain in the commonwealth.
Strength in numbers
Whether attending a conference in Chicago or rallying with other associations in D.C., Spoa discovered a large, unified voice through PFMA. The association often organized a “day on the hill” for food retailers to gather and speak with legislators on timely issues.
“We’d all go in mass. Instead of two of us showing up, it was 25 of us showing up—it was strength in numbers,” Spoa said. I had no experience. I didn’t think they really cared about a single store operator, but I found out that they did, and the same in D.C. We all had a purpose, and we all knew what the issue was.”
PFMA comprises everything from single-store mom and pop shops to multinational companies. The association provides the same benefits and support to every member, Baloga said.
“We only succeed as a group. The food industry is very interconnected, very interdependent, because everyone goes there, so we’re all facing the same issues,” he said. “That’s become even more apparent over the years as the channels have bled into one another.”
The issues on PFMA’s agenda in recent years have included alcohol reform, labor, supply chain, new services, truck driver shortages, COVID-19 regulations and more, Baloga said. “All of those things have been challenges that we’ve tried to help tackle.”
Lisa Dell’Alba, president and CEO of Square One Markets, Inc., and current PFMA board chair, stresses the value in networking through the association. Sharing best practices and working together to advocate for the industry are key. “It’s really important we are all a team. At the end of the day we all support each other in terms of providing necessary things for our customers and for the folks in the state of Pennsylvania.”
An extended family
Spoa and Hartman developed lifelong relationships through their work in the industry and with PFMA. To this day, they meet or bump into people they worked with on PFMA priorities.
“Everybody in the food industry is extended family,” Spoa said. “We were competitors, but we were all willing to help each other. I don’t know if you find that in a lot of industries, but you do find that in the food industry.”
Dell’Alba has relied on her PFMA relationships many times through the years. “I think it’s important to stay connected to others in the industry that do what we do, especially over the last two to three years, where there’s been a lot of uncertainty, a lot of trying times. Camaraderie is really important. I joined PFMA to make sure that I was meeting other folks that I could learn from, network with and commiserate with at times when it’s necessary.”
It’s also more than business. PFMA members work hard to serve their communities, supporting local sports teams, schools, fundraisers, charities and social events.
“It’s a people business,” Baloga said. “I’m proud of the work that our members do and to be able to work with such a great group of people. They’re not only great businesspeople, they are even better people. …What really makes me the proudest is the work they do in the community to make Pennsylvania better.”
“I just enjoy being around food people. I miss the business, I miss the people,” Spoa said, “but boy it’s a whole new set of issues today.”
With a solid foundation, PFMA is poised for future success.
“The food industry isn’t going away,” Hartman said. “People eat—whether it’s through economic ups and downs or through pandemics. People eat things that we sell. The idea is to be advocates on how we can sell more stuff, and what that stuff is, because we’re very good at selling food and services.”
A history of strong leadership helps PFMA’s members stay aware of and involved in important issues, Spoa said. “I think we’ve always had good leadership from Al Vicks who started, to Dave McCorkle who I worked with for all the years I was on the board and now to Alex who is doing a bang-up job. I think the future is bright. I think the industry future is bright.”
PFMA boasts a growing membership with strong momentum, Baloga said. The association continues to tackle issues that matter to its members, and the public has a heightened sense of respect and appreciation for retailers thanks to their dedication during the pandemic.
“Our future is very bright with this group of members behind us.”
Make no bones about it, Kolby and Kaleb Rush were onto something when they cooked up a unique plan for a pandemic project.
The brothers from Bucks County were in college when COVID-19 hit, sending them home to learn remotely. Both had secured internships, but the pandemic derailed their goals. So, they set new goals.
“We got sent home from both of our respective campuses,” Kolby said.
"We thought we should probably start doing something because we lost internship opportunities. …We thought starting a business—as small as it might be—would be an awesome resume line.”
That thought has grown into much more than a line on a resume. Today, Kolby and Kaleb Rush co-own Saint Rocco’s Treats, a Perkasie-based, small batch, craft dog treat company. But it didn’t happen overnight.
Kolby and Kaleb chose to focus on familiar territory. At the time, Kaleb had his sights set on a business degree at Temple, eventually settling with an entrepreneurship major and marketing minor. Kolby was in his senior year at Penn State focused on finance. They also had some industry insight.
“We were really fortunate because we’ve grown up, through our dad and grandpa, in the dog treat industry. We worked for our dad directly for a number of years, so we roughly knew how to make up dog treats,” Kolby said. “We knew about the backend of the industry, and we saw there really are no local companies making high-quality, meat-based dog treats.”
From there, the duo worked alongside their dad to craft recipes. (Cooper, the family’s Cavapoo, eagerly agreed to taste test.) Then it was full speed ahead with logo design, social media, website development, door-to-door samples and more.
Kolby and Kaleb were confident in the product. From their research and experience, they knew their treats filled an unmet need. They focused on fresh, locally produced, human-quality dog treats. “We really saw the issues within the system. Ultimately, that knowledge led us to what Saint Rocco’s is today and how we differentiate ourselves,” Kaleb said.
The big hurdle was getting others to see and taste the difference in the midst of a pandemic. They cranked out small batches of treats in their family kitchen, then started their masked, door-to-door tour of the neighborhood. As dog owners and lovers, they knew they had to win their neighbors’ hearts and minds.
“To create something, people have to be aware of it,” Kaleb said. “From there, we went to thousands of homes in our neighborhood, delivering free samples and introducing ourselves.”
Once a furry friend tried the product, the Rushes got nothing but rave reviews. They quickly outgrew their home kitchen operation, relocating to a family member’s barn with a kitchen. What started with a small, countertop meat grinder expanded into a commercial kitchen.
Now about two years into their business, Saint Rocco’s Treats can be found in more than 130 independent retailers. Kolby and Kaleb are gaining plenty of fans by attending local events where they can interact with pet parents and their pups. In October, they hosted a grand opening at their store, providing tours of the facilities, offering dog photographs and partnering with a local brewery for refreshments.
As new PFMA members, they look forward to connecting with retailers, learning more about distribution and creating greater awareness of their products and brand.
Kolby and Kaleb attribute their success to like-minded customers. “Our mission is to provide the best quality and service for our fury friends and what they deserve,” Kaleb said. “Those like-minded consumers really want to be better for their furry friends.”
“It’s really cool. This isn’t anything out of the ordinary. We’re just doing it the way it should have been done,” he said.
Crafting the Saint Rocco’s story
Erica Logsdon, director of communications and public relations