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
PFMA welcomed associate members this summer that specialize in bakery products, smoke-free products, smoked meats and consulting and tech solutions for retailers.
bakerly began with founders Julien and Fabian from Northwestern France who combined their passion and love for good food to create a happy company. Their goal is to create the same high-quality bakery products that they enjoyed as children in France. bakerly relies on skilled artisan bakers who use French tradition and clean ingredients for their products while avoiding artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup.
Philip Morris International (PMI) is in the midst of a profound corporate transformation—with the ultimate objective of becoming a smoke-free company, driven by science and technology, and they are making rapid progress.
They are fully committed to this transformation, and their investment is unmatched in the industry. Since 2008, PMI has centrally invested over $9 billion to research, develop and commercialize a portfolio of smoke-free products. For the first half of 2022, these products account for more than 30 percent of PMI’s total net revenues—their goal is to be a majority smoke-free company in 2025. PMI’s future will be smoke-free. There is no going back.
As part of its smoke-free journey, PMI is excited to enter the United States in a meaningful way and unlock the significant opportunity across other smoke-free categories over the coming years.
Since 1902, Seltzer’s Smokehouse Meats has delivered 100% all-beef, naturally smoked meats. This fourth-generation Palmyra-based business uses Old World butchering, curing, and sausage making skills to craft the world’s finest smoked meats. Attesting to its reputation for excellence, all of Seltzer’s smoked meats are prepared with typical Pennsylvania Dutch quality and pride.
STCR provides consulting, analytics and technology solutions for retailers including planning and training. Learn how STCR can help with retail innovation such as self checkout, registers, scanners, label printers, software integration and more.
It’s been said that change is the only constant in life. The Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association certainly has navigated many industry and policy changes over its 70-year history. Yet it also boasts years of steady leadership, growth and service.
“In recent years, the PFMA family has grown to include many representatives of the candy, tobacco and beverage industries; gaming companies; and specialty food distributors,” said Dave McCorkle, past PFMA president. “The growth has made PFMA’s message to policy makers even stronger.”
McCorkle had his first brush with PFMA in 1982. At the time, President Al Vicks requested a presentation on a new statewide crime prevention initiative developed by Gov. Dick Thornburgh. McCorkle presented with Philadelphia’s then-District Attorney Ed Rendell on behalf of the organization.
“Ed’s presentation was particularly effective, and PFMA became a major supporter of the statewide crime prevention initiative,” McCorkle said. “Several months later, I accepted a position in PFMA’s Harrisburg office, and in 1986 became president upon Al’s retirement.”
In McCorkle’s 34 years as president, the association continued to prioritize public safety, crime prevention, loss prevention and organized retail crime prosecution. “PFMA has led efforts over the decades to increase penalties for passing bad checks and dealing with organized crime,” he said.
“Never having worked in a grocery store or a convenience store, I learned a great deal about the operations of our members’ stores and how the state and federal governments could impact how our members run their stores,
Several PFMA staff served the association for decades under McCorkle’s tenure. Autumn Thomas (right) joined PFMA in 1988, taking an entry-level position with Pennsylvania Coupon Redemption Services (PCRS). She moved onto several roles and projects at the association and currently serves as president of PCRS.
The creation of PCRS and MEMO were two major developments for PFMA, she said. “These for-profit subsidiaries provided association members, particularly independent food retailers, with important business services. It provided the association with millions of dollars in revenue over the years to support government relations and membership programs.”
Thomas said the Scanning Certification Program and Responsible Tobacco Sale Certification Program also were significant wins for PFMA. She worked to research, analyze and collect data on scanner accuracy and compliance with tobacco sales to learn what worked and what didn’t. Thanks to this evidence-based approach and the support of various PFMA stakeholders, Thomas said both programs earned national recognition.
“Both of these were innovative programs that improved members’ policies and operations,” said Randy St. John (right), who helped to create the programs with Thomas. St. John joined PFMA in 1989 as vice president of membership development, then oversaw membership and government relations as senior vice president.
“Never having worked in a grocery store or a convenience store, I learned a great deal about the operations of our members’ stores and how the state and federal governments could impact how our members run their stores,” he said. PFMA’s work was particularly important because its members were so impacted by government regulations and laws, he added.
While St. John was lobbying, he helped lay the groundwork for the reform of beer and wine sales in food retail locations. Elizabeth Peroni (left), past director of communications, said that was a large undertaking by PFMA staff. “That was a big issue that we worked on for years and years,” Peroni said.
In her 24 years with PFMA, Peroni was impressed by how hard members worked. “They were very passionate about the industry. It was always a joy to talk to our members, and we had many multigenerational families who started by sweeping floors when they were kids.”
There were challenges, of course, but overall, everyone worked well together. And Peroni noted how nice it was to have a consistent, core group involved on the PFMA board for so many years.
Thomas experienced plenty of change in operations. When she first started, PCRS had close to 20 employees and did much of the work manually. Fax machines were the latest technology, and the internet wasn’t yet available. “Back in the mid-90s, PCRS had employees working from 4 a.m. to midnight to keep up with producing the various client payments and support documents, all of which were paper,” she said. “We currently have two employees in the PFMA office as we’ve been able to automate many of the functions previously handled by staff.”
After all their hard work, staff also found time to socialize. Thomas recalled costumed Halloween parties, summer picnics and staff appreciation days where upper management washed employees’ cars. “We were there to do a job, but there was recognition of us putting in the hours. A good effort was made to create an employee-first culture and have some fun.”
She also appreciates the support, autonomy and flexibility developed at PFMA. “The life/work balance has always been good and has only gotten better.”
McCorkle is proud of the work he’s witnessed and said PFMA is set up for success in the future.
“Everyone should be pleased that PFMA directors and staff have accomplished impressive management and program objectives, and that members fully support the annual Ridge Scholarship,” he said. “PFMA’s Board of Directors and elected leaders have provided extraordinary volunteer service to the association, resulting in a solid foundation for addressing emerging issues.”
It’s been nearly four months since a shooting at a Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, N.Y., became the latest high-profile, gun-related incident in a grocery store, killing 10 people and injuring others.
What are your top three legislative priorities in 2022? My priority is properly funding our public schools. For decades, Pennsylvania has failed to provide schools the funding they need for success, which leads to gross inequities between districts and communities that can afford to fill the void through local taxes and those who cannot.
We just passed a budget that invests a record $1.1 billion in K-12 schools, including $850 million for basic and special education and $200 million for school safety, school-based counseling and other mental health services. When the commonwealth works to meet its obligation to adequately fund schools at the state level, it not only helps our students and educators succeed—further supporting our growing economy—but it also saves homeowners from the burden of skyrocketing local property taxes.
Next, I have long stood up for the best interests of hardworking Pennsylvanians and their families, so many of whom have struggled with job instability and soaring prices in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m proud to say the budget we just passed provides vital funding for families in several areas including significant childcare investments to help providers hire and retain great teachers and to help families afford the high cost of childcare through a new state tax credit.
We also leveraged our remaining American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars to make targeted investments to address the housing crisis, assist with utility bills and property taxes and afford the high cost of a college degree.
Finally, I am committed to protecting our communities and our school children from the uniquely American gun violence epidemic. The recently passed budget invests significantly in local law enforcement grants, community violence protection initiatives, mental health services and school security.
Additionally, I will continue fighting for common sense and reasonable gun safety measures, most importantly universal background checks, in the upcoming legislative session.
What is the biggest concern you hear from your constituents? I recently hosted a series of constituent breakfasts in my district and one of the biggest concerns I hear about are high property taxes, especially for seniors on fixed incomes.
For too many years to count, Pennsylvania has not been living up to its obligation to fully fund public education at the state level, and this inevitably leads to higher property taxes for families and seniors in districts at the local level. Thankfully, the historic funding we secured in this year’s state budget will help to some degree to stabilize costs for districts, and in some cases, even allow them to lower local taxes.
Additionally, we are using a portion of our remaining ARPA dollars to provide one-time bonus payments for those eligible for the state’s Property Tax/Rent Rebate program. I will continue advocating for increasing the income threshold for this program so that more homeowners can become eligible.
Where do you shop locally for food? Talluto’s in East Norriton for authentic Italian, Merrymead Farm in Worcester for delicious local milk and ice cream and of course, Collegeville Bakery for baked goods and a variety of prepared foods including pizza, pasta, hoagies and wings.
It’s been amazing to see how these stores—both small, locally owned shops to regional and national chains—have adapted to the demands of their shoppers and worked around the limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is your favorite vacation destination? My family and I are headed out soon on a trip to Cape May. I will also never turn down a trip to Clearwater to see the Phillies Spring Training with my baseball obsessed family!
What are the biggest challenges for grocers in your district? The pandemic certainly laid bare the challenges of keeping food on the table. From supply chain issues to rising prices to maintaining a strong frontline workforce, our grocers have certainly had more than their fair share of challenges over the last couple of years.
It’s been amazing to see how these stores—both small, locally owned shops to regional and national chains—have adapted to the demands of their shoppers and worked around the limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, online ordering and curbside pickup is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity to stay competitive in this market.
Getting this infrastructure up and running takes a significant up-front investment in technology, but it also requires a long-term investment in the workforce to keep shelves stocked while serving customers in a variety of new ways.
What I see in my district is likely no different than what is happening in stores across the commonwealth—a complete commitment to innovation and the workforce to carry it out, all with the goal of ensuring everyone has the food they need to keep their families fed and healthy.
What are your biggest challenges and successes as a legislator? Divided government is an important part of our democracy, but it certainly doesn’t make things easy in Harrisburg! Being in the minority, it is frustrating to come up with great ideas for helping people and investing in our future but facing huge challenges in getting that legislation to the finish line because the majority party controls the bill calendar. Unfortunately, Pennsylvanians are often held hostage when meaningful legislation is gridlocked. That’s my biggest frustration.
Successes include several important initiatives that we have been fighting for years, and were able to achieve in the budget we just passed. These includes historic state funding for education, support for workers and families through initiatives like the new childcare tax credit and tax relief as part of a long-term vision for economic growth across the commonwealth.
What is your favorite food or meal to cook? Anything on the grill, especially steak.
What do you like to do for fun? I am diehard fan of all Philly sports! The Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and of course, my alma mater, Villanova Basketball.
But more than anything I like to spend time with my family. Most weekends are spent cheering on my four kids in their many activities and shuttling them to practices and games—watching them play sports they love is my happy place.
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.”