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.”
Preparing for a threat anywhere, anytime
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.”
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.
Ranging in services from advertising to convenience store solutions to confections and more, the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association welcomed nine associate members this spring.
Arcadia Publishing offers a selection of hyper local books specific to store zip codes. These books are sold in grocery stores in different states, highlighting local and regional history and culture from coast to coast.
Bradley Industries is a woman-owned business that manufactures supermarket and c-store fixtures as well as supplying foam products. All of their products are proudly manufactured in the USA. Bradley Industries is centrally located in the Midwest, which allows more competitive shipping and delivery options.
Healthy Brand Oil offers custom-tailored edible oil solutions that include Non-GMO Project Verified, expeller pressed, long fry solutions and blended oils that are always OU Kosher certified and zero grams trans fat per serving.
Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association is a statewide organization with a focus on supporting Pennsylvania dairy farms. The association serves their now famous milkshakes each year to PA Farm Show visitors—the proceeds of which benefit agricultural scholarships, youth programs and educational programs across the state. The association recently was featured on PFMA’s Shelf Confidence podcast.
Perfetti Van Melle is one of the world’s largest manufacturers and distributors of confectionery and chewing gum. Its global brands are enjoyed in more than 150 countries worldwide, where their innovation creates unique tastes to match local preferences.
Portogallo Peppers LLC is a wholesaler of Spicy Giardiniera, Sweet and Spicy Peppers and Olive Muffuletta to retail stores and food service companies.
Stewart’s Enterprises Inc., started in 1924, is a supplier of hard seltzer and hard sodas for Iconic Stewart’s and Hard Rock Brands.
TRANSWORLD Business Advisors is the world leader in the marketing and sales of businesses, mergers and acquisitions and franchises. Whether you represent an acquisition-minded corporation or are personally interested in owning your own company or new franchise, TRANSWORLD offers the professional services that successfully bring buyers and sellers together.
Watchfire Signs designs, engineers and manufactures the best looking, most durable LED signs, gas price signs and digital billboards to help businesses and organizations increase visibility and drive growth. Headquartered in Danville, Ill., Watchfire has manufactured outdoor electric signs since 1932 and LED signs since 1996, using meticulously sourced components from a global market. The company has over 65,000 Watchfire signs in operation.
What are your top three legislative priorities in 2022? My top three legislative priorities include health equity and increasing access to care, including improving maternal health outcomes, education and workforce development and affordable housing.
What is your biggest motivator as a legislator? My constituents are my biggest motivator. Sitting on the opposite side of City Avenue from Lower Merion while serving a diverse district, where on one end of the district houses are selling for over $1million and on the other end of the district residents are losing their homes and facing extreme poverty, I am aware of the possibilities that could exist for the most underserved communities. And I am committed to using my seat at the table to make improvements for all Pennsylvanians, no matter their zip code.
Where do you shop locally for food? Unfortunately, I am forced to shop at grocery stores and farmers’ markets either outside of my district or on the border. While I try to keep business in my district and within the city limits, I often find myself in one of our neighboring counties because of the simple fact that communities in my district are real-life food deserts.
What is your favorite vacation destination? I like any place with a vibrant culture, warm weather and a slow-paced environment.
What are the biggest challenges for grocers in your district? I’d say the biggest challenges for grocers in my district are county competition and non-union operations. With residents being in such proximity to Delaware and Montgomery counties, they often wander to those areas to do their grocery shopping while running other errands and daily tasks. I must add that the Philadelphia Beverage Tax did not help. We often hear that Philadelphia residents cross county lines to purchase sugared beverage items in bulk.
What are your biggest challenges and successes as a legislator? The biggest challenge as a legislator is knowing the length of time it takes to get a good idea to the governor’s desk. You see issues in your community that need to be resolved, but you know that even if you can get a law passed that would help solve it, it can be months or years before that vision becomes a reality.
I’d say my biggest success as a legislator is building relationships with advocates for issues that need to be addressed. I’ve done well at being intentional about having people most impacted by issues at the table with me as I craft and advocate for laws in Pennsylvania.
What is your favorite food or meal to cook? I love to cook salmon. It’s so easy to flavor up in different ways and pop right in the oven with my busy schedule.
What do you like to do for fun? I’m chill. I like to hang out with my family. A day trip to visit my sisters or a night out on the patio make for a good time for me.
Navigating the supply chain storm
How PFMA members are addressing supply chain & inflation
Liz Kemmery, director of communications