Soup To Nutz

Print Friendly

As we go to press, MLB pitchers and catchers are reporting to their Spring training facilities. That means Spring is just around the corner and no more polar vortexes!

It’s been a busy month even with Mother Nature throwing every kind of precipitation at us. On January 25, Giant/Martin’s opened its first Heirloom Market in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood of Philadelphia at 2303 Bainbridge Street. The grand opening community celebration ceremony included Giant/Martin’s leaders, partners and community members as they commemorated the store opening with a $2,500 donation to Philabundance, the Delaware Valley’s largest hunger relief organization. The donation was spontaneously doubled since Philabundance did so much to help feed federal employees out of work during the shutdown. The opening heralded a new store concept, format, and product mix specially created for urban neighborhoods with Angel Cordero, a 20-year grocery veteran, managing approximately 60 full and part time partners. The 9,500 square foot store operates from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. I stopped by just before Valentine’s Day for a follow up visit. The storefront was filled with flowers, cards and Valentine items. In the produce chef area, fresh strawberries were being hand dipped in chocolate in full view of shoppers. The store blends modern innovation and community focus, while delivering quality products and great food to its neighbors. Local vendor partnerships are center stage at the new store where passionate Philadelphia-area food manufacturers such as High Street on Market, Isgro Pastries, One Village Coffee, Sarcone’s Bakery, Claudio Specialty Foods, Cento Fine Foods as well as Philly-based fresh pasta companies Talluto’s P&S and Scaramuzza are all very popular with the customers.

The most unique feature in this compact space is an onsite produce chef to encourage product exploration and to cut fresh vegetables and fruit on demand. When asked what the biggest surprise in the new store was, Angel said, “I am surprised by how many people don’t eat red meat. Fish and poultry sales are doing well.” GT Kombucha is available on tap (and in different flavors) and is exceeding expectations. Additionally, the community is enjoying the café space for relaxing or, Angel pointed out, as a place where the kids come to do their homework after school. In fact, the busiest time of day is after 5:00 p.m. “We’re confident that by providing an authentic shopping experience, our passion for locally sourced products and our customers will shine bright at Giant Heirloom Market,” he said.

In addition, based on an “endless aisles” philosophy that stresses ease and personalized solutions, if customers ever need something that is not available in-store, employees will help guide them to in-store iPads for online ordering with next-day delivery. For added convenience, the store offers both self and mobile checkout, with 12 cashier stations in total. Nine are self-checkout, two are staffed for wine and beer as is required by Pennsylvania state law and then there is one that’s “just in case.”

So, what’s the down side? The store carries three private brands: Taste of Inspirations (upscale), Nature’s Promise (organic and natural) and the dreaded “fruit bowl” with no name. Each of these brands is more than well represented in Giant Heirloom Market’s center store…to a fault. There are many multiple facings of these SKUs in some categories while there are no CPG branded products to offer a choice to the consumer. It’s either private brand or nothing. And while I understand the desire to promote these brands and reap the high margins they bring, not offering at least one choice of CPG branded products is offering no choice at all. I was told that Giant/Martin’s stands behind the integrity of its private brand products, but does every consumer? Not necessarily. Nature’s Promise has legs, as does Taste of Inspirations, but the “fruit bowl” that represents nothing in our market? Come on Giant, you can do better. To pair the local, artisanal crafted products with the bargain basement “fruit bowl” is an insult to the customer. The emerging brands available in most Giant/Martin’s stores should certainly be able to find a home on the Heirloom shelves by replacing duplicates of the “fruit bowl.” Heirloom has already tweaked some categories and management seems very open to customer suggestions. This flexible attitude will, I think, be the key to their success in this newly tapped urban landscape. The expansion next takes them to the University City neighborhood between the Drexel University and University of Pennsylvania campuses. It will be interesting to see what tweaks will be made to accommodate the finicky college crowd.

Hunger is an issue 365 days a year for people in every zip code in the USA. There’s already not enough access to food for the more than 700,000 people in the Delaware Valley who are hungry, including kids, seniors, the working class and military veterans. The government shutdown impacted 45,000 people in the area who struggled to feed their families. During the 35-day shutdown Philabundance, Share Food Program, Nutritional Development Services and Campbell hosted a new weekly free food distribution program called the Emergency Market for Government employees on Wednesdays from 10:00-11:00 a.m. at Front & Tasker Streets in South Philadelphia. M. Levin and Company, Inc., a full-line wholesale produce distributor based in Philadelphia, has been touched by the community’s outpouring of generosity towards the government employees who lost pay due to the shutdown, and donated fresh fruits and vegetables to government employees who visited them at the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market. The company feels strongly about helping their neighbors in need: “Kind words can be short and easy to speak but their echoes are truly endless” – Mother Teresa. Kudos to the Levin family for helping out!

Michael Rothwell, president of Pennington Market, made an impassioned speech to more than 100 food industry members for the future of the independent retailer in our market at the Mid-Atlantic Food Trade Organization’s (MAFTO) winter retailer dinner on February 7, held at the Radisson Northeast Philadelphia. Bill Gable, general manager of the Retail Marketing Group (RMG) of which Rothwell is the chair, introduced Rothwell and requested that vendors continue to support the 19 year old group, stay local and bring RMG the tools needed for them to execute on their behalf. After a brief history of RMG and path to their current supplier, Bozzuto’s, Rothwell gave some statistics. As of 2019, RMG, one of the premier voluntary retail groups, has 23 stores operating under the IGA banner owned by 16 members and sales of $250 million. As for the challenges they face, Rothwell says they are significant and not getting an easier. “Competition is greater than it has ever been,” he said. In addition, he cited government regulation issues such as the Philadelphia soda tax, minimum wage increases being written into law and paid time off as being among the most urgent items requiring attention. On the other hand, the benefits of being an independent supermarket owner are somewhat less measurable. “Family business,” he said, “will never be out performed.” It has a uniqueness in the local community. Family culture within the business is very important as well as those within the vendor community. Rothwell has proven himself as a valuable leader in the Philadelphia/ New Jersey independent retailer market. Looking to the future, RMG is always open to talking to prospective new members. Thanks for an informative evening, Michael.

The next MAFTO event is the annual golf outing on April 29 at Commonwealth Golf Club in Horsham. Go to www.mafto.org for more information.

The New Jersey Food Council (NJFC) held its annual meeting in late January at Forsgate Golf Club kicking off the 50th anniversary of its founding. What made it particularly special was the fact that current NJFC chairman, Richard Saker’s father Joseph Saker was the group’s first chairman those 50 years ago. Richard Saker said, “During the last half-century, NJFC has proven to be one of the premier trade associations in New Jersey. This is because our members have remained unified in times of accomplishment and times of challenge.” NJFC President Linda Doherty stated, “The annual meeting serves as a great launching point for NJFC members to learn of the organization’s priorities for the year ahead, major events, and various committees in which they can participate.” This event is also an opportunity for new members to gain insight into what the food council has to offer and to share government affairs initiatives that will take place in the upcoming new year. Next on the NJFC event calendar is the prestigious “Night of Distinction” reception that will be held March 28 at The Palace at Somerset Park, Somerset, NJ. The event, with its powerful slate of honorees, draws more than 500 guests, including prominent food industry executives. “This is the perfect time to celebrate the industry and its leaders who have made such significant contributions to advance one of New Jersey’s most important business sectors,” said Doherty. “The honorees have all achieved significant food business success and have a history of civic service within the New Jersey food community. It is our honor to honor them with our annual industry achievement awards.” This year’s honorees are: Jeffrey Brown, Brown’s Super Stores; Herman E. Dodson, JP Morgan Chase; Joseph Parisi, Kings Food Markets and Donna Zambo, Allegiance Retail Services. During the evening, guests will enjoy an extravagant event that includes dinner, cocktails and a silent auction that supports the NJFC Educational Development Scholarship Program. Please visit

Wedding bells are ringing for Ed Herr, Herr Foods, who married the lovely Diane Rowe on January 17. Best wishes for a happily ever after!

The circle of life took two life-long food industry members this past month. Condolences go out to the family of Ruth Dietz Eni, also known as “Momma Dietz” who passed away on February 8 unexpectedly at the age of 94 after a recent stroke. Always elegant, Mrs. Eni was a tough but fair businesswoman. She was ahead of her time and actually found that work/life balance so many working women today still seek. While she had eight grandchildren and loved them all, her only granddaughter, Lauren Eni, is perhaps most like her; strong. Her legacy, to be sure. I hope I still hear your voice on the recorded greeting when I call the main phone number at the company’s headquarters! Rest in peace, Mrs. Eni.

Franklin G Frazier (Frank) passed away on January 29 at the age of 77 after a long illness. A life-long Philadelphia area resident, he retired from Cargill after a full career in the food industry. Even after retirement, he remained active in MAFTO and the Bristol Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH), where he helped orchestrate incredible golf outings each year and shared the title of Grand Marshall of Bucks County’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2017. Frank was a real family man – his wife and family, especially his grandchildren, were his world. Predeceased by his son Gregory, Frank is survived by his loving wife of 51 years Mary; daughter Maryann (Mike) Foley; daughter-in-law Heather (Kunsky) Frazier; brother Paul (Linda); and five grandchildren. The family has said that donations may be made online at Jefferson’s Parkinsons Disease and Movement Disorders Program or make checks payable to Jefferson (note “Memorial-Franklin Frazier) in the memo, Jefferson Office of Institutional Advancement, 125 S. 9th St., Suite 600, Philadelphia, PA 19107.I know you are already organizing a few charitable events in heaven! Rest in peace, Frank.

Birthday shout-outs for the passionate month of February go to: Judy Spires, Kings Food Markets/Balducci’s; Sandra Sage, Clemens Food Group; Gary Canuso, Turkey Hill; Guy Giordano, Vincent Giordano Corp.; Reggie Sanders, Johanna Foods; Ed Symbouras, Specialty Fabricators; Neil Brassell, Bard Date Co.; BJ Zellers, TKE Communications; Bill Schlosky, Utz; my partner in schmooze, Kevin Gallagher, Food Trade News; and special birthday wishes to my daughter Rosalie Marfuggi, Atalanta Corporation. Buon compleanno a tutti!

 

Quote of the month: “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” Charles M. Schultz