Taking Stock

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Jeff Martin To Enter Vendor World; Will Become SVP of Business Development At Utz

When Jeff Martin abruptly resigned as executive VP-merchandising and marketing at Ahold USA last June it caught many of us off guard.

Martin was so good at his job – both in executing the exhausting day-to-day blocking that such a big role in the $25 billion organization entailed, but also utilizing his uncannily strong people skills – that his resignation certainly left a void at the largest supermarket retailer in the Northeast.

While Martin did admit that his grueling schedule had taken a toll on him, he also acknowledged that he needed to reshape his life as he approached his 50th birthday.

Prime among that reshaping was his friendship and subsequent marriage to Andrea Astrachan, who once worked with Jeff as Ahold USA’s VP-consumer affairs. He admitted that his relationship with Andrea caused him to rethink a lot of his priorities including becoming closer to his adult daughter who resides in Hagerstown, MD, the small city where Jeff was also born and raised.

Having spoken with Jeff several times after he resigned, it was clear that he would take his time before deciding on his next career move. Obviously, a one year non-compete with Ahold USA was a factor in his thinking, but when I’d speak with Jeff it became increasingly clear that he didn’t want to relocate from his Central Pennsylvania home where the couple live and where Jeff is helping Andrea raise her two children.

According to Jeff, the Utz opportunity came from out of the blue, originating from a phone call that he received from current Utz Quality Foods president Dylan Lissette shortly before Christmas. According to Jeff, a lot of common ground was covered in that initial conversation and within eight weeks a deal was hammered out.

When I spoke to Jeff and Dylan (separately) on February 13, both were excited. Jeff sees this as an opportunity to help accelerate the growth of one of the best regional brands in the country. He also recognized that he will be entering a culture that’s family-oriented with a terrific work ethic, not unlike the one he knew when he started at Martin’s in Hagerstown and helped maintain during his rise through the ranks at Giant/Carlisle and then Ahold USA.

Lissette, a member of the fourth generation of Utz leadership who has been with Utz for almost 18 years, and became president of the privately held 92 year old company in mid-2012, views Jeff’s role as a very important, necessary component to continue the company’s recent fast-track growth.

In the last two years, the Hanover, PA snack foods company has acquired Louisiana-based Zappe Endeavors (Zapp’s, Dirty and California potato chips), purchased Massachusetts-based Wachusett Potato Chip Co., and bought most of the assets of Reading, PA-based The Bachman Co. Additionally, the company has made further penetration into New England and expanded its diverse snack line into the Atlanta market.

“Our goal is to continue to grow our strong brands,” said Lissette, who’s only 41. “I think Jeff can help us with that objective. He knows the grocery business very well and, based on our relationship with him when he was at Ahold, it’s clear that he brings a wealth of knowledge in strategic planning, business development and leadership to Utz. I’m also very confident that his excellent people skills will allow him to mesh immediately with our diverse and very talented senior leadership team.”

Martin added: “I am excited to join Utz…it’s the largest independent privately held snack brand in theU.S.Its success in the snack foods market has been built upon a strong reputation of superior product quality and excellent customer service since 1921. It’s family owned, and we share a lot of the same core values. With over $500 million in sales, nine manufacturing plants and almost 50 distribution centers, I look forward to utilizing my diverse retail background to assist in the continued growth of Utz. They’re well positioned for continued growth and success and I’m pleased to be a part of the team.”

We wish both gentlemen well in this exciting new endeavor. With what I know about this successful Utz team, it will be fun to watch this franchise expand!