SOUP TO NUTZ

A native of Philadelphia, Maria has been in the food business for most of her career as a manufacturer, distributor and restaurateur. Now with Food Trade News for over 10 years, she likes to say we inform, educate and entertain. She can be reached at maria@foodtradenews.com.

Ahh…the delicious tastes and smells and of fall are finally upon us, which brings Philadelphians to address the annual great spiced wafer debate…is it Ivins or Sweetzels? This delicious seasonal cookie has been around for more than 100 years and although there are other brands in existence, these two brands are quintessentially Philly. They arrive in August and are gone before Thanksgiving. Sweetzels is family owned while Ivins is owned by and sold exclusively at Acme Markets. Supporters of each brand are fiercely loyal, kind of like the way Philly fans feel about their sports teams. The Tritzel Baking Company of Lansdale, PA were the originators of the Sweetzels brand. It eventually closed down in the 1960s and the the Borzillo family purchased the name and relocated the company to Norristown, PA. They have expanded the brand to include crème filled mini cookies in flavors that sell throughout the year. Ivins’ history is a little more difficult to find because it is now a proprietary brand of Ac-a-me. Ivins produced the cookies within the city limits on Broad Street and closed also in the 1960s. That’s when Acme “Swooped” in and bought the name and the recipe. Ivins are no longer made in Philadelphia, but the recipe used today is the same as the one used 100 years ago. So, what’s the difference? Which one is better? The secret is the blackstrap molasses and the spices used in creating these fall treats. The spices in Ivins are more distinct and the cookie is harder. Sweetzels are sweeter and a little bit softer. Both are great for dunking either with a cold glass of milk or a hot cup of tea. So, which is it in my house? Ivins for the win…hands down!

The Mid Atlantic Food Trade Organization (MAFTO) held its fall membership dinner earlier this month featuring guest speaker Jeff Brown, owner of nine ShopRites and two Fresh Grocers in the Philadelphia area. Jeff brought his closest advisor and wife, Sandy, and the entire corporate team, which now includes sons Josh and Scott, the latter of whom is in the food marketing program at Saint Joe’s. As always, Jeff had lots to say touching on a wide variety of subjects affecting us all. Not much was said about the soda tax although Jeff did give a shout out to Acme’s Jim Perkins who is being honored by MAFTO in Atlantic City next month, for having his back during a particularly tough time with Philadelphia’s Mayor Kenney. Jeff says the mayor has no interest in changing the tax and doesn’t see any chance of it being repealed until 2023 when Kenney completes his second and final term in office. He advised that economically everything points to a recession in the relatively near future. There has been no movement on SNAP benefits and this affects his business in a big way. Addressing the changes in the grocery industry landscape, he said that the arrival of Lidl and continued growth of Aldi have created more competition than ever. One large area of growth is in own brands which range from dirt cheap to very high end and another is the continuing growth of online sales coupled with the decrease of brick and mortar sales. Jeff also said that collaboration is key; in addition to having ShopRite from Home, they are partnering with Instacart to satisfy the needs of their customers. Brown’s is renovating two stores. Bensalem was going to move to location on Street Road but a lawsuit stopped that, so the company is remodeling the current location. The store at 24th and Oregon in South Philadelphia is being remodeled due to increased construction of new apartments and houses plus the retail landscape is being expanded on both sides of Oregon Avenue.  He then answered a myriad of questions, one of which was: when are you running for mayor? Time will tell! During the evening, MAFTO also gave its inaugural MAFTO Scholarship to Julia Le, a co-op food marketing major at Saint Joseph’s University. The $10,000 scholarship was created by the board of directors at MAFTO during the last year to contribute to the education of students who will be the future of the food industry. The future is bright with students like Julia coming onboard. Congratulations!

While we in the Mid-Atlantic region concern ourselves with the slow death of the independent retailer, there is another large issue that looms overhead for the entire country. On October 2,  President Trump announced a 25 percent tariff on items (many of them food) imported from the European Union (EU) that will go into effect on October 18. Why does this matter to us in the food business? Ultimately, it affects every retailer and consumer. The tariffs are being put in place due to a dispute over Airbus subsidies. At the same time, the EU is counter suing the US for subsidies on Boeing aircraft, the result of which will not be known until March 2020. The countries most affected are France, the UK, Italy, Spain and Germany. Products Americans love, such as French wines, olives, the most popular cheeses to come out of Italy, Parmigiano, Romano and Provolone and single malt Scotch will now cost 25 percent more. The duration of the tariff is unknown and is set to continue indefinitely until the US gets the $7 billion it is owed back from the EU. In the meantime, retailers will undoubtedly raise retails on these products. Just how much is up to the importers, distributors, wholesalers, and subsequently how much the retailers will pass on to the consumer. With retailer margins already at a high percentage, it will be interesting to see what strategies and compromises will be made to make sure the consumer is minimally affected and continue to purchase these products, especially in this, the critically important fourth quarter. More to come on this to be sure.

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Earlier this month, Weis Markets announced the actual launch of its bi-weekly Weis HealthyBites podcast, hosted by lifestyle initiatives manager Beth Stark and Weis Markets healthy living coordinator Kathryn Long, two registered dietitians who are sharing nutritional guidance and lifestyle tips with listeners. The goal of the podcast is to share real-life nutrition tricks and lifestyle tips that will inspire listeners to make healthful choices in the aisles of the supermarket and in their daily lives.  “At Weis Markets, we are always looking to engage with customers and provide practical guidance on one’s food and lifestyles choices,” said Stark. “A podcast is the perfect way to share our expert advice with a larger audience.” The first two podcasts, available now, focus on Weis’s “5-to-Thrive” philosophy, highlighting key pillars—nourish, move, be health-minded, connect and renew—to live your best life, and on meal planning. The next episode, which launched just before press time, focuses on plant-based diets and popular meat substitutes. “We are excited to provide our customers with more tips and tricks on how to be their best, healthiest selves,” said Long. “This podcast allows the Weis Markets dietitian team to discuss a variety of lifestyle topics that are applicable to our listeners’ everyday lives.” The Weis Markets HealthyBites podcast is produced by Sunbury Broadcasting Corporation and is available on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, or online at http://www.wkok.com/podcast.

Taking a walk into the sunset is Frank Puleo, who retired from C&S on October 4, after a career in the retail food industry spanning just shy of 50 years. He began working at the age of 15 at Genuardi’s as a lot boy and the rest is history. He said he doesn’t have any plans but is looking forward to no alarm clock and no set schedule in the coming weeks. During a brief send-off at the C&S Retail Solutions Expo on October 1, Frank spoke of his mission: “I always went to work with the goal for the independent retailer being to help them be more successful than they were the day before. That’s one of the most important things I’ve done in my career.” Gifted two institutional size jars of light red maraschino cherries to go in his Manhattans, Frank explained that he is very particular about the way his Manhattans are made (I can vouch for that as I heard him order one). This now famous drink, aptly named “The Puleo” is never shaken, has 3 to 1 Canadian Club and sweet vermouth with the cherries, which he never eats. He told the group that his wife has one waiting for him every day upon his arrival home. Here’s to many happy days spent sipping on your Manhattans. We’re going to miss you, Frank!

Birthday shout outs for the creepy month of October go to: Chad Vilotti, Liscio’s Bakery; Mike Keba Jr., Giant/Martin’s; Frank Nardi, retired from Wakefern; Ray Nemeth, Snyder’s/Lance; Justine Giordano, Vincent Giordano Corp.; Jeff Ghajar, Goya Foods; and Nina Weiland, FTN alumna. Buon Compleanno a tutti!

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Quote of the month: “Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.” Dalai Lama