Specialty Food Magazine


Specialty Food Magazine is the leading publication for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice professionals in the specialty food trade. It provides news, trends and business-building insights that help readers keep their businesses competitive.

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Page 98 of 139

producer profile Focusing on the Customer "We listen to our customers all the time," explains Jeremy, addressing how Chex continues to stay ahead of the game in a competitive field. Some of the company's sales reps have been on board for 10 to 15 years, working hand-in-hand with retailers to differentiate themselves from rivals. "When I was starting out with the company my dad and I would sit for hours in the showroom discussing differ- ent customers and vendors," Jeremy recalls. "He'd always say, 'Questions are free. Ask away.'" When Jeremy is out meeting with customers, he keeps in mind an adage from his father: "You have two ears and one mouth, so you should be listening." What Jeremy is hearing about these days is a shift in the traditional salty-snack catego- ry, with kale chips, coconut chips, and chickpea-based snacks gaining ground on potato chips. As a result, Chex is broadening the category, adding more international f lavors like wasabi and Korean spices. At the same time, candy has been the company's fastest-growing category overall, up 55 percent from two years ago and 36 percent from last year. Affinity for Entrepreneurs "I love helping the little guy," says Jeremy of supporting new vendors. "If there's a choice of having the proverbial titan ver- sus the young upstart, I'll choose the young upstart. It's also something my customers believe in and helps them grow their businesses." Jeremy views the risks taken in supporting new companies and products as a key facet of the business. "A lot of people can think of ten reasons why not to do something, and some of them are very valid, but unless you take a chance you'll never know." Among the products on which he took a chance are unfiltered Paesano Olive Oil from Sicily, loving it from the first sip but worried customers might send it back since it was "green and cloudy"; Popcorn, Indiana, long before the specialty popcorn craze hit; and Justin's, a Boulder, Colo., startup mak- ing a line of organic nut butters. All became runaway hits. He continues to scour the globe in search of more distinctive products to import. The father and sons behind Chex are keeping up the fight in an increasingly competitive business. When Jay Isenberg started the company 50 years ago, specialty food was a pio- neering industry, and it remains so, with more boundaries to explore. The men said they are always pushing against import- ers who claim they can do it better and cheaper. "There are no shortcuts to doing it right," Jeremy empha- sizes. "We have to exceed the expectations that continue to get higher." He notes that he has seen other distribution companies run their businesses in a more transactional, less personal way. It is not the Chex way. "Passion is the foundation," he says. "The mar- ketplace needs more passionate people. We can't lose sight of what got us here." Julie Besonen is food editor for Paper magazine and a restaurant columnist for nycgo.com. MICHAEL ISENBERG, VICE PRESIDENT Age: 40 Years in specialty food: 15 Favorite food: Laurel Hill Pumpkin Seed Tortilla Chips Least favorite food: Green peppers and onions Last thing I ate and loved: Duck with fig balsamic vinegar at a restaurant in Connecticut. If I weren't in the food business I'd be: Enjoying gardening and travel and environmental issues, and I'd somehow combine them in a career. One piece of advice I'd give to a new food business: You have to enjoy what you do and try to keep innovating; at the same time stay true to who you are. JEREMY ISENBERG, PRESIDENT Age: 38 Years in specialty food: 17 Favorite food: Seggiano Basil Pesto is mind-blowingly better than anything I've ever come across. My favorite experience is being at a demo at a store and hearing people say, "Hey, did you just make this pesto?" They're in disbelief it came from a jar. Least favorite food: Soy milk Last thing I ate and loved: The first-press olive oil of the year, so green and robust, the most incredible experience. If I weren't in the food business I'd be: Working for a nonprofit helping kids develop life skills, mentoring them. My grandmother would always say, "Think of those less fortunate than you." One piece of advice I'd give to a new food business: Everything great in life is right outside of your comfort zone. Live it, test your limits. Every time I push myself, I come out standing tall on the other side. 96 ❘ SPECIALTY FOOD MAGAZINE specialtyfood.com

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