Back in the day, the Pundit imported garlic from Spain and Argentina, and we marketed garlic from some California shippers. We also used to supply Associated Food Stores in New York and shipped many mixed export loads to the Caribbean and Africa. So we sold garlic to the Auerbachs and purchased AuerPAK brand packaged garlic to sell to our retailers and to sell overseas.
This year we spiced up — that is a garlic joke! — the annual New Jersey Retail Tour offered as part of The New York Produce Show and Conference by adding the new Auerbach facility.
The retail stops on this tour were provided by some of the powerhouse members of the Eastern Produce Council — we will be visiting Shoprite, Kings, Fresh Market, A&P Fresh and Foodtown. The Pundit did this tour last year and was excited at the way these ultra high-volume stores serve a diverse market. We also got to chat with Derrick Jenkins from Wakefern, Paul Kneeland from Kings and Dean Holmquist at Foodtown, when each made a surprise appearance to greet the bus tour.
These are all great retailers, and so they all know a secret. Retailers can’t be much better than their suppliers.
So when a vendor invests to move his business to world-class status, he is helping himself, but he also is building the infrastructure that helps the whole industry improve. We thought that was more than enough to justify a look.
We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more:
Maurice A. Auerbach
Hackensack, New Jersey
Q: What should attendees of the New York Produce Show know before they come to visit your new state-of-the-art facility? Could you start by providing an overview of your company?
A: Auerbach is a fourth-generation produce importer and marketer. Our customer base includes retail supermarket chains, foodservice distributors, wholesalers and terminal markets and some food processors and food ingredient manufacturers, primarily in the northeast United States and eastern Canada… although we do sell to other locations. All of these segments of our business demand better food handling than ever before.
Q: Is that what drove you to invest so heavily in your operations? Many times, businesses hold back in economic downturns rather than aggressively expanding….
A: Our premise has been to acknowledge a new food safety standard and elevate the company and the industry to a higher level. We view this as not only an investment in the company but in the industry.
Some people say I’m overbuilding it, and they describe my actions as overkill, but I believe in this. I want to be ahead of the curve as industry and government regulations proceed. People who care about food safety in the industry get it. It’s difficult to project the future, but I am convinced there is a serious downside risk if we don’t make these large upfront investments now.
Q: Could you describe the scope of your endeavor? What are the key changes you’re implementing to your operation and where are you in the process?
A: We’re doubling the size of our facility to 60,000 square feet, but more importantly the modern refrigeration component will be eight times bigger. The building will be almost all refrigerated with sophisticated, multiple temperature zone systems customized to different products and will maintain total cold chain capability from beginning to end. People on the tour November 9 will be seeing the final outfitting of the facility before we officially open later in the month.
From unload to receiving point, we’ve built modern refrigerated docks with food safe load levels and dock/stationing areas where product goes directly into several coolers to production, processing and packaging areas; and throughout the process the cold chain is never broken. All the receiving docks and exterior doors have been replaced for cleanliness, food safety, and energy efficiency. And all the loading docks and exterior dock doors have been replaced for those three things.
Within the refrigerated areas, different temperature zones are separated by high speed electronic motion-center-controlled roll up doors that only open a second and a half. In the palletized refrigeration facility, the pallet positions available are over four times our current facility.
Q: Is this all-encompassing cold chain practice unusual in the industry?
A: It’s not unusual for one of the big guys to have this kind of scheme, but it is unusual for a small local re-packer to have it. We hope others might be inspired by seeing the investment level that a regional distributor will commit to. We have all the controls with advanced information technology computerization. This includes an energy management system monitored by us and the refrigeration company on line, leading to more consistency in temperatures and efficiencies in energy use, both for economy and ecology. It will minimize the severity of refrigeration service calls, and increase energy savings to pay for itself in a few years.
There will be sustainability programs for trash, recycled materials, and excess food products all separated and disposed of separately, including recycled refuse and use of discarded product for feed and farm use.
The strategy is both for sustainability of our natural resources and for economics and cost reduction. We have a system both for public good and cost-reduction.
Next, as for productivity, besides reduced energy in cooling, we’ve reduced energy in lighting, and other environmental and economically valid factors are being employed in the production. The production rooms have floor drains and total wash-down capability. Our goal is to be revenue/cost neutral if possible.
Q: How long have you worked to bring this project to fruition? And what does this mean for your company going forward?
A: This state-of-the-art facility is a result of several years of site and systems capability research by us and research consultants. We see this as a dramatic change, not only structurally to the facility, but also mentally as a company. The building reflects our vision for the future of our business and the industry based on better handling methods, education and a commitment from our team to the modernization of both our company and our industry.
We spent a lot of money and some people have called it excessive or light years ahead of what’s mandated. In our business, we primarily deal with items like garlic, potatoes and onions that have lower perishability risks compared to items like fresh packaged salads. More and more customers, from the chain stores to the food companies, are looking for certain food safety certifications and more stringent requirements. Whether our actions will just qualify us or over-qualify us, we deem it important to take a progressive stance, not just to improve our company’s competitiveness and profitability, but also to work with the industry to reach a higher plateau in food safety standards. These are investments for our future.
This is going to be a great tour and important to understand the industry. Store counts get bandied about a lot. But one powerhouse New Jersey retail store can sell what 10 stores in rural Montana sell, so store counts can be less-than-useful. The business is here, and each visit provides clues as to how to get that business. A visit to the new Maurice A. Auerbach facility is a kind of challenge to regional operators everywhere: Are you willing to step up? Are you willing to make the investment? Are you prepared to play in the new, much more rigorous produce industry that is rapidly approaching?
To join the New Jersey Retail Tour and see the new Auerbach facility, e-mail us here.
Total show registration, including all tours and companion programs, is available here.
Hotel rooms can be booked at this link.
Travel discounts are sometimes helpful on last-minute travel. You can find those here.