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The Global Table

Date: 01/01/11 | Source: Specialty Food Magazine | Author: Deborah Moss
Categories: Industry Operations; Suppliers; Importers | Tags: Brand Spotlight; Frozen; International News
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The Global Table

American Roland Food Corp. has been importing products for almost 70 years, beginning with mushrooms from Europe and expanding to mango chili sauce from Asia and other items from around the world. Learn how a two-person company has grown into the largest importer in the country.

By Deborah Moss

When Bruno and Suzanne Scheidt started their food import business in the early 20th century, they were in a one-room office in downtown Manhattan with two wooden desks facing each other. The husband and wife, originally from Germany, had recently immigrated to the U.S. from Paris, and they believed that Americans were ready for foods from all over the world. “Bruno saw the need, the desire from a growing immigrant population to have products from home,” says Lisa Kartzman, director of public relations for American Roland Food Corp.

The young entrepreneurs couldn’t have been more right. What started as a two-person operation is now the largest specialty food importing business in the U.S. with 1,700 SKUs for retail and foodservice from 50 countries, coming through 17 warehouses (including one in Puerto Rico and a 252,000-square-foot facility in the U.S.). The company imports products primarily under its Roland brand, but the offerings also include Bombay Authentics, Feng Shui, Don Bruno and Susanna’s. (The Don Bruno and Susanna’s labels pay homage to the founders.) At the most recent Summer Fancy Food Show, American Roland Food Corp. showcased the range of products, including fresh packs of grilled eggplant, Balsamic vinegar from Modena in a spritz bottle, Spanish sherry vinegar, Israeli toasted couscous and Italian gnocchi, as well as the entire line of Bombay Authentics chutneys, curry pastes and sauces. The company also received a lot of attention for its new frozen line of cakes, cream puffs, crepes, Danishes and eclairs.

Though much has changed since American Roland Food Corp.’s inception in the early 1940s, it is still run with the same core values: All products must be high quality and consistent and the company will constantly seek new products and sources. That formula for success is working as well today as it did nearly three-quarters of a century ago.

The Early Years—Drawing on Experience

Bruno Scheidt had been in the U.S. for less than a month when he contacted a French source about importing dried mushrooms. Experienced as a food importer in France, Scheidt picked up where he left off when he and his wife fled Paris right before World War II, leaving behind Roland Foods, the company they’d started there in 1934. Undaunted by a new country and language, the Scheidts founded American Roland Food Corp.

“My parents came here with a tremendous will to forge a new life in a new country,” says Charlie Scheidt, their only child and current president and CEO of American Roland Food Corp.

From the 1940s through the 60s, Bruno traveled the world looking for new products while Suzanne handled the billing and bookkeeping. During that time, the company was one of the first importers to introduce artichokes and snails (escargots) to the U.S. market and one of the first to import from Japan. It sold to everyone from high-end department stores to Asian grocery stores in Chinatown neighborhoods. By 1966, when Bruno Scheidt unexpectedly died and his son took over, the company was importing from about a dozen countries and selling in cities such as New York and Chicago.

The Middle Years—Taking Advantage of New Advances

Roland Foods Israeli CouscousUnder the leadership of Charlie Scheidt, the 1970s and 80s were a time of tremendous growth for the company. Though he took over the business with little experience, Charlie (who had been in law school) learned from the same devoted employees who had worked with his father for years. “We hired good people, people whose diverse talents and abilities made the company stronger,” he says.

There were also changes in the way things were shipped. Products were now shipped in large containers, making the import process more efficient and reliable. American Roland Food Corp. was also one of the first importers to computerize its business: as early as 1975 the company was commissioning computer programs to be written for it. With all of these changes, the company sought to shorten delivery times to its growing client base. The importer set up warehouses all over the U.S. so it could process orders from regional hubs and deliver orders quickly no matter how far customers were from the company’s headquarters in Manhattan.

By the late 1980s American Roland Food Corp. had outgrown its original New York warehouse and moved to larger space in New Jersey. Also during that decade the company began exporting foods to Central and South America and the Caribbean. By the 90s it had expanded to a warehouse that was more than double the original’s size and began exporting to other parts of the world. In 2006 the company added a massive warehouse with capacity for 1.4 million cases and state-of-the-art inventory control to keep track of products. In the newest warehouse it can unload a tractor-trailer in 40 to 50 minutes.

The Present—New Categories

Since its inception in the U.S., American Roland Food Corp. has steadily grown despite the financial ups and downs of the marketplace. About 70 percent of the company’s business is in foodservice, with retail comprising the rest.

Fig Balsamic VinegarAmong bestsellers for retail are the foundation products including Roland Artichokes quartered and whole, Mandarin Oranges, Capers, Balsamic Vinegars, Anchovies and Hearts of Palm. The company continues to export about 150-200 products to Central and South America and the Caribbean.

Kartzman says the company’s drive for innovation is one of the reasons it has moved into frozen foods. “We have a line of frozen Danishes out of Denmark, two types of crepes from Belgium and France, eclairs and cream puffs from the U.S. and a line of cakes from Italy,” she says. “We spent a lot of time sourcing these products. We didn’t want to just bring in a ‘me too’ frozen item. We wanted them to be unique.”

Dealing with this new category has brought with it new challenges, explains Kartzman. “The handling of frozen is different from shelf-stable products. Initially, there were the bumps we knew about and the unlikely ones we weren’t quite ready for,” she notes. Kartzman credits meticulous sourcing and sampling with helping the company get over hurdles and sparking the early success of the frozen items. “Before we started advertising they were already selling,” she says. The company plans to add more products to its frozen line in the near future.

Besides introducing new products, Kartzman says that adding line extensions is a company strength. One recent entry—an extension of its existing Balsamic vinegars—is a line of Balsamic reduction glazes that are available in Original, Pomegranate, Fig, Blood Orange, Tamarind and Ginger (white balsamic). “There’s no fear factor here,” says Kartzman. “We’re all about trying something new if we think it will add value for chefs and consumers.”

One of the challenges of having such an extensive 1,700-SKU product line is that the company isn’t easy to categorize. While its foodservice clients and chefs have a clear idea of what the company offers, says Kartzman, the retail consumers are another story. Chefs know the company has 17 categories of products and that it is the place to look for flavor enhancers. But at retail, consumers may automatically think of the Roland brand for its foundation items (the artichokes, etc.) but not understand they could also be looking for Roland Italian White Truffle Cream, Peruvian Quinoa and Swedish Wild Lingonberries.

One of the ways the company is approaching educating the retail consumer is by creating a chef ambassador program to spread the word about its products at recreational culinary classes around the country.

Utilizing the internet and social media is another current priority. The company’s website offers extensive recipes and cooking videos, including some featuring the Bombay Authentics products that also explain the history of the dishes being created. “While we do traditional print trade advertising, we’re always looking for new ways to harness social media. We’re one of the only importers with a Facebook page that we update every day with recipes, products and menu ideas,” explains Kartzman. “We also have an active Twitter account.”

American Roland participates in “as many events as we can across the country to get our products right into the hands of consumers,” Kartzman says. “Last fall we went to San Antonio, Texas, for the Culinary Institute of America’s opening there. The reason we got involved, in addition to the fact that we’re a corporate sponsor of CIA, is because they created a street food market,” she says. “They had more than 4,000 people come through—all consumers. It was a great event for us.”

And American Roland Food Corp. plans to keep innovating to stay relevant in the future. “We have some new things coming that will be as different and exciting as frozen,” says Kartzman. “There are so many things we can look forward to as an importer. Recently, people have shifted to cooking at home and have a new interest in food. They’re looking for new flavors and items. That opens up a whole new world of possibility.”

Charlie Scheidt agrees. “When my parents arrived in New York, they started with a blank page,” he says. “All they could bring was their intelligence, passion, commitment and creative instincts. Today we bring the same. The future is wide open for us.”  |SFM|

BRAND TIMELINE

1940s-1960s: American Roland Food Corp. is founded by Bruno and Suzanne Scheidt. Bruno travels the world looking for products to introduce to the U.S.

1960s: Charlie Scheidt takes over leadership of the company. It moves into foodservice as chefs and restaurant operators start requesting the products that they had seen in the high-end specialty stores.

1980s: The company begins exporting foods to Central and South America and the Caribbean.

1990s: Website launches, company expands to a larger warehouse.

2000s: Continue expansion, including introduction of a frozen product line in 2010.

Professional Assessment: What You Can Learn from American Roland Food Corp.

Food and beverage brand marketing expert Tammy Katz of Katz Marketing Solutions in Columbus, Ohio, evaluates some of American Roland Food Corp.’s strategies and discusses ways other companies can strengthen their own brands.

Capitalize on Unmet Needs: American Roland Food Corp. continues to thrive by identifying current and future needs in specialty imported foods. It is often first to market, innovates consistently and stays true to its culinary-based product superiority. The company analyzes its categories and goes where competition isn’t, extending its pricing and margin potential. What You Should Do: Thoroughly assess your category and your heavy users and consider what’s wrong, missing or mundane. That’s rich fodder for new, profitable niches. Differentiate meaningfully by focusing on the features and benefits that are most important in your category. Always confirm your product’s appeal with consumers.

Plan Carefully for Diversification: American Roland Food Corp. plans for the differences between retail and foodservice. It is attacking the basics to build its retail brand: strategically expanding distribution, building consumer awareness. Similarly, it is sensibly entering the frozen segment, with full realization that it, too, has major differences from other segments.

What You Should Do: Never underestimate the new challenges that diversification brings. Past wins don’t always translate into instant success when you move to different product categories, distribution channels or customer segments. Take a critical view of your ability to thrive financially in all new businesses before you pursue major diversification programs. Build or acquire new knowledge and skills that are needed to succeed and thrive in the new business.

Food and beverage brand marketing expert, Tammy Katz is CEO of Katz Marketing Solutions. She has led numerous Fortune 500 and specialty food brands and launched more than 100 new products with cumulative sales of $2 billion. Katz serves on the Board of Directors of several food companies and is adjunct instructor of brand management at the Fisher College of Business MBA Program at Ohio State University.



Deborah Moss is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Sports Illustrated and Shape.


This article was featured in the January/February 2011 Issue of Specialty Food Magazine. See other articles in this issue at:
January/February 2011 Specialty Food Magazine.

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The Global Table


American Roland Food Corp. has been importing products for almost 70 years. Learn how a two-person company has grown into the largest importer in the country.


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