2024 Leadership award winner for Citizenship

Phil Meldrum

FOODMatch, Inc.

Entire villages in Greece and other parts of the Mediterranean owe their continued prosperity to Phil Meldrum, founder and CEO of FoodMatch in New York City, which has been supporting small farmers internationally and domestically for the past 28 years.

“It started with romance,” said Meldrum, 66. “There were romantic stories about cheeses, olive oil, and charcuterie but nobody had done that with olives. Most production was controlled by regional co-ops, not farmers. We changed that.”

Meldrum had been in the cheese business and knew a lot about European foods. When the company he worked for was acquired by Austin, Minnesota-based Hormel, he decided to “do his own thing” and took a trip to Greece.

“I traveled around and met small farmers,” he said. “I saw the passion of the people who were growing olives in ancient trees that had been in their family for centuries. I also saw the potential for creating a business that would help these communities and bring quality olives to the U.S.

“I would often meet with the patriarch of the village to connect with the people. I developed trust with the farmers and treated them fairly, offering to pay cash for their crops. We would buy the entire production of the village and continue to do that today.”

FoodMatch was founded on the belief that by supporting small-scale, family-run agriculture across the Mediterranean and beyond, it could be instrumental in preserving traditional, safe, clean farming practices and bringing ingredients to the consumer that are difficult or impossible to produce domestically. There is full traceability from grove to table and minimal curing and preserving versus the industry standard of securing mixed crops from cooperatives and over-curing.

The company started with Kalamata olives from Greece. Then Cerignolas from Italy and Picholine from France. Red peppers from the Mediterranean were added, along with roasted tomatoes from Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Today FoodMatch sells 500 SKUs and imports from 15 countries. It has 100 employees, not counting the farmers.

The primary focus began and continues to be in retail delis such as Whole Foods, Wegmans, Big Y, and many more. FoodMatch was a pioneer in the olive bar and antipasti business. The company also has a shelf-stable line called Divina, which includes olives, tapenades, spreads, and other Mediterranean-inspired products.

The company’s devotion to family farms has continued as it has grown. “We are gratified, proud, and humbled by what we have accomplished,” said Meldrum.

Meldrum has also been a citizen leader outside of the business. He serves as the treasurer of Oldways, a nonprofit organization helping people rediscover and embrace the healthy, sustainable joys of the “old ways” of shared cultural traditions, including the traditions of Latin America and Africa, as well as Europe. He is on the board of The Sylvia Center, a nonprofit that partners with community-based organizations, schools, and local businesses to deliver nutrition-focused culinary programming in all five boroughs of New York City and Columbia County, New York. He also serves on various other food and environmental boards. The company has donated hundreds of thousands of pounds of food to City Harvest.

“We are a ‘purposeful’ business that supports the ecosystems of communities with shared values,” Meldrum said.