2015 Lifetime Achievement award winner

Edith Friedland

EFCO Importers
Lifetime Achievement

Edith Friedland was the first woman to lead the Specialty Food Association (then known as the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade). The company she and her husband Martin ran, EFCO Imports, introduced to the United States a number of beverages and specialty foods from Europe and South America.

Foray into Food. Edith married Martin Friedland, a Philadelphia beer distributor, in 1949 when she was 19 years old. They soon had two children. Martin had inherited the business from his father and felt it was stagnant, representing the same Budweiser and Schmidt beverages every other distributor had. He’d served in the army during World War II but hadn’t shipped overseas and told his wife he wanted to see the world.

“Luckily enough, I had a good mother who babysat and I traveled with him,” Friedland says. “Joining the business, it occurred organically.” Over time, the couple brought back deals to import Guinness, Bass, Carlsberg, and a number of Belgian beers.

Breaking Boundaries. “When you get into beverages you move into food; one thing led to another,” Friedland explains. “We saw items in Europe and Brazil that were interesting and we saw a bigger future.” From Switzerland they began to import Zwicky muesli and Hügli natural sauces and soups. They were the first to introduce hearts of palm from Brazil to the American consumer. In the 1970s the couple began to exhibit their food and beverages at the Fancy Food Show. “We were probably the first people to show beer,” Friedland says.

One of the first non-beer beverages the Friedlands imported was Ramlösa mineral water from Sweden, long before bottled water became a trend. The healthy muesli and preservative-free foods they brought in from Switzerland pre-dated the health food craze.

“We took a chance on it,” Friedland says. “In the 1960s people were looking for something exotic. We were innovators. We had things nobody else had: different confections from Italy, spices from Germany, cachaça from Brazil. We didn’t want to stand there with an item that was already sold here. People weren’t interested.”

Industry Impact. In addition to being the first female president of the Specialty Food Association, from 1988 to 1990, Edith Friedland was a member of the prestigious, invitation-only Les Dames d’Escoffier International. Typically modest of her business success, she says, “I’m a friendly person. If you’re sociable, it’s not very hard to relate to people. I was one of the luckiest ladies in the world when I married my husband. He showed me the world.” They sold the company in 2007, and Martin died in 2009.

She’s just as humble recalling her time as president of the Association, “Members came to us with problems, and we did our best to help solve them,” she says.

“My mother was a natural businessperson and she and my brother were pioneers in the craft beer business in the Philadelphia area 10 years ago,” adds Friedland’s daughter Lisa, a teacher. “She’ll say my father introduced her to so much, but she [always] was an honest, practical person, very capable. She loved challenges.”