Brad Finkel knows the food industry has changed from one of necessity to one of creativity.
“I am not a farmer, but they are the most astute businesspeople I have ever met,” the owner of Hoboken Farms said. “They understand every minutia of a line item that goes into their cost for goods. They understand labor, they understand immigration political pressures … the global environment affects them.”
Finkel gave the keynote address at NJBIZ’s FoodBizNJ event last Wednesday at iPlay America in Freehold.
The event, which is geared toward showcasing the booming food and beverage industry in the state, highlighted some of the most important aspects of the ever-changing industry.
“The changes here … are coming from consumers demanding healthier and purer foods, and we must be completely customer driven,” Finkel said.
Finkel speaks from experience.
Since founding Hoboken Farms 25 years ago, he seemingly has touched the food industry in the state in every way possible.
Hoboken Farms participates in more than two dozen farmers markets, and its tomato sauce is sold at more than 1,500 independent stores, as well as top chains such as Whole Foods Market, ShopRite and Kings.
Finkel also has started food businesses in both the wholesale space (The Fresh Mozzarella Co. Inc) and the retail space (Hoboken Farms Sandwich Shop).
Along the way, he’s drawn the attention of food industry giants, including one of New Jersey’s largest food companies: Camden-based Campbell Soup Co.
When Ragu dominated the pasta sauce market, a survey came out showing that Americans wanted more variety of sauces — specifically, chunky pasta sauce.
Campbell’s, under its brand Prego, came out with chunky pasta sauce.
“I got a call from a friend … and was told my presence was being felt (at Campbell’s),” he said.
“Prego had come up with a line of farm market sauces. The labels were fabulous, they were rustic, the advertising was homey, the story was sepia-toned America, they named the famer that grows the tomatoes, and I was asked by friends and family, ‘What are you going to do?’”
He was unfazed. To him, it was a sign of change.
“The bottom was now loud enough that the top (major brands) were reacting,” Finkel said.
And that is just one of the changes that has happened in the food industry.
“Just the fact that I am here talking to you is really a symbol of the intrinsic changes that are shaping New Jersey’s food systems,” Finkel said.
Added to which, New Jersey doesn’t have a well-represented contingency outside the state.
“We are closer to the Javits Center than Brooklyn, but there is no New Jersey contingency,” he said.
And yet, many companies use New Jersey as home base.
“We are an incubator for the New York metro area. That includes 20 million people. That’s 1 in 16 Americans,” he said. “So if the Midwest is flyover state, New Jersey is absolutely the pass-through state.”