How Penn Maid It To The Cream Of The Crop By Keeping It All In The Family

Posted: July 31, 1989

At first glance, Penn Maid Foods Inc. is all cold, modern, hard-driving efficiency.

Executives huddle around long tables upstairs. Down in the plant, production workers in white jumpers monitor the dials and gauges of complex, state-of-the art dairy processing equipment.

But hang around the sprawling plant on Red Lion Road off Roosevelt Boulevard awhile, and you soon realize that Philadelphia's last dairy processor is simply a Mom and Pop operation grown huge.

Pop is 85-year-old Harry Goldberg, who started the business more than 60 years ago with a horse and wagon, cans of raw milk and a ladle.

Today, his company is the No. 1 seller of cottage cheese, sour cream and dairy-based dips in the Philadelphia market.

He may be chairman of a company doing $130 million in sales, but deep down he's still plain-talking Harry, the South Philly kid forced to drop out of school after the sixth grade to make a buck.

Harry's 59-year-old son, Raymond Goldberg, is company president. Ray's 33- year-old son, Rick Goldberg, is executive vice president. Ray's daughter, Robin, 23, recently graduated from Penn's Wharton School and came on board to handle marketing and advertising.

Penn Maid is not only a family affair at the top, the 250-strong work force is full of fathers and sons, brothers and sisters.

"Here we believe strongly in nepotism," says Ray. "We figure a good worker probably passes on those values to his kids."

". . . The son of the plant engineer is our director of manufacturing. He married the daughter of the warehouse manager. Our sales manager has been here 34 years, and his daughter has worked for us for 19 years."

Penn Maid's roots go back to the 1920s, when Harry delivered milk to corner stores while his wife of 63 years, Blanche, operated a small dairy store at 6th and McClellan streets.

"There were thousands of guys with milk wagons or trucks on the street in those days," Harry recalls. "I wasn't getting anywhere. I got out of milk and went into milk products - cottage cheese, sour cream."

At first, he distributed products made by others, but "customers told me if I didn't get better stuff they were going to quit. That's when I started making my own. Sour cream was my first product. I hired a guy who really knew cultures - a Dane - to formulate it."

By 1932, Goldberg had a small plant on Marshall Street near Girard Avenue, a truck or two, the name, Penn Maid, and a logo of a Quaker girl wearing a bonnet, which was changed in the 1950s to a smiling cow.

Harry attributes early success to Penn Maid's quality, but his own out- going salesmanship was probably more important. "I knew every customer by his first name. I knew his wife and kids. If he moved to a bigger grocery store in another neighborhood, I went with him."

Like Tastykake and Frank's beverages, Penn Maid became a traditional favorite of Philadelphia consumers. Today it's a local David that frequently trounces international food Goliaths.

In addition to its leading cottage cheese and sour cream lines, Penn Maid makes butter and yogurt in huge quantities and markets puddings and cheesecake dessert under its name.

Its competition comes from giants, such as Kraft foods, which owns such brands as Sealtest, Breyers, Breakstone and Philadelphia-brand cream cheese.

A couple of years ago, Penn Maid lured away one of Kraft's top dairy executives - quite a coup for a small, local competitor.

"He was a brilliant guy, a real genius. We knew he wouldn't stay here forever. He left after two years, but Robin picked his brains first," Ray says.

He can remember running the bottle-washing machine as a child, but Harry wanted his kids to get an education. A year after graduating from Temple, Ray joined his father and another brother, who later left the company.

Ray's son, Rick, started working in the family business at age 14. "An employee would pick me up about 3 in the morning and take me to the Marshall Street plant. I picked up orders, loaded trucks, went out on trucks, did everything."

Robin's first job was following a Penn Maid delivery truck at the Jersey shore. She'd put the products out in the stores' display cases, so they wouldn't lie around in the back room.

In 1974, the company moved to the 14-acre site in the Northeast and has since expanded the plant four times.

The expansions enabled the firm to distribute food products for other companies. "We had expertise in handling perishables, so it was a natural area to go into," explains Ray.

Today, Penn Maid is the regional distributor for Polly O, Vita smoked fish, Best Kosher meats, Walden Farms salad dressings and others.

"This is my insurance policy," says Ray, leading a visitor into a vast refrigerated section of the plant, where meat and produce is warehoused for a major supermarket chain.

If the dairy business ever goes bad, Penn Maid will have the warehouse business as insurance, he says.

Penn Maid has survived and flourished as the last dairy company in the city by updating equipment and keeping pace with every market development.

Just months after it introduced a 150-calorie "Lite" yogurt, the FDA approved the artifical sweetener, Nutra Sweet. Penn Maid immediately beat the competition to the punch with a new 99-calorie yogurt using the new sweetener.

Ray says he has turned down many offers to sell the company. "It's unusual, unique, to have a family-owned business that lasts so long," he said.

"We're looking toward the future. As the older managers have retired, Rick has hired his own management team. He'll take the reins with his own people."

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