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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Regional Distribution: An Interview with Joe Angello

At Real Pickles, we have always had an unconventional approach to distributing our fermented vegetables, choosing to work with small independently-owned regional distributors rather than large national ones.  Angello's Distributing, based in upstate New York, was the first distributor to carry our products.  I recently talked with Joe Angello, its founder and owner, about his experiences in the natural food industry and what it’s like running a regional distribution business.

KH: Why did you decide to start a food distribution business?

JA: It was a reaction to the consolidation of natural food distribution.  Northeast Cooperatives had just been purchased by UNFI [United Natural Foods] and a clear monopoly was being established.  We were recognizing that good local producers had no access to the market.  The only way was through UNFI and they were more focused on national brands.

I didn’t spend a lot of time on a business plan.  If I did, Angello’s might not have happened.  I’m more of a jump in and do it kind of guy.  I borrowed a truck and was working out of the cooler at Hawthorne Valley Farm.  Later I found space at Clermont Fruit Processors in a building that had been in agricultural use for over eighty years.

KH: What does Angello’s look like now?

JA: We have fifteen staff people, both full and part time.  We run two to four trucks.  Produce wasn’t our original intention but we started the business at the height of the season and within a month it became obvious that people were interested in fresh, local produce.  I came from fifteen or twenty years in the fish business.  Fish is expensive and perishable and the intensity level and competition is high.  Produce can be hard but it’s easier than fish and we really worked on how to make it as fresh as possible.

Produce accounts for about 40% of our sales now.  We also distribute dairy, grass-feed beef, baked goods, fermented foods and some beverages.

Our core customers are independent natural food stores and co-ops in the Hudson Valley, North Jersey and the Berkshires.  What we do resonates with the end user customer.  Shoppers really look for and appreciate good quality organic foods. 

KH: Angello’s has been distributing Real Pickles since 2004 - before my time at Real Pickles.  How did Real Pickles and Angello’s first start working together?

JA: One day in the early days of Angello’s I ran into a guy I knew doing a delivery.  He had been the Northeast Cooperatives delivery guy when I had worked at the Hawthorne Valley Farm Store.  He was grumbling about the UNFI purchase and I said, “Come on over. We could use some help”.  It was a rough time in our business.  I think he might have introduced us to Real Pickles.  He definitely introduced us to Paul Harlow at Westminster Organics.  Real Pickles and Angello’s stand for the same thing on different parts of the food chain.  It’s one of the brands we’ve had from the beginning that keeps carrying on, and the relationship keeps get stronger.

KH: What do you see as the biggest challenges for independent and regional food producers and distributors?

JA: Marketing is one of our biggest challenges, both for producers and distributors.  We go head to head with major corporations like General Mills and Kraft Foods, who have an unlimited amount of marketing money.  Most all of these companies are giant publicly traded stock companies.  Is that really where we want our food dollar to go?  Those of us who work in regional food all need to be looking at ways to pool our interests so that we can better promote the independent brands that get passed over by the big guys.

KH: What do we need to be thinking about as consumers and shoppers?

JA: We need more public scrutiny about what’s inside the package.  People like Michael Pollan have been doing that and Vandana Shiva has been doing it on a global level.  We need to make high quality food a priority - for the health of our environment, the health of ourselves, the health of the economy.  The idea that cheaper food is better food is deep in our psyche. That has got to get thrown out the window.

If you spend an extra twenty cents on a six ounce yogurt to buy yogurt from a dairy in your region rather than from a multi-national brand, where is that money circulating?  How is it impacting our society, the environment and where we live? What’s really happening?  These are important questions to ask.

KH: Is there anything else interesting about Angello’s that we might not know?

JA: We care about these issues at the international level too.  We’ve been importing chocolate from the Grenada Chocolate Company.  The chocolate bars are actually made by a cooperative in Grenada.  Extreme things like child labor and slave labor happen in the chocolate industry, particularly in the Ivory Coast which produces 40% of the world’s cocoa supply.  There’s a great documentary called Nothing Like Chocolate that looks at these issues and features the positive things being done by the Grenada Chocolate Company.

KH: What has changed in the industry since you started the business?

JA: When we got started there was not much of a consciousness or awareness of local food.  We didn’t recognize it as a trend. It’s not why we started. For us it was more common sense.  All this stuff is here and you can’t buy it in the stores.  It didn’t make any sense. 

We were in the right place at the right time.  There was more awareness starting around 2005.  Banks still had money so we were able to buy our building.  We couldn’t do that now. People started to be really interested in local.  Have you been into a Walmart recently?  Everything says “local”. Banks and insurance companies talk about being local.  It’s like the word “natural”. It gets to be ridiculous.

KH: What should we know about food distribution that we probably don't know?

JA: What appears at face value to be a simple task of getting a jar of pickles from Greenfield, MA to Clermont, NY to getting to a retail shelf in New York City is extremely complicated.  There are so many ways for that not to happen.  We’ve been doing it well and doing it continuously.

Giant companies have done a good job of keeping their costs at a level that is hard to maintain at a smaller scale like ours.  It’s more difficult than I think people realize.


  1. Fantastic and succinct interview that that really hits hard. One must really sit and gel with each of Joe's answers, like the very first one, for instance. Take a real hard look around at the landscape of ANYTHING truly GOOD and NATURAL. What "products" are sold to you and me that have remained commensurately tethered to the “philosophy of origin” or original philosophy of consciousness that made it good, after it has travelled a supply chain network to the consumer?

    If the reader of this interview has not already familiar with Michael Pollan or Vandana Shiva, I recommend catapulting yourself into reading Michael Pollan' book "Omnivore's Dilemma" and do a YouTube search for lectures presented by Vandana Shiva, and perhaps read her book "Soil not Oil" for all the statistics.

    But the regime control structures are advancing so quickly now, that we will be out of time for reading books - we must act and this interview is a great testament to someone stepping up in the driver seat because he knew it was now or never.

    Thanks Dan, Addie, Kristin for your yummy fermented foods and your wake-up calls.

    ~ namaste ~

  2. P.S. I have volunteered on an organic farm getting deliveries ready and watched them load the truck. I have also watched/helped receive/stock food deliveries at 3am of the small loading dock of an organic grocery store in eastern Washington State during the last time gas hit $4/gal. We talked often to the driver. Fuel costs have the potential to eradicate the small guys from driving, idling, running coolers/freezers, etcetera. I have also worked on developing supply chain network social networking software applications. Together with other real world retail and manufacturing experience, I understand many of the complications inherent to supply-chain networking processes to which Angelo alludes.

    The further away something goes, the more complicated. One must consider marketing (even if just a label), packaging (even if just a crate with a label, housing rubberband-bound bunches) Things must be marked either COLD or FREEZE. Some items require a return conduit back to the producer. People go to attend all of those jobs in the supply chain and thereby add to the cost and materials of the delivered product, but more importantly, it is the added energy to get the product to market and to keep on the shelf, cooler or freezer a while.

    In the end, I personally hope for systemic (R)evolution of decentralized control, extinction of monopoly and monoculture. I actually hope for a denser fabric of local social networking and product exchange (barter) where from veins of export travel to neighboring regions by matter of course, and so forth, until arteries form that take products by rail, boat and fewer products by air to awaiting recipients there… a century’s throw back in time with the added advantages of having an overlay of internet applications that enable it.

    Alas we can see the battle ahead on freedom of use/speech provided on and through the internet. First SOPA, and now more extreme CISPA having passed the house now is poised for the Senate which has openly communicated that they will not only pass the legislation, but that they will insert additional restrictions.

    From here in south Sweden, where I have been over the last year and a half, it is surreally comedic to witness through the news outlets here the accelerating unfoldment of governmental tyranny & police state control measures ON ALL FRONTS back there in the U.S. I would venture to say that proportionally many more Swedes are aware of what is really happening in the U.S. than the people in the U.S. including main stream coverage of NDAA, Expatriation Act, SOPA, etcetera.

    Yet, at the same time, there is a very sublime infiltration and clamp-down of "The Matrix" here, too. In Sweden, the infiltration is more slippery and it disguises itself well as public benefit. Cameras have been installed along highways, key points in walking streets & squares of cities. Assumed by all organizations and agencies that everyone (even children) has a mobile. Everyone's bankcard has a "chip" & cheque-writing long dead. Sweden is poised to become the first cashless nation. They are infiltrated by McDonalds and bred with a similar mass mind culture. Swedes are asleep to CODEX Alimentarius and the ways it incrementally infiltrates EU food law. But one need only look at the labels here to see it. Rare one is able to FIND roadside trash, when so however, it is invariably McDonalds, MAXX (burger chain) & Coca Cola. Beyond & behind that trash is a cultural mind growing into sleep, into sustained belligerent ignorance to the importance of the truth.

    More positively, in Sweden there is a much-higher density of home gardens. All regions have individual properties having old fruit bearing trees. It is unusual when one finds a private home without fruit. Junk housing sprouts-up around the core metropolitan areas, but inside the old town and outside the cities one can immediately recognize significant production of fruit and berries in the towns, villages and small hamlets.

    ~ namaste ~

  3. "Produce accounts for about 40% of our sales now. We also distribute dairy, grass-feed beef, baked goods, fermented foods and some beverages."

    Hey, just want to ask, what type of fermented foods are you usually produce?

    Christine Eubanks
    Best Pre Workout Supplements

  4. Christine- We produce a variety of pickled vegetables from dill pickles and sauerkraut to beets and ginger carrots. You can find our full product list at: http://www.realpickles.com/products_overview.html. Thanks!