The blending of retail experience and wholesale distribution at RLB Food Distributors LP, West Caldwell, N.J., has proved to be a positive formula for the company — and its retail customers from northern Virginia to Boston.
“We’re more of a retailer that became a wholesaler,” said Floyd Avillo, president and chief operating officer. “We know what sells. We know price points. We understand the retail game.”
The retail expertise is understandable. RLB Food Distributors is an offshoot of the Kings Super Markets chain. When RLB was founded 25 years ago, it served just Kings Super Markets and one other customer.
“Today, we serve about 200 retail stores and more than 1,000 convenience stores,” Avillo said.
It was the legendary Bildner family that founded the retail chain and, later, the wholesale operation. The supermarkets were sold in the 1980s.
Three years ago, Robert Bildner, then president and chief executive officer, and his wife, Elisa Spungeon Bildner, president of the company’s fresh-cut packing operation, elected to focus all of their attention on other family businesses and their many philanthropic endeavors.
RLB Food Distributors was sold to Avillo and his partner, Pat Mele, now the company’s executive vice president and chief financial officer. The family atmosphere — and the retail influence — endure.
“I actually started, as well as some of the others here, working for King Super before the split,” Avillo said.
With three huge terminal markets — New York, Boston and Philadelphia — in the service area, RLB recognized early on that it faced challenges.
“We couldn’t just compete with the markets. We had to do different things,” Avillo said. “We had to out service those players.”
Added to the company’s service in the 1990s was a packing operation for fresh-cut produce. About 85% of the packing goes into customers’ private labels, Avillo said. The rest carry the company’s Fresh Pro label.
A fleet of 25 tractor-trailers — and a handful of vans — delivers to RLB customers six days a week.
“We produce fresh six days a week, and they get it fresh six days a week,” Avillo said.
Those deliveries generate annual sales in excess of $100 million, he said. The evolving retail industry has forced new strategies — and opened doors of opportunity.
“The retail environment is changing, and we have to change with it,” Avillo said.
For instance, organics now represent 14% of RLB’s produce sales, he said.
“Many of our customers just buy organics from us,” Avillo said.
Convenience stores are another growth category for RLB.
Many are focusing on quality, not just fast turnover items, and healthier items, Avillo said. To serve those stores, RLB accepts minimal daily orders that are distributed through through central depots.
“They can order one cantaloupe cup or one pineapple cup or one 10-pound box of bananas,” he said.
RLB’s future does not focus only on smaller retailers. Club packs of fresh produce also roll out of the company’s packing facility.
The industry’s changes have increased the company’s inventory of high end products. In addition to fresh cut produce, RLB now packs microwaveable food items and offers, among other items, delicatessen cheeses, meats, salsas, chips, juices and flowers.
“We deliver what we promise, and we understand retail,” Avillo said.