Meet the new ‘ROI food guy’: News, insights, openings and other food industry intelligence from Damon Riccio

We all know the cliché: New Jerseyans are considered tough, driven … hungry.

We are driven to succeed, to prove ourselves. Those traits can be directly attributed to genetics or our environment. But why are we hungry in the Garden State? Because we are surrounded by food. 

Our $126 billion food industry is made up of farmers, importers and exporters, wholesalers, manufacturers, retailers, research and development facilities, distribution centers, restaurateurs and food-service professionals who have built a legacy of development and evolution in the industry for generations. This industry employs more than 500,000 New Jersey workers; recent data shows growth of 21.4 percent, cementing the state’s role as a producer — and connector — to every facet of the industry. It also makes an impact on other New Jersey companies that provide essential goods and services, from packaging and shipping to trucking and other assets for the supply-side food chain.

I am a Jersey guy. I have been part of the food business since I got out of Stockton State College (as it was called back then). When I got out of college, I started working as a sales merchandiser for Welsh Farms Ice Cream in Long Valley. I worked all over the state peddling ice cream and dairy products. Then I started working as a territory manager for a large regional food broker, M & H Sales & Marketing, in Tarrytown, New York, before I got a job as a sales representative for Modern Grocer, a trade publication for the food industry. Eventually, I moved on to NJ Savvy Living, The Star-Ledger and other New Jersey-based publications. No matter where I have gone, my nickname — “the food guy” — has followed. 

Now that I am at ROI-NJ, I will use this column to shed light on the issues that affect New Jersey’s thriving food sector, from food retailers of all sizes to restaurants, from startups to major food manufacturers, and everything else in between. I will continue to share information that will help the entire state business community become better acquainted with our food industry, to navigate the challenges and opportunities here in the Garden State.

Inserra Supermarkets sets up 23rd ShopRite in Wyckoff

Patsy Inserra opened his first ShopRite supermarket 75 years ago in Lyndhurst. On Jan. 13, the Inserra Supermarkets chain, the pre-eminent ShopRite operator in Bergen, Passaic and Hudson counties in New Jersey and Rockland County in New York, celebrated the anniversary by opening its 23rd ShopRite store, in Wyckoff.

It took nine years to launch the 62,000-square-foot supermarket, which Inserra built in the footprint of an old strip mall on Wyckoff Avenue. U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) brought his family to the event.

“I appreciate the Inserra family’s investment, both in their supermarkets and in our community, through their extensive charity work,” he said. “They are a Jersey institution.”

During the pre-opening celebration, Inserra Supermarkets made a $10,000 donation to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey.

The new ShopRite will include a variety of departments targeted to meet customers’ needs, including: 

  • A custom butcher department, carrying USDA Prime dry aged beef, with master butchers on premises every day; 
  • Farm-to-table produce from Abma’s Farm, a local farm in Wyckoff; 
  • Full prepared meals, made by in-store chefs, for busy families;
  • A Ramen and Poke Bowl Service Bar;
  • A registered dietician who can provide free nutrition and health-and-wellness information for shoppers.

Promotions fit for a King’s

King’s/Balducci’s has announced the promotion of four executives with the Parsippany-based upscale grocery chain:

Joseph Parisi has been named chief operating officer. Parisi, who started with the company as a store manager, will lead the company’s overall operations, engineering and maintenance teams, and will oversee all growth and expansion at Kings/Balducci’s stories.

Allen Merken has been named vice president, engineering, real estate and construction. In this new role, Merken will be directly involved with the company’s growth plans in real estate, managing all real estate relationships with landlords, brokers and various civic and community organizations.

Kathe Benjamin has been named vice president, human resources and labor relations. Benjamin has held a variety of roles in her career with the company, moving from executive secretary to human-resources administrator and manager (for home office and stores) to manager of employee and labor relations; she most recently served the company as director of human resources and labor relations.

Sharon Bastianelli has been named vice president, information technology. Bastianelli will work with merchandising, operations and all other support departments, ensuring that IT systems support the strategic needs of the company. She also will oversee the retail, network and programming teams.

Congratulations to all on these well-deserved promotions, as we anticipate some expansion from Kings & Balducci’s of their retail footprint in New Jersey and beyond in 2019!

Seeing red over Garden State pasta sauces

It’s the age-old debate: Is it sauce or gravy? And boy, oh, boy, do New Jersey companies have a stronghold on this market, whatever you call it!

Many Garden State tomato sauce companies earned a seat at the “best in the business” table, according to a recent survey by, which ranked 129 varieties from grocer’s shelves both regionally and nationally. Here’s a snapshot of where these New Jersey-based sauces rank and where their distribution companies are located:

63 ShopRite Supermarkets, Keasbey
Wholesome Pantry brand Italian Herb & ShopRite Trading Co. Puttanesca

47 Cento Foods, West Deptford
Cento Tomato Sauce & White Clam Sauce

44 Colonna Foods, North Bergen
Roasted Garlic & Tomato Basil

41 Colavita USA, Edison
Tomato Basil & Spicy Marinara

34 Nicastro’s, Newark
Vodka & Marinara

30 The Jersey Tomato Co., Hillsdale
Tomato Basil & Spicy

25 The Original Jersey Italian Gravy, Oakland

22 Nanina’s in the Park, Belleville
Marinara & Fra Diavolo

19 Silver Palate Foods, Cresskill
San Marzano Marinara & Marinara Oreganata

14 Corrado’s Market, Clifton
Vodka & Store-Made Marinara

13 Ethnic Cottage Foods, Lebanon
Tomato Basil & Vodka

10 Mia Cucina, Little Egg Harbor
Marinara & Marinara with Merlot

Joe Leone’s Italian Specialties, Point Pleasant
Bolognese & Store-Made Marinara

Hoboken Farms, Hoboken
Marinara & Basil Marinara