GOSHEN — Troyer Foods started as a chicken company in southern Michigan a few years after World War II. It’s still navigating how to produce and sell food to Midwesterners.
Even before the strange circumstances of the last two months hit, the company was having to adapt how it sold wholesale foods to retail outlets, particularly grocery stores.
Troyer, based on the east side of Goshen and with a warehouse in Bloomington, Ind., supplied Martin’s Super Markets with nearly all of its meats and seafood. “For the last 15 years, we’ve been 90 percent of what they buy,” Troyer Foods President Dick Armington said.
When SpartanNash purchased the Martin’s chain from the Bartels family, “We knew the deathwatch was on,” Armington said. “We knew the day was coming.”
SpartanNash is a Fortune 400 company that is both a supplier and operator of its own stores.
The company announced in November 2018 it would purchase the grocery chain that, like Troyer Foods, was homegrown. SpartanNash and Martin’s officials said after the sale was finalized in January 2019 that it would be “business as usual.”
In January 2020, Troyer Foods officials got the official word that they were done. “By the first week of March, we were totally out of Martin’s Super Markets,” Armington said. “They were by far our largest customer.” He called it a “sock in the gut.”
Neither Martin’s nor SpartanNash returned repeated calls seeking comment.
Martin’s purchased $35 million in product annually from Troyer Foods. Some of that was brands such as Bob Evans and Johnsonville, but other of it was the Troyer Foods brand that encompasses nearly 150 products.
Troyer has other processors who private-label ham, bacon, sausage, and other meat and cheese products to Troyer’s specifications. Buying those products helps the local economy and creates jobs for people in both Goshen and Bloomington. Troyer Foods was sold by the Troyer family in 1988 and owned by a publicly traded company for five years. Paris and Becky Ball-Miller owned and operated it starting in 1996, and by 2011, it was entirely employee-owned.
Armington said a contract supplying 300 Subway restaurants in central Indiana helps offset the loss of the Martin’s business, but not entirely. Troyer Foods had to lay off some employees. Prior to the loss of Martin’s business and the COVID-19 crisis, it employed 250 and is now at about 215, he said.
Those employees are in sales, transportation and distribution of food. “They’re a big warehouse with a small town feel,” said Paul LaGodney, owner of Eby’s Old Fashioned Meat Market in South Bend. Much of Eby’s fresh meat comes via Troyer Foods, and the company is helping him adapt to these difficult times that include meat shortages.
Woodies Supermarket in Bremen stocks the Troyer’s brand of bacon, sirloin patties, bacon and bratwurst. A customer traveled from Warsaw to purchase the Troyer’s bacon, which is their favorite, said Shelby Mast, meat manager.
He loves purchasing from Troyer Foods and the customer service they provide. “I just can’t believe Martin’s dropped them. I’m shocked. I really am. That’s big business,” Mast said. “I just think they’re a good local company that takes good care of the customers.”
Troyer Foods sells directly to the public at its retail outlet at its Goshen headquarters, 17141 Indiana 4. It also has created a page on its website to help customers find the Troyer’s brand: troyers.com/buy-local.
The sirloin burgers, sausage, ham and bratwurst, all of which I tried again this week, are lean and seasoned well. They’re easy to prepare in the home kitchen. The bacon turns crisp in the skillet and, like the other products, is seasoned well. These are very good products.
COVID-19 is creating meat shortages that will affect all of us who aren’t vegetarian or vegan.
The meat supply chain in our country is being impacted by the closures of processing plants where workers in close proximity infected each other with the virus as they tried to keep up with demand. Like everything else, there is no such thing as normal operation.
Troyer Foods and other suppliers will be impacted by the shortages. They won’t be able to get everything as usual. Yet they will do what they can to supply their customers. In a time of crisis, that has tremendous value and could help more of us have what we need and want.
Changing our diets and expectations isn’t a bad thing. Supporting local businesses also makes us stronger in the long run.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.