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The Corner Office: Gerald Shreiber, CEO, J&J Snack Foods

by Cory Todd
In 1971, Gerald Shreiber purchased the J&J Pretzel Co. for about $73,000 at a bankruptcy auction. Today, the Pennsauken company is known as J&JSnack Foods—producer of Superpretzel, ICEE, Minute Maid frozen lemonade and many other tasty brands—does sales of nearly $750 million annually. Shreiber grew the company through acquisitions, then, in 1985, took it public on the Nasdaq—and watched sales grow to surpass the $25 million mark that same year. The company works across the retail, wholesale and food service industries, and saw income growth of 17.2 percent in fiscal 2010 alone. As chairman and chief executive, Shreiber remains active in the company and is the largest shareholder; he believes his 21 percent ownership lets him retain the feel of a family business.

Management philosophy: “A long time ago, we established a criteria to build a successful organization: to make niche products, be the low-cost producer and expand the launching and distribution channels. Along with that, I want to get good people, to find those people who have that fire in the belly, have the smarts and want to work hard, and give them opportunities with our company. I try to give those people enough room to operate and perform. Our company started with eight employees in 1971—and today, through hard work, organic growth, acquisitions and recruiting good people, we’re now 2,700 people strong.”

Key to making smart acquisitions: “We are very careful and deliberate in vetting the company and the products that they have. And certainly the culture, because even though we’re a publicly traded company, our culture is like that of a family. There are companies we looked at, but for one reason or another—not price or economics—it wasn’t the right fit. We’re the largest soft pretzel company in the world today and we have acquired within that industry because, one, it fit within our business model; two, it gave us some tangible and intangible benefits in marketing, production and quality; and three, it was part of our growth.”

On fostering business relationships: “Make sure that you establish and maintain the relationship from day one. Do whatever you can for the customer. My father was a produce merchant, and if we were selling three pounds of potatoes for so much, he’d say, ‘Gerry, give a little more.’ If it was five pounds of bananas, give the customer five and a quarter. Not to the point that it becomes a bad business practice but to the point that you satisfy the customer and do what you can for them and constantly build the relationship.”

On licensing: “We’ve been fortunate over the years in licensing. A number of years ago we had an opportunity to work with the Paul Newman group and make product for them, and that business has grown. We also have a license from Kraft, and one of the most successful licenses that we’ve had has been Minute Maid which was a networking opportunity. That was a product that was well known, even though everybody thinks of orange juice and liquid products, but we have the exclusive license to produce and sell anything Minute Maid frozen. We thought at the time it was a huge opportunity and it turns out we were right. It’s a recognizable product line and expanding product line.”

Most profound business advice: “My father gave me a lot of advice, things like work hard, take care of the customer, say thank you, pick up pennies and stretch a dollar. I didn’t have the good fortune of going to college, but I believe in education and I made it a point that all of my people have available to them a scholarship assistance plan, and we will pay for their schooling. And we just require that they attend the course and use their best efforts, and stay with the company for a certain period of time after they get their degree. That scholarship program is named in my father’s honor, the Nathan Shreiber Scholarship Plan.”

Recommended business book: “I read a lot. Right now I’m reading Money and Power by William D. Cohan, because when I look at the calamity that was created a couple of years ago within the markets, I want to know why it happened. Everybody who’s in business was impacted by what happened only two short years ago when suddenly the financial credit markets froze. It really reads like a drama. In the summer I can read three or four books at a time when I’m sitting out at the pool enjoying the hot weather. I read Time and The New York Times and sports magazines and I do a lot of business reading.”

Preferred snack: “It’s tough to pick just one, like choosing your favorite child. I love biscuits in the morning, but I don’t eat them that often because I’ve got to watch my weight and I have Type II diabetes. But there are times my mouth waters for our Mary B’s biscuits. But I also love our soft pretzels and our bakery products—and our churros!”

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 1, Issue 6 (June, 2011).
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