Great businesses have a unique ability to create solutions in challenging markets! Chefler Foods was able to re-energize the marketplace in both food service and retail distribution with speed to market, innovative packaging and just incredible marketing. Chefler Foods has accomplished exactly that distinction with its broad line of Mike’s Amazing mayo, Mike’s Amazing Mustards, dressings, sauces, vinegars, and Vegetable oils.
The New Jersey based company was founded and financed by entrepreneur Michael Leffler. Leffler and his team at Chefler Foods are creating a recipe for success that is quickly catapulting them to the top of the food chain.
In the 90’s, Leffler took over the helm of his family business in Englewood, NJ and grew the enterprise into one of the nation’s leading producers of quality condiments featuring mayonnaise, mustards, and a full line of cooking oils. When that company sold in 2016, a one-year non-compete provision forced him to the sidelines.
While many would have retired after a similar transaction and worked on their bucket list — lowering their golf game, sailing around the world, or maybe even climbing Mt Kilimanjaro (wait-he did actually do that), Leffler was not ready to retire. He formulated a plan to create a vertically- integrated food manufacturer, not only capable of blow molding all of its own containers but also being able to distribute and deliver all of its products on its fleet of trucks. This vision would set the food service and retail world on fire.
With that blueprint in mind, and the non-compete term expired, Leffler launched Chefler Foods LLC and began to assemble a formidable executive team led by Michael Kurland (as general counsel and CFO) and a support staff that had a long history of success in the food industry.
After securing an impressive new factory located in Saddle Brook, NJ, Leffler scoured the world in search of all the necessary equipment to produce the Mike’s Amazing line of world-class condiments that we enjoy in thousands of restaurants and supermarkets throughout the United States.
“Our early successes came from doing what we knew best,” Leffler explained. “Listening to our customers and our employees!” By doing exactly that, we were able to build a solid culture of teamwork. Our team was now capable of manufacturing delicious mayonnaise, mustards and cooking oils and delivering this product to core accounts with little to no lead time into the restaurant and food service community.”
Despite all their experience, what Leffler and his team could not forecast was how much the COVID-19 pandemic would alter the course of their business. In March of 2020, when restaurants closed their doors and the world went into lock-down, Leffler and his team knew that they had to quickly pivot and try to create a solution that would help them navigate through uncharted waters.
“Prior to COVID, we were well-positioned for long-term success and continued growth,” says Kurland. “But in the early days of the pandemic, when restaurants were closed and people were staying away from dining establishments, it was clear that the strength of the foundation we had built and the resolve of our team were both about to be tested.”
With the food service world on a temporary hiatus, grocery stores and supermarket chains could not keep enough product on their shelves. An opportunity was created that very few could take advantage of! Leffler and his team at Chefler Foods were ready to answer that call and conquer the retail world.
“With no choice but to cook and eat at home, there was now enormous demand from supermarket chains and grocery stores that we had never seen before,” Leffler recalls. “And what became quickly apparent was that traditional retail food manufacturers, with household brands that have been around for decades, were simply not able to react quickly enough to keep products on the shelf. Chefler Foods unique vertical integration gave it the ability to not only manufacture its own plastic containers, but Chefler Foods had its own fleet of trucks to make its own deliveries! Chefler Foods was able to garner significant shelf space in Northeast Corridor supermarkets by creating an in-house injection molding and packaging operation to support exponential growth in demand for the Mike’s Amazing line.
As it happens, Leffler knew that by investing in his company’s vertically integrated business model he would be able to control some of the most challenging variables in manufacturing. This was just as important as production equipment and product formulation. “I knew we would be entering a fiercely competitive category,” explained Leffler, “But I also knew our competitors traditionally require long lead times. So, focusing on rapid order fulfillment – next day or even same-day delivery when possible – would quickly distinguish us and make us an indispensable vendor to our customers.”
“When we opened the company, I knew that even with the strong support of many customers and suppliers in the food service industry, we would still have to overcome strong resistance as a newcomer entering an already crowded field,” Leffler said. With over 30 years of manufacturing experience, he knew that in order to create the perfect team and perfect environment, he couldn’t train work ethic but he could build a skilled team of operators – all of which were critical to meet the new demand that came from our entry into the retail market.
With a solid team in place, when local supermarkets and eventually larger grocery chains started calling the company in search of product, the team at Chefler Foods was able to react quickly and supply its Mike’s Amazing brand to supermarkets who were eager to avoid seeing their shelves become empty.
“The pace we were accustomed to and the infrastructure we designed originally to support rapid order fulfillment for our food service customers was sometimes even too fast for the supermarket owners,” reflects Kurland. “Even today, it almost always takes longer for a new customer to actually set up an account than it does for us to fill their first order. Getting products to the stores was never a concern for us. The question was whether customers would take it from the shelf and, more importantly, whether they would return and buy it a second time.”
As Leffler described it, “Our distribution initiative, in particular, is really what enabled us to bypass the traditional supermarket supply chain wherever it made sense. Selling and delivering products directly to the stores is a game changer. It puts a high-quality, freshly manufactured product on the supermarket shelf daily.”
With confidence in our product, our final challenge was to make sure the products performed well once they were on the shelf. “One of the key differences between food service sales and retail sales,” explains Kurland, “is that in food service you only have to sell that product once. But in retail there are three separate sales. First you have to convince the store to put your product on their shelf. Then you need to sell it to the shopper in their store. And finally, you must make sure that person comes back and buys
Shoppers are brand-loyal! Getting a consumer to even try a new brand of mayo or mustard is no easy task.
“There was now a demand for our products in homes all across the Northeast. There was a buzz around the Mike’s Amazing brand, and abandoning these new customers never crossed our minds,” explained Leffler.
In support of its retail sales, Chefler Foods invested heavily in marketing. Adopting a comprehensive outdoor advertising program, sports and radio partnerships in key markets where its products are being sold. Today it is now the official mayonnaise, mustard and vegetable oil of the New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, New York Rangers, and NJ Devils.
Chefler Foods and its’ Mike’s Amazing ‘brand is on an unprecedented roll. The next question is what’s next. “In terms of advertising, we definitely see commercials as our next step and we look forward to having a national presence.” Leffler said. “We also look at expanding our product line.” As demand for our products continues to grow, and as the Mike’s Amazing brand continues to attract more followers, expanding those products into the retail sector is certainly something we look forward to doing.”
The growth of Chefler Foods and the surge of demand for its Mike’s Amazing mayo, Mike’s Amazing mustard, and the brand has demonstrated that with strong leadership and determination, even the most challenging of circumstances can present incredible opportunity. Hard to believe they have achieved so much in just over 5 years. We look forward to seeing what comes next and watching them realize their founder’s vision of Mike’s Amazing becoming a household name.
To learn more about Chefler Foods and the Mike’s Amazing line of products, visit their website