For most native Nebraskans, red is their favorite color. It signifies generations of leading the pack as a national football powerhouse. Andy Romjue has taken a slightly different path as he focuses on green. Not that kind of green but the hue that reflects the protection of our environment and for years to come.
As the leader of Hoffmaster’s foodservice division, he has created an agenda that has set its sights on creating a portfolio of sustainable paper products that are quickly becoming the industry standards. Romjue began his career at Black and Decker/DeWalt marketing power tools and accessories. In 2011, Hoffmaster’s Rory Leyden reached out with a challenge to help the firm grow its consumer business. Six years later, that turned into the opportunity to create and execute a vision for the Wisconsin based company’s foodservice division.
“We have always been known as a leader in the premium disposable space,” noted Romjue. “That has allowed us to build close relationships with the industry’s key distributors: Sysco, US Foods, Imperial Dade and Ed Don. Our partnership allows distributors to create a product mix and a full line of price point solutions for their end-user customers. With a sales force that is dedicated 100% to operators, we look at our job as supporting the country’s leading distributors as they seek solutions for their operator base.”
Hoffmaster’s DNA always included communication with the operator to understand their changing needs. Under Romjue, that has been taken to another level. After years of providing a full line of paper solutions, that communication with the “street” moved Hoffmaster into uncharted territory. Their customer base was seeking a plastic straw alternative.
“At the time, we were not in the straw business,” Romjue noted. “We noticed that highly decorative straws on the consumer side were becoming a craze.”
At the same time, consumers saw their impact on the environment as the video of the sea turtle with a plastic straw in its nose went viral. Romjue knew that eco-friendly paper straws would be the perfect addition to Hoffmaster’s sustainable line of compostable and recyclable napkins, takeout containers, and cutlery. “So, we began a relationship with Aardvark who was producing a beautiful, eco-friendly line of decorated straws that was sweeping the nation.”
“After scouring the globe, Aardvark was clearly the highest quality,” added Romjue. “We loved that it was domestically manufactured in Fort Wayne, IN. and had a wonderful capability of doing so much more than just solid colors with abilities to custom print. We acquired Aardvark knowing its model also included deep relationships with their customer base, which perfectly aligned with what we have developed at Hoffmaster.”
Romjue has carefully tracked the movement of the marketplace towards a green and sustainable marketplace. “It’s interesting, there is a mix of operators led by a group that clearly understands that what we do now is going to have a direct impact on future generations to come, so they proactively make changes today to their business model to incorporate eco-friendly solutions. We also realize there is a portion of the industry that will continue offering plastic straws until legislation changes.”
Romjue shared that the lesson is that the environmental qualities of an Aardvark paper straw will make a difference on waterways and wildlife. “We also understand the business needs of our customer base and pay close attention to data from Straws on Demand,” he explained. “If an operator moves to a paper straw and provides them to patrons on-demand only, profits can increase. In many cases, it’s as simple as raising cocktail prices by a penny.”
Metro New York has been a hot spot for customers that are embracing the green and sustainable vision capabilities of the line. At Brooklyn based gastro-pub Freehold’s, first-year straw usage at the establishment was more than 1.4 million straws, creating an abundance of single-use waste. With sustainability at the forefront of bar and restaurant owners, Freehold’s Brice Jones launched a new on-demand program using custom Aardvark Paper Straws.
Fast forward to today; just as quickly as COVID-19 entered the U.S., Hoffmaster reacted to the pandemic and emerging foodservice needs. The challenges of the COVID-19 crisis have undoubtedly shifted the industry’s focus. Four months ago, sustainability was at the forefront of the conversation. Through deep connections with their customers and distributors, it was clear there was a need for safe and sanitary solutions during a time of fear and uncertainty.
“Our distributor partners and foodservice operators asked [Hoffmaster] for more sanitary solutions, so we extended our product line to provide safer and more sanitary meal delivery and takeout with every order,” noted Romjue.
Hoffmaster extended its pre-rolled napkin and cutlery set line, CaterWrap®, to now include CaterWrap® sets that are individually overwrapped for additional sanitation and ease.
“Restaurants still in operation have quickly shifted from traditional dine-in models to takeout and delivery only,” said Romjue. “To aid in safe third-party food delivery, tamper-evident bands and stickers have been added to our line. Tamper evidence provides both operators and consumers with the peace of mind they’re serving and receiving food in a safer-than-ever manner.”
In addition to Takeout & Delivery, Hoffmaster continues to innovate in other foodservice segments that are feeling additional pressure of the pandemic. For nursing homes and assisted living facilities where residents eat on-site, Hoffmaster launched a pocket fold napkin. The new Linen-Like® Ready-Set Napkin™ has an innovative pocket fold design where the napkin serves as a slot to hold and cover utensils.
“Foodservice operations and institutions are looking for products to protect their customers and patients from germs and cross-contamination,” said Romjue. “Our customers have come to us asking for additional sanitary solutions, which is why we launched these products. These are trying times, and we want to help our customers and theirs as best as we can.”
With Romjue at the helm, Hoffmaster creates custom solutions for segments as diverse as Takeout & Delivery and nightclubs and bars to healthcare. Hoffmaster Foodservice continues to set the pace as the nation’s innovator in tabletop and jan-paper solutions.
To learn more about Hoffmaster, visit their website.