Advantage Marketing: Serving Up Foodservice Industry Solutions

Advantage Food Marketing, DBA Advantage Marketing, was established in 1974 as the first independent full food service sales and marketing company in the New York metropolitan area. One of the first ventures of its type in the nation, it was established at a time when traditional retail food brokers had secondary, smaller divisions handling the foodservice market. Advantage Marketing felt that the New York City foodservice market was ready for a dedicated manufacturer representative organization that specialized in servicing the needs and developing tastes of the metropolitan region’s highly versatile and populous market. As the company evolved over the years, adding quality national branded and local manufacturers to its lineup, Advantage Marketing has always taken pride on being a locally owned and owner-operated enterprise acting as a critical liaison between its manufacturer and food service clients.
By 2004, however, the New York metro region was overrun with large regional foodservice brokerage conglomerates, leaving far less market share for independent brokerage firms. Despite the changing market conditions, Advantage Marketing came together to carve itself a brand new niche. Drawing together several dozen foodservice sales and marketing specialists to offer aggressive, professional and effective representation, Advantage Marketing set out to offer a superior ratio of people to lines of service of any broker in New York, acquiring other firms and attracting talented and experienced executives to assure this consummate service.
“This was supposed to be a one- to two-year stint,” laughs Mitchell Levine, president of Advantage Marketing and one of those goal-oriented, relationship-minded professionals that has helped set the company apart from competitive broker organizations. Levine came on in 2004 to spearhead the transition period after Advantage Marketing acquired his firm, but eight years later Levine is still around, now as president and partner, helping guide one of the last of the independents – a company that operates in its own idiosyncratic way, but in a way established to best serve its clients in a highly competitive market.
Levine says, “I’ve truly enjoyed being a part of Advantage Marketing as our company restores its reputation as a leader in the New York metro foodservice area that it once had.”
According to Levine, the management at Advantage Marketing shirks the industry norm. The company’s owners and management team come in the office on Mondays for a weekly review and strategy sessions, and during the rest of the week Levine, John Williams and Brigitte Rounds, managing partners, and Lloyd Braider, director of sales, are pounding the pavement, visiting clients, closing sales, filling market gaps and always, always following up. The organization’s structure is strategically set to “serve up solutions” to foodservice manufacturers, distributors and operators, no matter what it takes.
“I tell the team all the time that we have to be tremendously courageous and totally prepared to deal with whatever elements are thrown our way,” adds Levine. “We have to leverage our familiarity with the local market landscape, and, to use an old seafood analogy, we drop our lines and pots, let them soak for a period of time and never forget to go back to haul in the rewards. Even if we didn’t close the sale, we always follow up, because we aim to exceed the client’s expectations, not just meet them. In turbulent times, you must be prepared to aggressively navigate your future.”
Defying Expectations
As a result of its proactive attitude, Advantage Marketing has been able to outperform the market at all levels and grow in excess of 20-percent annually for the past four years, as most of its competitors were scaling back. While the past several years have been challenging for other local and regional broker organizations, Advantage Marketing drove business for its manufacturers to unprecedented levels.  The company has enjoyed high sales growth and profitability in a market too often viewed by others as unyielding or on a downward turn due to the current economic environment.
Levine says, “Those are simply excuses for poor performance, lack of focus and commitment.  The current economic market conditions do not impede our ability to generate sales - we work hard, we work creatively, we investment spend and we stay on target to our sales plan designed to produce results.”
In fact, Advantage Marketing even relocated to a brand new, 8,500-square foot headquarters in Hauppauge, N.Y., complete with a test kitchen, a 45-seat seminar room and multimedia conference space. Here the company conceives the best way to introduce and expand on the potential of each product to effectively increase sales on behalf of the manufacturer.
According to Rounds, “Our office is well suited to streamline and effectively execute the sales process from the target account to the order, delivery and payment phases. We feel we have established a professional atmosphere that is state-of-the-art and, most of all, one that provides an atmosphere of warmth for our team and extended families, while reflecting the passion for what we do every day.”
Advantage Marketing holds the exclusive rights to represent its 30-plus manufacturing clients in the foodservice marketing area within a 90-mile radius of Manhattan – which includes dozens of counties in New York State, New Jersey and Connecticut – an area that is home to almost 20 million people. Advantage Marketing focuses on getting targeted food products into such outlets as restaurants and business cafeterias, healthcare/senior housing, transportation hubs, family entertainment centers, vending caterers, colleges and universities and elementary to higher education programs, operating throughout all with great finesse. The organization represents a broad selection of foodservice product lines, as well as specialty products applicable for the ever-growing, unique ethnic trade in the New York area. 
Advantage Marketing executes a very strong business model not commonly found in the foodservice brokerage industry, which contributes to the company’s success. The “Four Points of Excellence” business model serves to address the four main principles of foodservice sales: to manage a manufacturer’s volume and performance within the market, to manage key impact distributor’s volume and performance, manage the operator’s expectations and provide administrative support along the way.
In more tangible terms, though, the Four Points of Excellence serve as a roadmap for success made possible by a proactive approach and open ears. “If you listen to the large leverage operators, they will tell you exactly what they need and then it’s just a matter of filling those gaps by capitalizing on our combined strengths,” expands Levine. “At Advantage, we know what our sales goals are every day. We know what we set out to achieve every week. We manage our business every month. We grow our business every year.”
Combined, the management team at Advantage Marketing brings over 150 years of experience to every account. With the company’s professional sales and marketing staff – combined with a highly recognized and efficient customer service staff that supports the sales team, the manufacturers, distributors and operator customers – the Advantage team is one that produces the successful sales results that the manufacturers expect in a demanding and turbulent marketplace.
Drawing on additional resources as a member of the National Restaurant Association, the New York Restaurant Association, the School Nutrition Association, the New Jersey School Nutrition Association, the New York School Nutrition Association, and the Society for Foodservice Management, the Advantage Marketing team works with manufacturers to develop products that meet the specific needs of any operator. In fact, Levine and Rounds were early supporters of New York’s farm-to-table initiative and recognized by Senator Hillary Clinton in 2008 for their contributions as industry advisors to the program, which provides important funding to bring locally produced, healthy foods to students, patients and underserved communities statewide.
The Extra Mile
Establishing, maintaining and strengthening the relationships that allow for continued growth is possible because Advantage Marketing acts, not reacts to the needs of both the marketplace and clients. Heavy emphasis is placed on bringing each and every employee’s specific capabilities into play for clients. Levine cites the example of Brigitte Rounds, managing partner and vice president of municipal sales, who not only had years of experience at Advantage Marketing to bring to the table, but also a degree in graphic design. Today, Advantage Marketing puts Rounds’ training to good use, helping clients with the visual component of any branding, packaging or marketing initiative. Advantage Marketing proactively invests in supplementary specialized equipment to capitalize on and reinforce the impact of its personnel on market penetration.
Understanding how to address each market segment, the Advantage Marketing team has once again found an aggressive stride in the local market, positioning its efforts to offer its manufacturers the prime advantages of a large regional broker, but with the dedicated, hands on and aggressive approach of a local owner/operated independent organization. Quality companies like Schwan’s Food Service Inc., Diamond Crystal Brands, Sugardale Foods, Norpac Foods and others have found their way back to Advantage Marketing after “testing the waters” with regionalized broker networks. And, after returning to Advantage Marketing for representation, these companies experienced record-breaking sales results in the months after their return. With the company’s dedication and unparalleled experience in the local New York metro area foodservice market, Advantage Marketing is positioning its manufacturers for a successful future in the “Big Apple.”
The company’s clients are the first to agree with this assessment of Advantage Marketing’s aggressive and talented market approach.  Jim Clough, president of Schwan Food Service, spoke at a recent Broker Advisory Council meeting on which Advantage Marketing serves, and had the following to say:
“I had the good fortune to better understand why Advantage Marketing has been able to deliver such outstanding results. With a strong ‘Go-to-Market’ business plan, and having three owners every day servicing our business needs and pounding the streets, we have experienced double digit growth off a large base of business in just over 18 months. This is surely one of those markets where an owner/operated broker team with long-term relationships and market knowledge is critical to our success. Even with this growth, Advantage Marketing believes we have just scratched the surface of what the New York metro area has to offer.”
Peter Reid, national sales manager of Broadline Distribution, Diamond Crystal Brands, agrees, saying, “We have never been this successful in the New York region. Since the company’s appointment Advantage Marketing has become one of our top-performing brokers in the country, operating in one of the most difficult and competitive markets. The market knowledge and relationships Advantage Marketing brings to the equation is just incredible. In 2010 we actually posted a substantial increase in sales for the New York metro market. Sales had been flat for several years, yet we felt there was tremendous growth potential in the market. Advantage knew where this was and strategically positioned us to secure new business. We believe there is even more for us and we will continue to grow with them as a wonderful business partner.”
 “We’re proud to be an independent firm, and in the next three to five years we hope to continue our growth by representing and attracting the very best representative manufacturers,” says Levine. “So often independent partnerships can be challenging and even ruin a business, but I can honestly say that John Williams, Brigitte Rounds and I have built our partnership on loyalty, trust, commitment and a strong sense of mutual respect and shared responsibilities.”
As the foodservice industry continues to evolve, the Advantage Marketing team will continue to capitalize on its own internal strengths and provide clients with the resources, tools and market entrance points to succeed. By focusing on the local needs of every client, Advantage Marketing will continue to outperform the industry and prove that keeping a close-knit, committed team is the best investment of all. This is truly the company to partner with for the long term in the New York metro foodservice marketing area.