J. Ambrogi Food Distribution Inc.

Ambrogi Food Distribution Inc. is a business with a passion for customer service that permeates from the top to the bottom. “That has always been our forte,” says owner Jerry Ambrogi Jr. “We understand the importance of the customers.”

Based in Thorofare, N.J., the 126-year-old company has grown to become one of the largest produce distributors in the Tri-State area. In 1886, Ambrogi Jr.’s great-grandfather, Narcissa Ambrogi, opened the original Ambrogi Foods store on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia.

In addition to an array of fresh fruits, vegetables and gourmet fare, the small store was the very first in the United States to sell fancy fruit baskets. After a great start and with a loyal customer base, Ambrogi Foods was pos­itioned for the next level. Jerry Ambrogi Jr.’s father, Jerry Ambrogi Sr., saw the opportunity for expansion and started a wholesale route. “When I finished school, my father said that he would buy me a van and give me one of his accounts, [and] that we would split the profits,” Ambrogi Jr. recalls. “We started with one [van] and we now have a little over 1,400.”

Although Ambrogi Sr. has since retired from the company, Ambrogi Jr. admits that he still consults with him on major decisions. The “father knows best” notion has yet to let him down.

Staying Sharp

Ambrogi Jr. joined his family’s company in 1981 and contends that business is always interesting. “It’s new every day,” he says. “There are new challenges to meet. That excitement and fast pace are part of our business.

“It keeps you sharp,” he continues. “We’ve been lucky enough to have a great infrastructure that allows me to do most of the buying for the company.” Four generations of grassroots knowledge have helped Ambrogi Jr. and his forefathers succeed, as well as preserve the simplicity of the company’s structure.

In an ever-changing industry, Ambrogi Jr. notes a constant in his business, is the philosophy of helping others. Sales Manager Larry Tambone was once a competitor with a family bus­iness, Tambone Produce. After Tambone Produce suffered a devas­tating fire, Ambrogi Jr. invited the company to join his business.

“We were friendly competitors. It was a great marriage,” he says.

Among his staff, Ambrogi Jr. also praises Director of Finance Susan Stein. “She’s the single biggest reason we are successful,” he says. “There’s never been a task that I’ve given her that’s not 100 percent correct.”

Ambrogi Jr. often bounces ideas off of Stein, whose energy, focus and precision never lead him astray. “She was able to figure a way to turn us around in a short time and make us financially sound,” he says.

Special Services

In October, J. Ambrogi Foods will initiate its Fresh Cut Operations program. This will involve the company providing precut items to its customers, which will lead to faster turnaround times.

“I think it’s better for us to be able to cut out a middle man and have a faster turnaround time so the customers can get it the next day,” Ambrogi Jr. says. “Right now, the customer has a three-day wait time.”

Ambrogi Jr. adds that the company plans for continuous growth. “We’ve only had one year out of the last 30 that we didn’t have growth. 2010 has been great so far,” he says.

As part of its growth strategy, J. Ambrogi Foods plans to expand the boundaries of the areas in which it delivers to and seek out niches that are not

be­ing serviced. An example of this is a recent addition to the company’s pro­duct line. Schools, hospitals, and retirement communities were looking for easy, portable, healthful snacks for their con­sumers. J. Ambrogi Foods has add­ressed this need by offering packaged precut apples (“Apple Grins”), sliced oranges (“Orange Smiles”) “Pine­apple Pals” and “Grape Giggles.”