There are few things more valuable in the food industry than reliability. Consumers rely on manufacturers to produce safe, high-quality foods, and in turn the manufacturers rely on their suppliers to help them live up to that promise. When a distributor like Connecticut-based Arista Industries can boast a history of more than 80 years of service, its customers know they can rely on it. That’s been one of the major keys to success for the family owned company, according to CEO Steve Weitzer.
Arista Industries distributes frozen seafood and edible food oils to customers around the world. The company was founded in 1930, and originally focused on edible marine oils imported from Japan and Norway, such as cod liver and sperm whale oils. Weitzer’s father joined the company as a salesman in the early 1960s, and he helped the company develop its frozen seafood importing operations. Weitzer says his father helped Arista Industries pioneer the importing of frozen shrimp from Southeast Asia, and today frozen shrimp still represents a significant portion of the company’s business.
The company’s food oil side ranges from marine oils to vegetable oils and specialty oils. Weitzer says most of these are sold to encapsulating firms, but the company’s customers also include cosmetics companies. “In the oil business, we are probably one of the leaders in the industry,” he says.
On the seafood side, Weitzer says Arista Industries has had a history of staying under the radar in the industry until recently. “In the last five or six years, our [seafood] business has probably doubled,” he says. “We’re not the biggest, but a force to be dealt with.”
Arista Industries has become a valued vendor for foodservice giant Sysco in recent years, frequently ranking in the company’s top-100 vendors and last year reaching as high as third overall. “That account has really put us more in the limelight,” Weitzer says.
It has taken more than big-name connections for Arista Industries to thrive for more than 80 years, and Weitzer says the company has a substantial number of competitive advantages that have brought it to its current position of prominence. As it plans for the future, Arista Industries aims to continue to evolve with the industry and position itself for even greater success.
With a strong focus on the foodservice industry, Weitzer says Arista Industries’ seafood business thrives because of the company’s connection to its customers. “We cater to our customers,” he says. “The [foodservice] industry today requires a lot of onsite training with their sales forces.”
To assist its customers, Arista Industries provides technical seminars to help them understand the ins and outs of the company’s products. This likely will be more of an emphasis in the future as the company expands its product base. The company already is one of the largest importers of octopus from Spain and Portugal, and Weitzer says Arista Industries continues to look for sources that can bring more than shrimp and fish to the table.
Over the last 15 years, Weitzer says, the seafood wholesale industry has evolved from a supply-driven business into a more customer-driven one. This is because most seafood today is farmed rather than caught in the wild, meaning fewer long-term shortages. Because the supply of seafood is relatively consistent, wholesalers have to focus on customer service in order to compete. Weitzer says the transition to mostly farmed seafood also has helped fuel Arista Industries’ growth because it has strong key accounts with shrimp suppliers. The increase in the supply of shrimp has allowed the company to grow from within, without making acquisitions. This gives Arista Industries a stronger financial situation than some of its competitors, Weitzer says. “In our industry, it is a highly leveraged industry, so the key is financing,” he says.
As the company continues to grow, Weitzer says Arista Industries’ biggest challenge is keeping up with the growth. In recent years, the company’s sales have outpaced its office capabilities, but Weitzer says a new computer system has streamlined its processes and made it more efficient. One thing in Arista Industries’ favor is the fact that the company has a strong succession strategy in place. Weitzer says both he and co-owner Charles Hillyer has two sons learning the ropes inside the company now. You have to have good people in order to grow and be successful.
The company’s status as a privately owned family firm has resulted in a strong core of employees who have remained loyal to Arista Industries. Weitzer says the company has several employees who have logged more than 20 years of service to Arista Industries. “Our employees stay with us – we like to think we treat them well,” Weitzer says. “You have to have good people in order to grow and be successful.”
Thanks to its many advantages, Weitzer says Arista Industries has good reason to believe it will continue to grow in the near future. “We’re looking for at least 10 to 15 percent growth in tonnage, and that is again going to increase organically through aggressive marketing,” he says.