Issue Summer 12
Even though the business had been in his family for nearly 80 years, Phil Tulkoff didn’t expect to have much involvement in Tulkoff Foods before he took control of it seven years ago. After spending more than 20 years in the aerospace and computer consulting sectors, Tulkoff says the family business wasn’t something he had spent a lot of time thinking about. “My only food experience was three meals a day,” he jokes.
However, the perspective Tulkoff brought to the Baltimore-based producer of condiments, sauces and ingredients has helped Tulkoff Foods grow into an even more successful company than it was before he took over. With a makeover of the company’s culture, the addition of new capabilities and an attitude based on adaptability and innovation, Tulkoff Foods is securing its place in the industry for the 21st century.
The company began as a produce stand run by Harry and Lena Tulkoff, Phil Tulkoff’s grandparents. In time, the Tulkoffs became known throughout Baltimore for their prepared horseradish, and soon that became their sole focus. With horseradish products making up the foundation of the company, it grew into a manufacturer and added other products such as its cocktail sauce and Tiger Sauce. These and other new products helped the company begin selling some of its products to wholesale food manufacturers as ingredients.
Today, the bulk of Tulkoff Foods’ business is for the foodservice industry, selling large-sized packages of its products to distributors like Sysco and US Foods. Tulkoff says the company does some industrial business, including selling horseradish in large quantities to manufacturers for cocktail sauce, for example. Tulkoff says the company also does co-packing for retail customers.
Because Tulkoff Foods has so many different specialties, the competition it faces is fragmented, Tulkoff says. In each of the markets it serves, however, the company brings some significant advantages to the table. These strengths are what set the company apart from its competitors and ensure that customers walk away from Tulkoff Foods satisfied.
For its customers on the ingredient side, Tulkoff Foods boasts some unique offerings, according to Tulkoff. Very few of the major competitors in the market offer horseradish, for example, and the company also has unique offerings including a ginger puree. No matter what the company provides for its customers, Tulkoff explains, there’s more to it than the product itself.
“It’s also our ability to do relatively small items,” he says. Because the company is smaller than others, it has the flexibility to make smaller batches for customers with more modest needs.
With the quick and nimble manufacturing capabilities it has, Tulkoff Foods can offer fresh, made-to-order products to customers that other manufacturers might struggle to provide. “We produce everything to order,” Tulkoff says.
On the co-pack side, Tulkoff says the company’s biggest advantage is the fact that it has facilities on both coasts. In addition to Baltimore, Tulkoff Foods has another plant in Pittsburg, Calif.
‘The Right Opportunity’
The company’s flexibility extends to every aspect of the business, Tulkoff says. No request is dismissed outright, and Tulkoff Foods always thinks about how it can better serve its customers, even if it means making some significant moves. “We’re willing to make changes or invest in equipment for the right opportunity,” Tulkoff says. “The big difference right now is that we invest more in the people and in the company itself.”
Tulkoff Foods always looks for the highest-caliber people it can find, and not simply the least expensive labor, Tulkoff says. He adds that the company works hard to keep those people satisfied with extensive benefits such as premium healthcare, 401(k) plans and a comfortable working environment.
Feeling the Pressure
The biggest challenge facing Tulkoff Foods at the moment is the pressure the company feels from pricing, Tulkoff says. Prices on ingredients such as soybean oil and garlic continue to rise, as does the cost of shipping. At the same time, customers on the foodservice side are under tremendous pressure not to raise their own prices, putting Tulkoff Foods and other suppliers in a bind.
Although Tulkoff says passing along price increases is sometimes inevitable, the company does what it can to keep things consistent. The company’s strategy includes buying in long-term contracts to lock in prices and spreading out the cost over time.
Despite the challenges, Tulkoff Foods is optimistic about the future, and Tulkoff says the company is preparing to work with customers on some of their newest requirements.