New York State’s food and beverage industry is on the rise, but it didn’t get there by keeping ideas contained and in silos. It takes collaboration, information, and the willingness to meet and partner with others for the growth of everyone involved.
In this episode of NYS Manufacturing Now, FuzeHub’s Steve Melito sits down with Michael Tucker, president of the Long Island Food Council to discuss his entry into the food business and how the Food Council is helping to facilitate introductions and connections in the food industry.
Listen to the Podcast
Steve Melito: Hey, welcome to New York State Manufacturing Now, the podcast that’s powered by FuzeHub. I’m your host, Steve Melito. Today we’re talking to Michael Tucker, president of the Long Island Food Council, an organization that’s supporting New York State’s food and beverage industry. FuzeHub is partnering with the Long Island Food Council on an upcoming event called Growth of the Urban Foodscape that’s scheduled for March 16th, 2023 at Farmingdale State College. Michael Tucker, welcome to the podcast.
Michael Tucker: Well, thank you, Steve. Good morning. How are you?
Steve Melito: I’m doing great. Thanks so much for your time today.
Michael Tucker: Looking forward to it.
Steve Melito: So Michael, tell us a little about yourself. How did you get involved with the Food Council?
Michael Tucker: That’s an interesting story. So I was third-generation apparel, and we used to manufacture around the world in China, in Bangladesh, in El Salvador, Dominican, Haiti. And when I left the business, I worked for a good friend that needed some assistance in upstate New York. He was a food broker where we sold to supermarkets, Tops, Wegmans Price Chopper. He sold C Stores. He sold the old line distributors. And it was a short run that I was supposed to help him with as he transferred… transitioned, excuse me, from one of his owners. And I actually was based out of Syracuse, so I spent a lot of time in upstate New York driving around, learning the food business.
Steve Melito: Excellent. So Michael, historically, long Island has been known for its work with the aerospace industry. What is the importance of the food and beverage industry to the island economically?
Michael Tucker: Well, it’s interesting. I’m also an associate real estate broker, so we look to see and bring people here to Long Island, and we notice that you need a thriving downtown. And what’s better for the new downtowns than to have the hottest distillery, breweries, food? And it’s actually, as we found through statistics, either the first or second employer here on Long Island volume-wise, not necessarily dollar-wise, but volume-wise. And in order to attract all those other companies that you talked about, you still need a thriving downtown. And that’s usually a food experience, a food scene. And that’s really what’s really important about having a thriving food and beverage business almost anywhere, but definitely here on Long Island.
Steve Melito: That makes sense. So one of the things that your organization does is to give food and beverage companies a way to connect with each other. Can you tell us about that and how you facilitate networking?
Michael Tucker: Well, we learned is the old school method where you need to be in front of people, communicate. You can do a lot of these Zooms and podcasts and different things. But when people are in a room together, it’s just magic, I mean, the stuff that goes on where people get to discuss opportunities. So we take startups and giving them the opportunity to meet C-suite people who are interested in helping grow the industry. And here, most companies, no matter what the actual product is, it’s still the same issue. And if we’re able to bring them in a room together and discuss it, they’re able to actually solve a lot of these problems and maybe not make the same mistake. And way we do that is we just recently took a tour of Pintail Coffee. And so what we do is we like to go out, we like to look at other manufacturing, and diversify between… We have professionals part of our group, we have educators part of our group, we have food companies, restaurants, distilleries, breweries, wineries. But it’s interesting, when you get to the manufacturing process, you still have a lot of the same issues, labor, logistics, cost of goods. So we like bringing people into the field and seeing how other people do it, and it generates some great conversation and hopefully helps them down the line.
Steve Melito: Sounds like fun. It’s always good to go on an interesting plant tour. And you’re right, there’s no substitute for getting together face-to-face which is why we’re excited about the event that we’ve got coming up on March 16th.
Michael Tucker: No, definitely, so are we. So the growth of the urban food scape, we want to bring… It’s not only food and beverage manufacturers, but it is a focus on the food and beverage manufacturers. But every manufacturer is invited to attend, and we have a great lineup that we are looking to bring in. And Doug Whitcomb is now a keynote speaker. He’s one of the founding members of the Long Island Food Council. They run a very large food service business here on Long Island. They’re still here, which is always great to hear, the second or third generation food business as our keynote. Plus I know you know there’s a whole bunch of new panelists that’ll be joining us, I think from Cornell Ags and Market, Green Technology. We’re going to have a spokesperson from Empire State Development there as well. So there’s a lot of opportunity for companies to come down, meet with the state officials, many local officials, finding out what’s available in the grant programming, finding even simple education. And we’ll have professionals, and we’ll have suppliers that’ll be able to help them grow their business.
Steve Melito: That’s exactly the idea. It’s been fun working with you so far. And we have a mutual partner in the Manufacturing Technology and Resource Consortium or MTRC. They’re the New York MEP center for Long Island. Can you tell us about how your group works with MTRC and how the partnership with them has helped you both?
Michael Tucker: Oh, it’s been great, the partnership. And what’s really interesting is that we’re both here to help the companies grow and the manufacturers grow here on Long Island. So we actually listened to what their needs are. Where initially as it started out, we did grant programming direct to the small manufacturers to help them through the COVID, and MTRC was right there for us to be able to help these companies. And it’s interesting at the level that some of the companies are, even some of the grants, $800, 2,000, we got more thank yous to help us through COVID on just small grant programming. We’re not giving the money, it’s towards either equipment or it’s towards getting them through understanding their business so they know the real numbers. Because a lot of entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs, they’re not financial. So we help in all that aspect of it. We work with some companies getting patents. And as we’re growing the relationship with you guys as well and the MTRC, it’s doing more of social media kind of explanation. I mean, the world of social media from, I don’t know, the last five years, has exploded. And it’s different being on Twitter as it is being on LinkedIn, as it is being on Facebook and TikTok and whatever else is out there. Instagram. And each one is a different media, and the companies need to understand where they belong. So what we try to do is find the pain points and where it intersects amongst multiple industries, and that’s the space that we like to work in and solve those problems.
Steve Melito: Good. And you mentioned entrepreneurs and you work with a lot of them. Based on your experience, what does it take for an entrepreneur to succeed, and how can your organization help them?
Michael Tucker: It takes a lot of grit. There’s a lot of competition out there. There’s a lot of issues that are always… COVID was just one, but those even today that survived COVID are not surviving the aftermath because the cost of product today is astronomical. You need to be able to streamline your operation and fight through the hard times. And I find that where we help out these companies is just on the little things. If we can help them locate a cost of goods or questions about manufacturing or if they need… Again, back to costing. I’m working with one company to really get the true cost of what their products are and then really base going forward. As entrepreneurs, they’re great. They love the spirit. I got to tell you, going through everything, though there is down times, they’re such upbeat and they’re great to talk to because they’re always looking forward to try to create something new. And that’s what’s going to keep it going forward.
Steve Melito: For sure. Now, many of these entrepreneurs, and you can call them startups if you prefer, but they dream of getting their product onto supermarket shelves. Have you worked with some companies that have been able to do this? And if so, can you tell us about them?
Michael Tucker: Yes, I do. One of the fallacies of an entrepreneur is they feel that if they get into a supermarket, they’re going to sell more goods, they’ll make more money. The bottom line is if they don’t know, they’ll just lose more money because they’re selling more at a loss. So you need to know your market. And I’m not downplaying the role of supermarkets, but if you’re not ready to play in that field, that’s a great lofty goal. But from a logistics or manufacturing or consulting phase, that really is not necessarily the only channel.
You’ve got a lot of local routes. You should own your market before you start looking at other markets because it’s very costly. You get in there, and there’s just a lot that needs to be understood. So it’s best for these guys, that’s a great goal. But you have independents they could go to. You’ve got local markets that they can work with. They’ve got online today. There’s just so many different avenues that supermarkets, it’s nice to be in, but it’s very costly to operate in that sphere, and it’s not necessarily where they belong. And that’s a dose of reality, I guess, is where we fit in, where we’ll tell them honestly the truth about what it is to be there. And they all just think, oh, I’ll get into a supermarket and everything will be wonderful. That’s just the beginning of their issues.
Steve Melito: That’s right. Yeah. Some of that tough love giving people the advice that they might not want to hear sometimes. So we have an event coming up. We’ve talked about it a little bit already. It’s Growth of the Urban Foodscape. It’s Thursday, March 16th at Farmingdale State College from 8: 00 AM to 12: 30 PM at the ballroom in the campus center. And Michael, you’ve talked a little bit about the speakers and the panelists, but I’m wondering if you can tell us more about what you’re hoping to get out of this event.
Michael Tucker: Exactly what we’re looking to do is to bring everybody together again. We’re finally getting back in person. Things are starting to happen. We have some great representation there from all the different organizations. I find that most of the companies, there’s such a wealth of opportunity with the grants and with different opportunities out there that sometimes it’s extremely overwhelming for individual companies, especially the entrepreneurs because they don’t have the depth of staff to be able to research it. And what we find with these kind of events and partnering with you guys at FuzeHub and MTRC and ESD and SBDC will be there as well, we’re offering them, plus a whole host of others that are continually signing up… This offers them the opportunity to have them right there, ask the questions. We’re going to bring up the presentation. We’re going to tell them what’s out there, and have them in the one room.
Because otherwise, once they leave that room, to chase everybody down across the New York State is very difficult. We find that that part of it gets them more frustrated than anything. So if we can continually bring them together where they can actually reach out and touch and talk and get their questions answered is the best thing. And with that, if I may, we’re going to have the State Liquor Authority down on May 2nd as well. For this same type of event, we’re able to bring down anybody that has a liquor license or has questions about it, which goes anywhere from restaurants to liquor stores to online to you name it, the brewers, the producers. The idea is to continually… This is how we help them bring these people together in a room and then have people work on it. We’ll bring the Health Department in as well, and Ags and Market. So like this event, it’s very important for people to attend, to ask the questions because the people will be there to ask the questions too, immediately.
Steve Melito: That’s great. You do a lot. And like you, we at FuzeHub are so glad to get back to the in- person events, and the value of bringing everybody together in one room from a company’s point of view, that really does save them time. So you might be thinking if you’re out there, well, how can I get four hours out of my schedule that day? But think about the time you’ll save if you get together with us in that one place and meet everybody. I think it’s a good opportunity.
Michael Tucker: Absolutely. We look forward to seeing everyone. And if you can’t make it, just send us some information to anybody that’s on the list. I know FuzeHub has been putting it out through their newsletters, and they can reach out with questions anytime.
Steve Melito: Excellent. So Michael, thank you so much for being on New York State Manufacturing Now.
Michael Tucker: Well, thank you very much for the opportunity. Look forward to seeing everybody next week.
Steve Melito: Very good. So we’ve been talking to Michael Tucker, the president of the Long Island Food Council. And FuzeHub is working with the Food Council and several other partners, including MTRC and the SBDC and Farmingdale State College to provide the food and beverage industry with an event that frankly you can’t afford to miss. It’s on Thursday, March 16th. It’s called Growth of the Urban Foodscape. If you’d like to register or just want to check out some more information online, I’ll share a link with you. It’s shorter than what it would be otherwise. It’s bit.ly/growthoftheurbanfoodscape. All one string, all one really long word, but still shorter than what you’d have to type otherwise. So I hope you will type it in. I hope you’ll register for this event because it’s going to be a good one. So on behalf of FuzeHub and New York State Manufacturing Now, this is Steve Melito signing off.