Great People, New Products Propel Sterman Masser’s Growth
February 05, 2018
As featured in the AgChoice Farm Credit 2017 Winter Leader Magazine
How much is 51.5 million pounds of potatoes? It represents enough potatoes to feed every American twice. It also represents the total pounds of potatoes Sterman Masser, Inc., Sacramento, Pa., will grow on 1,340 acres this year.
Potato Farming for Eight Generations
“Our ancestors brought their farming methods with them from Europe in the 1700s,” said Dave Masser, President and CEO of family-owned Sterman Masser. “My great grandfather was a truck farmer, growing multiple vegetables, including potatoes, and selling them to nearby coal mining towns.”
Dave’s grandfather, Sterman, bought the home farm in Sacramento in 1964 and began focusing more on potatoes, packing them for local supermarkets on a seasonal basis. In 1968, Sterman built his first potato-packing shed to deliver potatoes year round. “At that point, the focus became white, red and yellow table stock potatoes,” Dave said.
After graduating from Penn State in 1976, Sterman’s son, Keith, came back to the business, becoming president in 1980. In 1984, Keith became president and CEO, and his wife, Helen, joined the company as chief financial officer. At that juncture, the business was farming 625 acres and shipping 7 million pounds of potatoes annually.
After their graduations from Penn State, Keith’s children joined the business. In 1998, son Dave became vice president of sales and marketing, followed by daughter Julie as vice president of administration in 2009.
“We found a niche with the soils here,” explained Dave. “Mineral soils provide a unique flavor and a good substrate to grow potatoes.” The area also includes ample water supply for any irrigation needs.
Expansion and Diversification
A major facility expansion in 2000 propelled Sterman Masser into the next decade and helped fuel major revenue growth.
“We weren’t just selling one variety,” noted Dave. “We began providing full category support and next day service to our retail partners 52 weeks out of the year. Once we figured out how to grow that model, it was an attractive solution for retailers across our region.”
“Our success was people based,” Dave explained. “We hired the right people, allowing our family to focus more on strategy and less on tactical execution. Great people helped us grow.”
Consumer trends dictated the next major strategy innovation: investment in value-added products.
“We watched European consumers,” said Dave. “They are grab-and-go, and that trend made its way to the states.”
Other major trends the Massers followed were smaller households, less family mealtime opportunities, portion control and the waste conscious consumer.
“I studied the convenience section at retail and how that footprint expanded over time,” remembered Dave. “I knew that if we were going to be relevant at retail, we needed to change how we operate.”
“We saw the traditional ten-pound potato bag volume being reduced, and we knew we needed to keep potatoes in the basket,” he further explained. “Complex carbs, such as potatoes, are critical to a healthy diet, and we needed to make a change.”
Change came in the form of a new line of value added convenient potato products. Branded Side Delights®, the new products met many consumer trends. Side Delights® Steamables,™ as an example, are triple washed, microwavable in the bag and ready to eat in eight minutes. Other line items include Bakeables®, Grillables®, Roastables® and Gourmet Petite Potatoes.
For Sterman Masser, value added products help it further become a one-stop-shop. “They are our calling card to offer the complete category to retailers,” Dave said. “How do you keep it new and exciting? The next best way to enjoy potatoes gives us something to talk about with our partners.”
“When potatoes are on the grocery store list, basket rings are higher,” recalled Dave. “Potatoes are important to retailers and foodservice operators.”
To meet increased demand for products such as Side Delights® and grow the business, Sterman Masser contracts with local farmers. “Growing potatoes is a long-term investment with local farmers,” explained Dave. “Potatoes can provide diversity in their core farming. Potatoes in the rotation leads to an increase in grain yields following potatoes.”
“There is a huge production opportunity with Pennsylvania’s freight advantage and local relevance,” continued Dave. “It’s revenue that we generate in Pennsylvania that stays in the Commonwealth. The more we can grow versus import is a key to the local economic engine.”
“If we can rise that tide, it will lift us all as we forge relationships with contract growers,” Dave said.
Bringing the ‘Do’ers’ Back Home
In 2013, the Masser family established the Hot Potato 5K. The race winds through the town of Valley View with all funds benefiting the Tri-Valley Youth Activities Fund (TVYAF), a non-profit 501c (3) charitable organization.
“We have a declining population and a declining tax base that impacts the programs at our schools,”
said Dave. “We are trying to create a vehicle to expand school programs through the TVYAF and ultimately, help encourage people to think of this area as a place to call home. We want to bring the ‘do’ers’ back home.”
“While we are focused on growing the state’s potato industry, a critical component is to grow our people,” he further explained. “We focus on culture and a sense of purpose for our employees. Feeding people is a great purpose.”
“We provide world-class service to our customers,” said Dave, “and it all starts with our people.”
To learn more about Sterman Massers, visit stermanmasser.com.