White Rose Frozen Is Still Blooming

New York City's oldest and largest independent wholesale grocer delivers low-cost goods along with exceptional service from its freezer facility.

From left, Lowe, Tom Marin, supervisor, Dengelegi and Canty.
From left, Lowe, Tom Marin, supervisor, Dengelegi and Canty.

Delivering frozen goods to the city that never sleeps is no easy feat—especially when you’re maneuvering 53-foot trailers through Manhattan’s congested streets at all hours of the day and night.

But for White Rose Foods Inc., the largest independent and most technologically advanced wholesaler in the New York City metropolitan area, it’s business as usual. “We deliver throughout the Northeast, but the highest concentration of our customers is in the five boroughs, Long Island and northern New Jersey,” says Keith Dengelegi, director of sales and logistics coordination. “And we are the low-cost leader in this very challenging marketplace.”

The New York Metro area is the biggest consumer market in the U.S., and a couple of leading wholesalers have a strong foothold in the region, including C&S Wholesale Grocers and Wakefern Food Corp.

But the 124-year-old company is a New York institution. Its White Rose private line of groceries has been a staple in Northeast households for generations and it’s a brand that consumers know and trust. Likewise, White Rose’s customers—supermarket chains, independent retailers and members of voluntary cooperatives—have had a long standing and trustworthy relationship with the wholesaler and rely on it for much more than on-time and accurate deliveries.

The wholesaler delivers 21,000 food and non-food SKUs to more than 1,800 stores in Delaware, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia. It supplies three primary product lines—grocery, dairy and frozen—from three separate distribution centers in New Jersey.

Its frozen division, White Rose Frozen Foods, operates a 240,000- square-warehouse in Carteret, NJ, not far from its 645,000-square-foot dry grocery warehouse. It also has a 100,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse for dairy products in nearby Avenel, NJ. All three facilities are within 20 miles of New York City.

While all of the warehouses are state-of-the-art, White Rose Frozen really shines. Due to the harsh environment, most freezer facilities see continual employee turnover. That’s not the case for White Rose Frozen, which has the least amount of turnover of all of the company’s warehouses—practically zero. In fact, many of its 85 employees have worked there for decades.

But that hasn't stopped this group from embracing the latest technologies which has helped it achieve 99.99 percent order accuracy.

For its long-term dedication to its customers and employees while dealing with the challenges of a cold storage environment, White Rose Frozen has been named the winner of Food Logistics’ Golden Pallet Award in the refrigerated distribution center category.

The Golden Pallet Awards are the first food distribution industry awards to recognize excellence in warehousing.

Optimizing Productivity, Customer Service

White Rose Frozen posted $200 million in revenue last year. It carries 3,658 SKUs and delivers to 752 locations. The facility features 220,000 square feet of frozen space, at minus 20 degrees F, and a 20,000-refrigerated section. It has 49 dock doors, which are kept at 35 degrees and sends out about 40 reefers each day, which go directly to the retailers.

The company services a very diverse group, starting with its New York metro retailers, which range from single stores to major chains “We’re dealing with many different kinds of customers and what works for us in Foodtown or one of the bigger chains may not work for a private store. Often they have higher demands. So that’s a big challenge for us,” says Dengelegi, pointing out that the majority of these urban customers don’t have loading docks.

“It’s all street level and side door unloading. And a lot of the smaller food stores don’t have the ability to receive at night, so we’ve got drivers on the road pretty much all day long,” he says. “But we can service the small stores as well as the chains and that’s an advantage we have over our competitors, because they can’t do it as well as us, if they do it at all.”

“Some wholesalers don’t think it’s worth it to service the smaller stores, but if you’ve got enough of them, it adds up,” says Bill Canty, day manager of White Rose Frozen and a 38-year company veteran. “And that’s how we started out—a wholesaler serving the metropolitan area that has expanded and continues to grow. We’re very service oriented and do whatever we can to make our customers happy.”

Not to let excess capacity go to waste, White Rose Frozen has been offering public refrigerated storage and warehousing services to local suppliers for the past 10 years. “For some customers, like Edy’s Ice Cream, the public storage has a dual usage—they’re sending us freight for their White Rose retail customers, but be we also handle their distribution business and service them through our transportation program” says Dengelegi.

The company is investing in technology to keep up with the growth, using the TRICEPTS warehouse management system from Retalix Ltd. (formerly OMI International) and voice technology from Vocollect Inc. Canty credits the company’s high order accuracy rate with the voice solution. “The loads are much more accurate--it has dramatically cut down on mispicks.”

The voice solution was first implemented in White Rose Frozen and then expanded to the company’s other two warehouses. “Frozen is usually chosen as the trial facility to implement the initiatives we run,” says Dengelegi. “We have the toughest environment and the most senior staff, so if makes sense to work out the kinks here.

“We are technologically advanced and will continue to be a front runner in terms of technology—from a building perspective, an equipment and a systems perspective,” he adds.

The warehouse features a Freon-based R22 refrigeration system with 800 tons of capacity and a high-tech computer system that continually monitors warehouse temperatures while reducing electrical energy consumption.

In addition to its refrigeration system, White Rose is making every effort possible to reduce energy usage throughout its operations. For example, it’s installing solar panels on its facilities. “We’re putting a four megawatt solar system on one of our buildings to supplement our electrical needs,” says Larry Lowe, the plant engineer. “It will help to keep up electric costs down—electricity costs are going up two to three percent each year. Five years from now, it will be up 15 percent.”

The company is also replacing high-pressure sodium lamps with fluorescent lights with motion sensors, which it expects to significantly reduce its carbon footprint and recycles everything, from corrugated to shrink wrap.

Safety First

Safety is important to White Rose Frozen. “We have a lot of safety programs,” says Dengelegi, “and a general overall policy program throughout the company—it outlines and addresses our policies and procedures. We’ve got documented fire prevention plans and hazard communication programs. We hold periodic drills to ensure that our employees know evacuation procedures. We’re extremely compliant with all OSHA-related policies.”

The company offers safety incentives and rewards employees for being safety conscientious. “Our human resource people are big on health and wellness, and we have exercise and nutrition programs and a small gym. We sponsor local walks and runs in the community. And we have an on-site physical therapist to help injured employees get back to work,” says Dengelegi.

White Rose Frozen’s accident and injury rates are extremely low. “We have a great group of senior employees in this location, so they know what they’re doing. But we also do a lot of training—new employees are trained for the first 90 days of their probationary period. We have a training committee that teaches employees how to select, bend and lift, and safely operate the equipment,” says Dengelegi.

“A cold storage facility is a tough environment to work in and safety concerns are higher than those in a dry warehouse,” he adds. “We have ice and snow, moisture and humidity, conditions that are difficult to maintain. Temperature control and product integrity are also issues.”

With product safety being a high priority, the wholesaler monitors the temperature of product from the trailer to the dock to the warehouse on both the inbound and the outbound. Its drivers also monitor the temperature in the trailer.

For over a century, White Rose has delivered unparalleled quality and service for both its customers and employees—and Dengelegi says it will continue to do so moving forward “White Rose is a very family-oriented company—there’s a lot of loyalty here and they take the employees into consideration when they make big decisions,” says Dengelegi

Canty agrees. “You never feel like an outsider here and we service our customers the same way. We don’t make our truckers wait here for eight hours like they do at other places. You can’t service anybody like that—whether it’s the trucker, the customer or the employee—you have to take care of them. And that’s what we do.”

White Rose Frozen Foods At A Glance

Independent food distributor based in Carteret, NJ
Founded: 1886
2009 sales volume: $200 million
Employees: 85
Customer base: 752
Service area: Connecticut, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia
Size of warehouse: 240,000 square feet (220,000
sq. ft. frozen/ 20,000 sq. ft. refrigerated)
Average number of SKUs: 3,658
Average orders per day: 250
Average cartons shipped per day: 40,000
Average number of pallets per day: 1,300
Inventory accuracy: 99.99 percent
Order accuracy: 99.99 percent

A Brief History

White Rose has a long and storied past. The company was founded as Seeman Bros. & Doremus by Joseph and Sigel Seeman in 1886, after they failed to convince their uncle to switch his wholesale grocery business from cash-and-carry to delivery. By the turn of the century, the company, now an established wholesaler known as Seeman Bros., was also producing canned goods under the “White Rose” label. Today, White Rose brands are still very popular, featuring more than 850 items.

Seeman Bros. continued to expand through a series of acquisitions from the 1940s through the early 1960s, including the purchase of Seabrook Farms Co. in 1960, which brought the company into the frozen food business.

The company sold its wholesale business, including the White Rose label, to Di Giorgio Corp. in 1965. Di Giorgio acquired another New York area wholesaler, Met Food Corp., which became a subsidiary that included the former Seeman wholesale operation. By 1973, Met Food was the largest grocery wholesaler in the area, distributing dry goods, frozen foods and dairy products from a warehouse in Farmingdale, Long Island. It changed its name to White Rose in 1974.

In 1989 White Rose acquired Pioneer Food Stores Co-op and bought the Global division of Sysco Corp. in 1992. Two years, later Di Giorgio purchased Royal Foods from Fleming Cos.

In 1995, White Rose relocated and consolidated all of its distribution facilities in New Jersey. The dairy division was moved to Avenel, NJ, while the grocery and frozen food divisions were relocated to facilities in Carteret, NJ, where they remain today.

In 2006, White Rose merged with Associated Wholesales Inc. (AWI), Robesonia, PA.