This is an epic battle in the marketplace . . . these two leaders of the pack. I cut both lines and several products from each way back 7 years ago when I started. Stanislaus was superior in all products for what I was doing. Their products are consistent, the staff responsive when I have had questions or concerns over the years. Stanislaus is a complete company identity (and still family owned and operated), which seems to be a part of the difference. Escalon is one brand line from the 800 lb gorilla, Heinz. It is a top shelf brand line, but not their one and only.
My experience from things like what you report at the expo/shows is that the #2 guys are always gunning to drive more market share aggressively. One thing that has made a huge impression on me from conversations with Stanislaus is that I have never heard from the service staff one disparaging comment about their competitors. They talk about market practices in general, why they do what they do, and why they believe it to be superior business practice. Never once heard a dig at Escalon on other brands . . . oh, they are emphatic about criticizing reconstituted industrial paste products for tomato centered applications, but never a brand. My two conversations with Escalon involved quick criticisms of Stanislaus products and practices. Not my kind of people, I guess.
As for pricing, I have found HUGE differences in pricing across the market for Stanislaus products. As mush as $6 per case difference. That can always be tracked to the supplier pricing model . . . they all pay the same for a case of tomatoes, so the differences are between the supply houses.
That last point is important to me in considering using the smaller supply houses as opposed to one of the Big Dog Suppliers who muscle their way through the world. I can confidently use a smaller operation to order my tomatoes, because the pricing is level. USFoods, Sysco, Roma/Vistar and/or whoever else is huge out there . . . they don’t get attractive discounts for ordering big volume that the smaller guys can never reach. Stanislaus is not vulnerable to the purchasing/negotiating muscle of this bigger companies . . . we loyal consumers will always want our product, and always know we can get it in the marketplace at another supplier for a reasonable price. I do not think that same balance of power carries with Escalon. I am attracted to the product first, but also by their way of doing business in the marketplace that protects their company and customer interests against leverages from big suppliers who really do make incredible demands on the world of food purchasing. Stanislaus will never get “Wal-marted” into selling top quality product for huge mark-downs just to get the product movement of big stores.
What that gives us customers is a profound security. They know how many cases they need to produce to meet projected market demands and what the budget demands are for pricing. They can run their projections, contract their growers, hire their processors, contract their sales, and know what to expect with confidence. They don’t have pressures to cut corners or accept inferior product for processing or jack up pricing for smaller distributors to make their budget projections work. We customers don’t get sold out to the mighty dollar of the Big Marketers at the expense of smaller business interests. As small distributors lose out to competition of Big Muscle, we get fewer competitors in the marketplace, and lose the power of choice in managing our own relationships in purchasing. It really is an ecologically sound business model to try to keep a viable and fluid market going for everyone. When Sysco demands a price cut or no purchase . . . Stanislaus knows that we’ll get our tomatoes somewhere else if not at Sycso, so they decline. We win and all the local suppliers win.
I do not have intimate knowledge of Escalon’s model. I do know they are unhappy with the way Stanislaus guys make demands of the industry and have lobbied both CA legislature and Congress for standards for using “Fresh” on tomato products . . . . possibly explaining the rise of the Escalon brand with Heinz. I just don’t know the birth of that company.