Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Specialty Foods Business Memo: Obituary: Specialty Foods Industry Pioneer Ted Koryn - 1924 - 2008; Helped Introduce Evian Water, LU Biscuits into U.S.

Obituary: Ted Koryn, 1924-2008
By Robyn Ryan
Special to Natural~Specialty Foods Memo

The passing last month of Ted Koryn, a pioneer in the specialty food business who launched such lines as Lu Biscuits (pictured above in a supermarket cracker and cookie section) and Evian water, ended a long career of extraordinary passion and engagement and, according to those who knew him, a lot of fun.

"He was like Cecil B. DeMille and everybody was in his movie. He orchestrated things,” says Bill Skura, executive vice president for Vitalicious and former executive vice president for sales and marketing for Liberty Imports. "He was a brilliant, colorful guy. His ability to extract information and excite people was incredible.”

Koryn, who died on October 16 in Manhattan at the age of 84, was born in Amsterdam. He lived underground in Holland at the beginning of World War II, until he was able to escape to the U.S. in 1942. Once here, he joined a Dutch Air Force Unit attached to the U.S. Air Force and was trained in aerial photography. He spent the remainder of the war assigned as a war correspondent in the Far East and Indonesia.

After the war, he started his own business as a specialty food agent, TG Koryn Inc. During the 1950s, he launched the Lu Biscuit Line and Evian water, as well canned escargot and truffles, says his former assistant Yvette Quraishi.

Koryn’s European background was essential to his business, but it was his personality and engagement in life that many attribute to his long success in specialty foods. Koryn and business partner, Abe Landau, eventually purchased New Jersey-based Liberty, later Liberty Richter. With the sale of Liberty Richter to Universal Foods, based in Milwaukee, Wisc., Koryn became a vice president of the specialty food division. He retired in 1986, but continued to work as a consultant. "There is no man who has had a greater influence on me,” notes Skura, whom Koryn hired for his first job.

"As I worked with him I came to appreciate how brilliant his mind was," notes Herb Feuerstein, chairman of the Food Import Group of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., who worked with Koryn at Universal." He has helped so many people in this business. I will miss his great sense of humor.”

Koryn is survived by his wife of 27 years, Jane, and his two children, Daniel Koryn and Nanette Cohen; his first wife, Miriam Metzger Koryn; and three grandchildren, Carly and Dustin Cohen and Rachel Koryn.

Natural~Specialty Foods Memo Editor's Note:

Specialty foods industry pioneer Ted Koryn saw many changes during his decades long career in the business.

For example, until about the 1970's the term "specialty foods" wasn't even used much at all. Rather, "gourmet" was the common term for products that were a bit premium, exotic or imported into the U.S. from overseas.

During a good part of his career specialty and gourmet products, especially those distributed by specialty foods distributors, were only in a handful of U.S. supermarkets. And most American supermarkets merchandised specialty foods "above the freezer," since coffin-style frozen food cases were the norm back in the 1950's and 1960's, and into the 1970's.

Later, imported and domestic specialty items were moved to the shelves. However they were segregated in "gourmet" sections or ghettos -- specialty cookies and crackers next to gourmet salad dressings, and condiments, for example - everything together as a category. These sections were similar to the segregated dietetic foods (Estee, ect.) sections you still see today in most U.S supermarkets.

Most specialty foods products for sale in specialty stores and supermarkets in say the 1950's through 1970's were imports (international foods), which was Ted Koryn's specialty. These including foods from Europe primarily, along with Asian products and a handful from elsewhere around the globe.

In fact, imported foods (there also were "international" foods sections in stores) were called "specialty" in large part because American consumers weren't familiar with the imported brands rather than the fact the imports were "gourmet" items. Many of the "specialty" foods imported into the U.S. in those days were everyday food items in their European home countries, for example.

And speaking of the international/import specialty foods business, much has changed in that segment of the specialty foods industry as well. For example, Liberty Richter, which is mentioned in the obituary, was once an independent specialty foods importation, marketing and distribution company. It's had numerous owners over the last 40 years, including the no longer existing specialty foods distribution company Hagemeyer.(The company still exists, it's just no longer in the specialty foods business.)

In the late 1990's the U.S. (based in St. Augustine, Florida) natural and specialty foods distribution company Tree of Life, Inc., which is owned by the Dutch food conglomerate Koninklijke Wessanen, acquired Liberty Richter from Hagemeyer, along with most of its specialty foods distribution facilities in the U.S.

A few years ago Tree of Life sold Liberty Richter to Liberty Richter's long time food importation and marketing rival, World Finer Foods.

Ted Koryn saw many changes in his 84 years of life and decades in the specialty foods industry. Those changes continue.

Today even conventional and discount supermarkets carry hundreds of specialty foods items, as do mass merchandisers like Wal-Mart. And with only a few exceptions those products are integrated throughout the store -- imported and domestic gourmet mustard next to French's Mustard, specialty salad dressings located next to mainstream salad dressing brands like Kraft and Wishbone, and on and on. And of course you know all about the "specialty" or upscale supermarket and its extensive domestic and imported specialty foods product selection. That development has been one of the biggest growth leaders for the specialty foods industry.

Imported specialty foods brands and products have also multiplied 1000-fold in the U.S. over say the last 40 years. In addition, many have become so popular -- Carr's Crackers and Red Oval Stone Wheat Thins (crackers) just to name two formerly "specialty" or "niche" imported food brands as examples -- they are today considered mainstream products.

Two of the then specialty brands -- Evian Water from France, although today the water comes from other parts of the world as well, and LU Biscuits and Cookies, also a product of France but baked in other countries today as well, -- Ted Kroyn helped introduce into the U.S. market went on to become mainstream brands in their respective categories in the U.S. Both brands are also today owned by two of the largest global food and beverage companies: The French food and beverage conglomerate Danone Group owns the Evian brand and U.S.-based Kraft Foods owns the LU Biscuits and cookie brand. The LU brand generates over $2 billion in annual sales globally. Evian is a multi-billion dollar global brand as well. Ironically, Danone Group also owned LU Biscuits and Cookies until 2007, when it sold the brand to Kraft.

In the specialty foods industry, as in the food and grocery business in general, the only constant is change.

[The obituary of Ted Koryn by Robyn Ryan originally appeared in Specialty Foods magazine, which is published by the National Association For the Specialty Foods Trade (NASFT). We thank NASFT and Robyn Ryan for permission to reprint the obituary of specialty foods industry pioneer Ted Koryn.]

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