New SFA Chairman Focuses On The Future
By Bob Gatty
Rich Rudolph is determined to help SFA find new avenues for growth, while strengthening core services.
While Rich Rudolph, the new chairman of the Snack Food Association, appreciates the importance of the traditions upon which Rudolph Foods Company, Inc. was founded, he also understands that innovation and new ideas for growth must be embraced.
Just as those principles guide his work as president of the family snack food business, based in Lima, Ohio, so will they influence his leadership as board chairman of the SFA. Rudolph succeeds Robert J. Shearer, Shearer’s Foods, Inc., and assumed his new responsibilities at SNAXPO 2006 in Las Vegas last month.
Today, Rudolph Foods, whose pork rind products are based on the recipe developed by Rich Rudolph’s mother, Mary, in the 1950s, is expanding its product line and diversifying into products, such as palletized corn-based onion rings and others.
“We’re just looking to find other avenues for growth,” Rudolph says. “But we don’t want to lose focus on our core business, pork rinds. That’s our niche. That’s how we built our business into the largest pork rind snack producer in the world.”
Mary Rudolph, then a home economics teacher, helped develop the company’s two-step cooking process for pork rinds that is still used by Rudolph Foods today.
“It’s the best tasting process pork rind out there,” Rich contends. “But this industry has a lot of innovation, and change is always a challenge. I find it to be a lot of fun. I love the people — they are a great bunch of hardworking people who try to do their best,” he adds.
While Rich is president of Rudolph Foods, his brother, Jim, is chairman and chief executive officer. John Rudolph, their father and a former SFA chairman, is still active in the company “on a big picture basis,” Rich explains. “We have a great management team, and we try to keep our eyes on the basics of the business. But we try to keep up to date on new developments, too, like new information systems and new employee training concepts, and we are always trying to improve the taste of the product.”
Objectives for SFA
Those same principles can be expected to be hallmarks of Rudolph’s stewardship as chairman of SFA over the next year.
In his acceptance remarks at SNAXPO, he credited Shearer with making “some difficult decisions” to help improve SFA and promised to follow through and make certain that the changes intended to strengthen the organization’s focus on core priorities are effectively implemented.
These include, he told SFA members, a greater emphasis on lobbying efforts, better communication of industry issues, improved educational sessions, strengthening of SNAXPO, improving the nutritional and health image of snack foods and providing further value for international members.
Broadening the membership base will be a major undertaking for SFA under Rudolph’s chairmanship.
“I think as the industry consolidates, it is essential that we position ourselves to attract a broader profile of membership,” he says. “That will be a very high focus for us.”
In fact, the effort ultimately could lead to other organizations being “drawn into” a merger with SFA, Rudolph adds, noting that a special task force will pursue possible opportunities for membership expansion.
At the same time, SFA must continue to focus on its core activities.
“We want to reinvent our Day in Washington event and make sure that SFA becomes an even stronger voice on Capitol Hill,” Rudolph explains.
At SNAXPO, he urged SFA members to attend this year’s Day in D.C., May 16-19, where they will participate in key committee meetings and meet with Congressmen and Senators, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, and top members of the White House staff. (See “USDA Secretary to Highlight ‘Day in D.C.,’” for details)
“We want to beef up our public relations effort and figure out how we integrate into the health trends of today, and we need to improve the image of snack foods as part of a balanced diet,” Rudolph adds.
A new educational task force also has been organized, Rudolph explains, to recommend ways to improve SFA’s educational offerings — perhaps even including online degree courses in partnership with colleges or universities that already offer food industry related course work.
In addition, SFA will continue its “high focus” on providing value for international members, Rudolph says, noting that years ago he participated in the development of Latin American educational tracks now offered by SFA.
“This is a segment of our membership that we must effectively support,” he adds, stressing the importance of partnering with Canacintra, a Mexican-based organization of snack food companies.
“It is highly important that we broaden our membership,” Rudolph says. “We want our international members to feel full value in the services that we provide.”
Another Side
While Rich Rudolph is a serious and dedicated business executive, he does not let those responsibilities consume him. He enjoys family life with his wife, Jan, and their three boys on a 52-acre farm near Lima that produces soybeans, wheat and corn, and provides plenty of room for the family’s Tennessee Walker horses, goats, cats  and dogs.
His parents live “just around the corner” on 230 acres, part of some land homesteaded by the family in 1831.
“Jan and I love the outdoors,” he says, “… fishing, snow skiing, water skiing, mountain biking.  And we love to horseback ride.” Basketball and tennis also are Rudolph favorites.
Rich and Jan also are very involved in their church, and working to maintain their Christian faith is of highest priority.  In fact, his very first act as SFA chairman was to offer a prayer seeking guidance for himself, SFA members and staff.
Because Rudolph believes that business leaders must also serve as leaders in the community, he is highly involved in his local community through a variety of civic and philanthropic activities.
All of this provides a solid foundation for SFA’s new chairman as he looks ahead to his opportunity to lead the association in concert with other members of the organization’s leadership, SFA President Jim McCarthy and the SFA staff.
“Never does a day go by that I don’t feel challenged and blessed,” he says.