Constant growth based on hard work and focus on customers.
The Sorbello Family
Samuel F. Sorbello was born in Mullica Hill, New Jersey in 1933 into a home where no English was spoken. He attended public school there through the 11th grade and then went to work full time on the family vegetable farm. At 22 years old, against all advice, he ventured into farming on his own.
He and his wife, Rose, used most of their cash wedding gifts to buy a used tractor and, to make ends meet, Sam worked winters in local manufacturing jobs. For the next eight years he grew peppers and tomatoes on 200 acres he leased from his father and others. In 1960 he began planting fruit trees, all peaches. After seven years he had completed the transition from vegetables to fruit.
By this time the Sorbello family included two sons, Fred and Sam. Both worked alongside their father on the farm. But growing and selling peaches changed the family business in more ways than any of the Sorbellos could imagine. In the era when Sam farmed each picking was packed and shipped to market immediately. This practice delivered wonderful products to Philadelphia but, at the height of the peach harvest, glutted the market and greatly depressed prices. Sam soon noticed that, only weeks after the New Jersey harvest peaked and supply dwindled, the price of a bushel of peaches rose dramatically.
In 1964 Sam and Rose built their first cold storage building, a modest 1,500 square feet that could be chilled to 36° F. The building included an open packing shed where fruit was washed, sized, sorted and weighed. With cold storage available, Sam could hold the last 6,000 bushels of his harvest in reserve until other farms had picked and sold their fruit. Delivering to merchants in Philadelphia a few weeks later, he tripled the value of the peaches he had stored because he was the only grower with a supply.
In the winter of 1964 Sam used his building to warehouse furniture for a local manufacturer. Later, taking advantage of the cooling in the building, he stored butter and cheese. But his advantage as a peach farmer was his primary focus. He not only stored his own harvest but began packing for other growers. In 1968 he added more cold storage. His farm prospered.
Sam's experience with cold storage and a variety of foods attracted plenty of attention. By the early 1970s he was approached by a number of potential customers and so, in 1973 built a refrigerated warehouse for frozen food. Frozen seafood and blueberries were among the first such products he stored.
In 1978 he responded to a customer's request and built the first USDA inspection facility in the Philadelphia area. This venture was in response to a meat importer dissatisfied with the service available from New York City's port. This facility attracted the business of many beef importers who formerly relied on New York and shortly thereafter Philadelphia dominated this business.
Sam and a business partner expanded, buying frozen food facilities in Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey. One Camden warehouse, "Dockside," was the largest portside frozen foods warehouse in the world. But, over time, the environment in which these businesses operated chaffed on Sam. He was happiest in Mullica Hill and so, in 1981, sold his interest in the Philadelphia and Camden operations and returned to his roots.
Sam's oldest son, Fred, began running the family farm in 1980. In partnership with his father, he took over 200 acres of peaches and gradually expanded the farm to 300 acres. Then, in 1985, when Sam retired to Florida, Fred assumed management of the storage business. In short order, Fred discovered that the Mullica Hill capacity was far less than the market demanded. So, in 1989 he and his wife, Cheryl Ann, built a third frozen storage warehouse. This warehouse's 26,000 square feet of floor space stored and shipped fruit six months of the year and handled Wakefern Food Corporation (Shop Rite) turkeys the other half of the year.
Virtually from the moment it opened, this warehouse couldn't fill the demand for more storage that came from the marketplace. So, in 1993, then again in 1998, 2002, and 2008 the business - now known as The Mullica Hill Group - expanded until it included over nine million cubic feet of refrigeration.
Perhaps more important than the physical expansion of the Mullica Hill Group's resources, are the attitudes and approach the Sorbello family brings to warehousing. A deeply ingrained sense of hard work and dedication to customers was passed from Sam and Rose to their sons. In 1994 Fred institutionalized this focus by developing quality control standards for the business, documenting those standards and training his employees to understand them. Everything from temperature accountability to load trafficking was rigorously controlled. This approach to cold storage and its processes were pioneering in the industry and continue to be developed and improved throughout the Mullica Hill operations.
Sam's youngest son, Sam Sorbello and his wife Colleen built their first cold storage facility in 1999 and their success prompted two more in 2001 and 2005. In 2006 they acquired Atlantic Coast Freezers, adding 4.1 million cubic feet to their operation. Sam's facilities operate independently from the Mullica Hill Group. However, understandably, the brothers often cooperate on operations and processes, further enriching the services and capacity of both businesses.
But the Mullica Hill Group story extends well beyond cold storage. Along the way a variety of services have been added to the mix. All have been added because the business remains keenly connected to and focused on the needs of customers. Today, the Group offers freezer and cooler services that are remarkably sophisticated. Blast freezing and tempering are available. Plus the Group is the largest USDA import meat inspection facility in the U.S. Mullica Hill repackages and restyles, and it has state-of-the-art labs for performing fat and bacteria testing.
As important as any service surrounding the Mullica Hill Group warehouses is the transportation business. In 1990 Fred formed Aldan Transportation, an arm of the organization that brokered trucks and loads in order to pick up and deliver products into and out of Sorbello warehouses. In 1994 Aldan expanded their ICC authority to broker vehicles to an operating authority and began purchasing trucks. Today there are 43 company-owned trucks and 28 refrigerated trailers that allow the Group to perform miracles in the complex transportation of frozen foods.
Today the Mullica Hill Group offers a unique combination of long-held family values and sophisticated services. The source of their methods comes from a habit of hard work and dedication. The scope of their services is the result of constant and personal contact with their customers and industry, concentrating on the best practices available in every area of their work.
Great businesses like The Mullica Hill Group come from more than good planning and intelligence: they spring from generations of effort.
- 1933 Samuel F. Sorbello born.
- 1956 Samuel and Rose marry and begin farming.
- 1964 Mullica Hill Cold Storage founded by Samuel and Rose Sorbello. First building: 1,500 square feet.
- 1968 Mullica Hill Cold Storage adds 1,800 square feet.
- 1973 The first frozen foods warehouse is built: 5,000 square feet.
- 1978 Mullica Hill Cold Storage becomes the first USDA inspection facility in the Philadelphia area.
- 1985 Sam and Rose semi-retire and Fred assumes leadership of the company.
- 1989 Garden State Freezers builds its first warehouse: 26,000 square feet.
- 1989 Aldan Transportation opens.
- 1993 Garden State Freezers builds its second warehouse: 18,000 square feet.
- 1994 First edition of Quality Control Process for Operations and Food Safety.
- 1998 Garden State Freezers builds its third warehouse: 13,000 square feet.
- 2002 Garden State Freezers builds its fourth warehouse: 46,000 square feet.
- 2008 Mullica Hill Cold Storage - Pedricktown opens: 126,000 square feet.