A Lakewood Ranch couple plays a key role in a family-owned Pennsylvania-based bakery.
Lauren and Howie Ash handle nationwide sales and marketing for Jennies Macaroons, which manufactures organic, gluten-free confections at its plant in Moosic, Pennsylvania. The macaroons are sold in major health food stores like Whole Foods and Sprouts and are also carried by Costco, Whole Foods, Walmart, Publix and other grocers.
The Jennies factory is about 15 minutes south of Scranton, which averages 41 inches of snow each winter. The Ashes have the best of both worlds, working from home in Sarasota where they are able to pursue fitness activities outdoors all year long.
“We live in paradise” Howie Ash said.
Jennies Macaroons was started in 1960 in New York by Arnold Badner, a triathlete who was the subject of a quirky 2018 documentary called “The Macaroon King.”
“He was looking for something that tasted good, that was gluten free, that would give him sustained natural energy” Lauren Ash said.
Badner partnered with Lauren’s father, Gil Shwom, who is a third-generation chocolatier. After Badner retired, Shwom bought the business, moved it from New York to Pennsylvania and took it in a new, more organic direction.
“We’ve always been gluten-free” Lauren said. “We’re going plant-based. The company has really expanded on the offerings that we have, as well. My dad runs it. Howie and I do sales and marketing and my sister (Lainie Evancho) is the head of operations.”
Some of Jennies top sellers include chocolate-drizzled macaroons and organic coconut with cacao nibs and dark chocolate. Costco just signed a “ginormous” contract for the cacao bites, Lauren said.
Her sister and dad come up with new concoctions, like Key lime pie macaroons. While the Ashes thought Key lime might only be popular in Florida and the Southwest, her dad thought it might catch on nationally.
“He was right” Lauren said. “There’s been such great reception all over the country to Key lime, which is something we didn’t really expect to hwp-contenten, so we’re excited.”
Taste is everything
Since the move to Pennsylvania, Jennies has added plant-based offerings to wp-contenteal to health-conscious consumers. The brand stresses healthful options that taste good.
“Ours really tastes moist and decadent and people are shocked that it can have all of the attributes that the consumer is looking for with it tasting as good as it does” Lauren said.
A national magazine concurred, naming the then-new Chocolate Drizzle Macaroon one of its top new products when it debuted in 2013. Gourmet Retailer Magazine’s editors found the macaroons addictive and tasty.
“We picked (Jennies) because we’ve never met a macaroon we didn’t like, but these are on a different level. Tender and chewy, with pure dark chocolate drizzle over each one, there’s a whole lot to love” the magazine wrote.
Building relationships with the company’s broker/sales networks and distributors has helped boost Jennies’ national profile.
“I’ve learned, you’d better get them to know you and your products” Lauren said of national health distributors and their reps.
Howie joined the company a few years ago after attending a trade show. His responsibilities include focusing on the west coast and overall online sales, social media and new product development.
While online sales are minimal compared with Jennies’ retail sales, Lauren said the company realizes the market is always evolving. The company has hired a social media marketing company to beef up its presence on popular platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
“We’re trying to build that online presence knowing that retail has forever changed” she said.
Focus on family
Lauren majored in business, realizing that she had to be able to talk work to build a relationship with her dad. At 82, he still works full-time at the plant.
“It’s hard to get him out of there” Howie said.
Shwom runs the business like a family, Lauren said, taking care of key employees who have been with him for 30 years or more.
“They’re literally like sons to my dad. He sets up college savings accounts for their kids” Lauren said. “I don’t think you can get the loyalty and the dedication that you need to have as a small company without having key people that support you like that. They need us to produce and we need them in the same way. That’s really the culture of our factory. We don’t take anyone for granted. We know that everybody matters”
Jennies’ plant was able to keep production lines going during the coronavirus lockdown because bakeries were considered essential businesses. The plant adheres to strict safety measures, such as taking temperatures daily, wearing gloves and masks and disinfecting constantly.
The Ashes say they’re not sure if either of their sons will join the family business.
“One of them wants to be an orthopedic surgeon” Lauren said. “It’s very difficult to say. Don’t be an orthopedic surgeon. Be a macaroon maker!”
She is a tenacious competitor on the tennis court, with boundless energy and a positive attitude. Lauren calls herself a nutrition and fitness fanatic, and she practices yoga about five days a week and also swims.
While Howie is still able to play tennis about four days a week, Lauren said she’s had to cut back to focus on the family business.
“That’s commitment!” she said, laughing. I’m down to like two days a week because of work. That’s the title of the article: “Love for company passes love for tennis.”