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Innovation & Job News

Making great food products while combating poverty in southeastern Pennsylvania

Lancaster Food Company has a two-fold mission

Lancaster entrepreneur Charlie Crystle, whose food products are finding an enthusiastic audience in Greater Philadelphia, has a specific philosophy on the trouble with America’s economy.

According to the Lancaster Food Company CEO, what we need is "an effort to make jobs that meet people where they are, rather than where we want them to be." Politicians and civic leaders talk a lot about job training, but especially in a city like Lancaster -- which has a 30 percent poverty rate -- this falls short. Focusing on job training programs rather than immediately accessible jobs "continues to push the responsibility for unemployment onto the unemployed…if we don’t do something to meet them halfway, or all the way, [they] will never have decent employment," he argues.

Hiring people in poverty with a good living wage is a part of his company's mission. Crystle founded the company alongside his childhood friend Craig Lauer, who serves as chief product officer, in 2014. After launching and then exiting two software startups, living coast-to-coast and working in Central America with a program for street kids, Crystle felt a strong desire to create a company at home with a social as well as an economic impact.

Lancaster Food Company specializes in organic and sustainably sourced breads, spreads, salsas and jams, including sandwich rye and cinnamon raisin swirl bread, sunflower seed spreads, and limited-edition small-batch toppings from locally grown ingredients such as golden orange tomato salsa and organic strawberry jam. A Lancaster Heritage Grain bread is also on the way this fall.

While their products are handmade, Crystle insists Lancaster Food Company is already a scalable business -- their target market ranges from Washington, D.C., to the New York metro area, with a large presence in Philly. Currently, you can find their products at Mariposa and Weavers Way food co-ops, Reading Terminal Market, area Shop-Rites and the Lancaster Farm Fresh CSA. They just closed an exciting deal with five Wegman’s stores in Southeastern PA, and have their sights set on Whole Foods; look for their products on the shelves of a location in Wayne soon.

That increased reach means more room to advance the company’s social philosophy: hiring people in poverty struggling to find jobs. The company was launched with "a demand for jobs that require relatively low skills, and could meet people where they are in terms of their education, work history or legal background," explains Crystle, something that was difficult to achieve with his prior work in tech startups. "We’re trying to scale so that we can hire hundreds of people, not dozens."

He’s also adamant about the value of supporting local businesses and enjoys being able to tap into the vibrant agriculture of the Lancaster area.

"Every dollar that we spend locally has…three times the impact on our local economy" as money spent on goods from corporations in faraway states, he explains. That adds up to a business as committed to combating poverty as it is to pleasing customers.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Charlie Crystle, Lancaster Food Company

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