If Aidells Is Out at Ferry Plaza, Shouldn't Scharffen Berger Have To Go Too?

On Tuesday, the Chronicle's C.W. Nevius reported that CUESA, the organization that runs the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, had informed Kathleen de Wilbur, the woman who has operated the Aidells Sausage stall for 17 years, that she would be out of the market at the end of the month.

As CUESA's Dave Sanford explained in a statement to SF Weekly, "In reviewing Aidells Sausage Company, we determined that they did not meet certain current criteria, such as our preference for sellers of local brands and for those with fewer direct marketing opportunities. . . . We see our market as an incubator for local businesses, and we want to use our limited space to provide this same opportunity to other local companies."

Though a blow to Aidells and de Wilbur (an independent rep for the sausage company), the eviction was no surprise, coming after months of negotiations. And Aidells is no longer the company that started selling at the market in 1993. Founder Bruce Aidells hasn't been involved with the operations for more than 10 years, and the San Leandro company has factories in several states and distribution through several national grocery chains. 

Nevertheless, says Storrie Johnson, Aidells vice president of operations, "We thought that we were a wonderful example of how farmers' market businesses can become successful. We've tried to stay true to the markets by selling unique products only found there" (such as the Whiskey Fennel sausage and the spicy Bier sausage). They're still going to have a presence at farmers' markets in Marin County and the Peninsula, but Johnson admits that the Ferry Plaza is the "showcase market."

Though it's a bit of a loss to those of us who have been ordering Bier sausages from the Aidells stand since the farmers' market operated out of a crappy parking lot, CUESA has the right to define its own standards -- especially if it is operating as San Francisco's "showcase" market. But that makes us wonder about other companies who may no longer merit a place in the showcase -- specifically, Scharffen Berger Chocolates.

Local company (1997-2009)
Scharffen Berger has had a stall at the Ferry Building Marketplace since it reopened as a high-end food emporium in 2003. The company was founded in South San Francisco by John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg, and for years ran its operations out of Berkeley. But Hershey bought Scharffen Berger in 2005, gradually shifted production to Robinson Hills, Ill., and in January 2009, closed the Berkeley factory. Scharffen Berger's only remaining Bay Area ties (besides John Scharffenberger himself)? The Ferry Building retail store.

Obviously, the Ferry Building Marketplace operates completely independently from CUESA, with a different mission and different criteria for its vendors. (Sur La Table, for instance, is a Seattle-based chain that started out in the Pike Place Market.) Nevertheless, the objectives listed on the Web site sound much the same as CUESA's:
We are creating a community of like-minded people that will:
• Showcase small regional producers that practice traditional farming or production techniques and who develop personal relationships with their customers.
• Promote the Bay Area's vast ethnic diversity and serve and an incubator for artisan producers who are returning to sustainable methods of agriculture and production.
"Part of any food artisan's growth goes beyond where they start," says Jane Connors, Ferry Building Marketplace senior property manager, when I ask her about whether Scharffen Berger still belongs in the Ferry Building. She cites the national growth of local operations like Peet's Coffee, as well as more recent, smaller-scale expansion by Blue Bottle Coffee and Cowgirl Creamery. But those companies are still headquartered locally, I mention, whereas Scharffen Berger isn't anymore.

Connors replies, "I think that as long as Hershey suports the standards that the original Scharffen Berger partners and producers supported, well, they're here for another few years and we're happy to have them. They're terrifically suportive of all our activities and they're one of the most generous [tenants] in terms of outreach."

Sounds like the Aidells people might want to talk to her.

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