The interview below is part of a new series from McGuireWoods that features interviews with professionals in the food and beverage industry. To recommend a professional or company for a future interview, please email Brad Austin or Jim Neale.
Marta Stein has been a trusted adviser to some of the largest publicly traded and privately held companies and private equity firms in the country. She currently serves as general counsel of Alpha Baking Co. Inc. Prior to joining Alpha Baking, Marta was in private practice for 30 years as a trial attorney specializing in complex commercial litigation and executive counseling matters across the country, most recently as a partner with McGuireWoods.
Question: Tell us about Alpha Baking and how you became its general counsel.
Marta Stein: Alpha Baking Co. Inc. is one of the largest privately held baking manufacturers in the United States, producing more than 265 million pounds of product a year. With six plants in four states and 20 distribution centers, Alpha Baking bakes and sells its fresh and frozen bread, buns, rolls and sweet goods to leading chain restaurants, independent outlets, stadiums, schools, healthcare facilities and more across the nation. In addition to being an industry leader in the food service sector, Alpha Baking sells and distributes its own brands of Natural Ovens, S.Rosen's and Mary Ann, as well as private-label bread products into retail outlets.
I have been working with Alpha for close to 25 years, starting as a litigator for the company and then expanding to include outside general counsel work as the relationship partner at McGuireWoods. When I left McGuireWoods to start STEIN Strategic Solutions, a legal consulting firm, I was humbled to have Alpha Baking as one of my first clients, which is how I came to serve as its general counsel.
Q: What do you love about your job?
MS: I love being a trusted adviser and business partner, learning about how such a special and complex company works. I love the smell of the baking bread as I walk into the plant. I love seeing the finished product in a store or in commercials. And, I still have a child’s amazement when I walk through the plants seeing huge pieces of equipment stories high, working seamlessly in combination with the incredibly able employees and cutting-edge automation that result in products enjoyed throughout the country.
Q: What has been the most challenging aspect of the pandemic for Alpha Baking?
MS: The most challenging aspects were the complete unknown and the seriousness of the situation. I was very fortunate to have an executive team that was open to and immediately took safety measures against COVID-19, even before the country was impacted. That included taking proactive steps relating to the safety of the workforce, the strengthening of the ingredient supply chain, and the changes in logistics across the country.
Q: What do you see as the new trends for the food industry?
MS: E-commerce, social responsibility and products that cater to customers’ health priorities are some strong current trends. A prime example that illustrates all three of these is the success of Alpha Baking’s Natural Ovens’ Keto-Friendly Bread, which is baked in an Energy Star-certified facility. It offers an option to consumers who follow the Keto diet and has been a great success in online stores.
Q: What is your go-to piece of advice?
MS: Be proactive and mindful of the bigger picture. For an attorney, it’s not enough to give legal advice in a vacuum relating to one practice area. We add the most value when we recognize that many issues overlap for a company, and coordination of legal guidance is key.