Flavoring our future

by Laurie Gorton
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In today’s fast-paced world, founding and directing a company that’s nearly 70 years old are extraordinary ­accomplishments. And to do it while actively supporting their customers’ future through association activities and personal compassion requires strong commitment to principles. That leadership now ushers Kermit and L.M. (Pete) Murphy, founders of Mother Murphy’s Laboratories, into the Baking Hall of Fame as members of the Class of 2015.

This impact could hardly have been envisioned when Kermit returned to his hometown, Greensboro, NC, after finishing his education and military service. In 1946, the idea of selling flavors occurred to him after befriending a local doctor. He started the business in a rented room behind a drugstore. Meanwhile, his younger brother Pete had established a reputation as a successful businessman, and within a few years, Kermit invited him on board.

The business took the name Mother Murphy’s Laboratories in the mid-1960s. The company, still based at Greensboro and now managed by the members of the family’s second and third generations, serves food and pharmaceutical companies throughout the US and in 30 countries around the world.

The brothers learned the value of hard work as boys while assisting their father, an eastern North Carolina fisherman — values that helped the fledgling flavor company earn its wings. Although both men have passed on, they are well remembered throughout the baking industry.

“Kermit Murphy had a huge heart and was loved by everyone who knew him,” said Craig Parrish, executive director, Cookie and Snack Bakers Association (CASBA).

A customer, Kent Byron, vice-president of Carolina Foods, Inc., Charlotte, NC, said, “Kermit was always an ambassador for the baking industry,” and described him as “a class act.”

Several individuals who seconded the hall of fame nomination of Kermit and Pete Murphy mentioned their generosity. For example, Gene Veazey, the long-time president of Bishop Baking, Cleveland, TN, now retired, recalled how, in 1965, Kermit extended a hand to the struggling snack cake company. “We were having a difficult time,” Mr. Veazey said. “Kermit paid us a visit and gave us extra terms in our purchase of our flavorings. As we grew and became profitable, we continued to buy from Mother Murphy’s.”

Kermit and Pete helped open doors for allied suppliers to take leadership roles in the baking industry. Kermit served as president of the Allied Trades of the Baking Industry in 1968, and the brothers were among the first allied tradesmen invited to attend the American Bakers Association (ABA) annual board of governors meetings, which at that time were closed to the general membership. The Murphys participated in these meetings, setting up dinners, entertainment and networking opportunities. They created a precedent for suppliers to be treated as valuable partners of the baking industry, recalled David Murphy, Kermit’s son and the current president of Mother Murphy’s.

Official recognition for the brothers includes Kermit being named 2002 CASBA Man of the Year. That same year, Kermit was named Man of the Year by the Food Marketing Education Council. In 2014, Kermit and Mother Murphy’s received a Lifetime Achievement Award from CASBA. Kermit was a 50-year member of the American Society of Baking.

Honoring the brothers’ memory, the Murphy family established a scholarship trust fund administered by CASBA. The fund benefits recipients who are employees or immediate family of an employee at a CASBA member company.

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