By Margaret Jackson | Mar 08, 2015
Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City, Utah
Employees: about 50
President and co-founder Chris Bowler has brought artisan European meats to the Intermountain West with tantalizing results.
When Bowler was working on the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics, he met Cristiano Creminelli, an Italian whose family has been creating artisan meat products for centuries.
At the time, Creminelli was taking over the business from his father and looking for ways to expand by exporting the family craft to the United States.
"His family had been making artisan meat products for generations," Bowler said. "It was not really a company. It was more of a regional artisan workshop. He knew I was an American entrepreneur and he approached me."
The Creminelli family has been producing artisan meat products since as far back as the 1600s, according to family legend. In the early 1970s, Cristiano's father, Umberto Creminelli, took over the business at the foot of the Italian Alps in northern Italy. In 1990, Cristiano was put in charge of production and by 1996, he was managing all aspects of the company with supervision from his father and help from his brother.
Bowler started doing market research and discovered that there had been an explosion of interest in specialty cheeses, wines and olive oils from around the world. Meat, however, was lagging -- mainly because of challenges with the U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations.
"The opportunity was not to export," Bowler said. "It was coming to the U.S. and manufacturing in the U.S."
Bowler and his partners started the company in 2007 making salami in the basement of Tony Caputo's Gourmet Food Market & Deli in downtown Salt Lake City. It sold its products at the market and a nearby farmers market. It relocated several times as it expanded, ultimately landing in a 75,000-square-foot processing facility in Salt Lake City.
Now making a catalog that spans salami to deli meats to roasts, the company uses only all natural and organic ingredients, and whenever possible it buys local. Its heritage meats are humanely raised without antibiotics and with vegetarian feed.
Challenges: For the first six years after the company launched, its biggest challenge was financing. Bowler had to find partners that would allow Creminelli to maintain artistic control and integrity of its products. "Our goals are to continue to make the best products possible in the meat industry and build a great organization that services its employees well," Bowler said. "Finding financing was all we worried about. Connected to that was having enough production capacity."
Now that Creminelli has established itself, there are more financing opportunities and the company faces a new set of challenges. "The challenge now is the pace of growth and finding the right talent so we can grow our organization quickly and maintain the integrity and culture we set out to create," Bowler said. "We want to make sure there's no slippage in the quality of the product."
Opportunities: "Almost anywhere you see a meat product, we see an opportunity to make it better," Bowler said. "From hamburgers, to bacon to ham, there are opportunities to rethink the way companies manufacture and go to market. The biggest opportunity for Creminelli is ham."
Creminelli is launching a non-genetically modified organism (GMO) ham with Whole Foods in April. The hogs are fed non-GMO grains, and the spices and sea salt are also verified as non-GMO. "We simply took a whole ham, trimmed it out and put it back together, branded and slow-roasted it," Bowler said. "The result is the texture that you want when you're eating meat. There's no rubberiness, and it's not over-salted, over-spiced or over-smoked to hide the water and chemicals that typically are used to extend the meat."
Needs: Creminelli's biggest need is finding the right employees to add to its team. "We feel like there's a massive opportunity to create exciting meat products that people are willing to pay a premium price for," Bowler said. "Now it's not so much financing the growth. It's engineering the organization of the company."
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