Industry: Food & Beverage
Products: Fresh and heat-and-serve sausages and meatballs
VP and COO Pasquale Bitonti sees ready-to-eat as a growth opportunity for the biggest sausage producer in Northern California.
Bitonti has been in the sausage business since he was eight years old. "I walked into this little deli," he says, describing the first time he met Frank and Tina D'Ambrosio, New York Style Sausage Company's founders. "And Frank offered me a job right there. He goes, 'Hey kid, what do you do after school?' I said, 'I don't know. Nothing I guess.' And he goes, 'Okay, you come here to work, and I'll pay you."
Bitonti agreed and spent subsequent afternoons sweeping the floor in the company's original location. On the weekends, he'd even get to wait on customers. And as he got older, the D'Ambrosios taught him to mix spices for their daily batches of sausage. "Back in those days, we made about 1,500 pounds a week with three or four workers," Bitonti says.
He had a front row seat to the company's growth and made the most of every opportunity, moving on to fill roles in sanitation and delivery driving when New York Style Sausage Company opened its plant. "I drove for about seven years," Bitonti recalls. "Then they put me back inside and I was helping to run things under the plant manager. As time went on, I got a little promotion here and a little promotion there to become who I am today, the vice president and COO running the company with Don D'Ambrosio, Frank's oldest son."
At present, New York Style Sausage Company manufactures in a 25,000-square-foot building in Sunnyvale. The company's annual revenues are about $25 million with year-over-year growth of between 3 to 4 percent. In addition to an estimated 200,000 pounds per week of fresh Italian sausage (in dozens of flavors), the company produces fresh Italian sausage links, heat-and-serve Italian sausages, meatballs, and ground pork.
"Our best sellers are our mild, hot Italian, and breakfast sausage," Bitonti says. "Those are our bread and butter and what we built the business on. But over the years, we've also created a bunch of different varieties like cheese and wine, Hispanic chorizo, beer brats, and holiday sausages."
Bitonti says variety drives sales. "You're going to get tired after a while eating the same thing all the time," he explains. "People are always looking for something new and unique. It's all about the public and what they're looking for."
New York Style Sausage Company products are always made with high-quality pork and without preservatives, MSG, or trans fats. "I only use boneless picnics [pork shoulders] with the cushion," Bitonti says. "We don't use any other cuts or offal items. While a lot of our competitors have changed the type of pork they use because prices are through the roof right now, I don't play those games. Consistency is what has made us the biggest sausage producer in Northern California."
Consumers will find New York Style Sausage Company products in many grocery stores and markets in Northern California as well as in neighboring states. "We aren't just a Northern California or even just a California company," Bitonti explains. "We definitely aren't national, but our sausage does hit Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and part of Nevada."
Challenges: Bitonti says that workforce is one of the company's most significant challenges. "We're in the Bay Area and right in the middle of Silicon Valley," he explains. "It's hard to find good workers and when you do, they jump ship quite a bit. But I'm pretty lucky because I have some people here who have worked for me for 30 to 40 years."
Pricing is another challenging area. "The pork market is a commodity market," Bitonti continues. "One day you are making money and the next day you are losing money because you can't react and change your prices so quickly. And when you do raise prices, you have to be careful not to raise them too much or no one will buy that package of sausage."
Opportunities: Bitonti says he's working on developing new ready-to-eat products. "I've taken our hot and mild Italian sausages that are available fresh and also turned them into smoked items," he explains. "Somebody can take them, microwave them for a minute, put them in a bun, and have a great sausage sandwich. The same thing with the meatballs. Just microwave them for a minute and they're wonderful."
Needs: Stability in the pork market. "I wish it wasn't a commodity market but that would be like living in a dream world," Bitonti chuckles. "It is what it is, and we're dealing with it."