Ahead of the curve

by Bryan Salvage
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Philadelphia has long held an extraordinary reputation for its rich history, arts and culture. The City of Brotherly Love is also admired for its cuisine, which is heavily influenced by its Italian-American population. And it’s the area of South Philly bounded by South Street to the north, the Delaware River to the east and south and the Schuylkill River to the west that is the traditional Italian neighborhood of the city – as well as the home of Vincent Giordano Corporation.

“I grew up in South Philly, and in the early 1900’s my great-grandparents were among the original store keepers that founded what is known today as ‘The 9th Street Italian Market,’” says Guy Giordano, president and CEO of the company his father founded more than four decades ago.

Guy’s father, Vincent, along with his family, started Vincent Giordano Prosciutto Co. in 1969, which boned out prosciutto hams and sold them to Italian retailers in the Philadelphia area. “My dad knew everybody and he was boning product in the back of the store. That was our start in prosciutto and specialty meat products,” Guy says.

After Guy graduated from La Salle Univ. in 1976, he joined the company full time. They soon began cooking their first roast beef products to offset the waning prosciutto business, which was affected after Italian prosciutto producers began importing superior product to the US.

As the price of prosciutto escalated, Vincent looked for other meat products to manufacture and roast beef was the clear protein of choice. “For a year, we were going back and forth, day and night, cooking 20 or 30 roasts at a time in our 4,000-sq.-ft. plant using little pizza ovens,” Guy chuckles.

It was in 1979 that Guy and his father traveled to the annual American Meat Institute convention in Chicago and made a business-changing purchase. “We bought a Fessman two-cage oven that cost more than my dad’s home,” Giordano recalls. “My father was nervous – as a Depression baby – but it paid off. We took it from there and built a business specializing in roast beef.”

Today, Guy Giordano owns and manages his growing business. “We’re going to be three generations in this company; five generations in the Philadelphia food business. My children and family work here,” Guy says.

Vincent Giordano Corp.’s 55,000-sq.-ft. meat processing plant processes a range of deli-quality roast beef, corned beef and pastrami products for foodservice, fast-food, retail and private-label customers. The company anticipates $100 million in sales next year as demand continues steadily climbing despite the economy. Bruce Belack, executive vice president of sales and marketing, is a driving force behind increasing sales.

And Giordano also has high hopes his new Safe Pac high-pressure pasteurization business will fatten the company’s bottom line in the future.

This year, the company will process 12 million lbs. of roast beef, corned beef and pastrami, says John McVey, executive vice president of operations and Guy’s brother-in-law.

“We make several variations of roast beef, ranging from product for price-conscious customers up to high-end, seasoned product,” he says. Roast beef is the company’s top-selling product and it’s offered pre-sliced and whole.

One reason for the company’s continuing success and growth is its longstanding relationships with powerhouse customers. It has done business with Wawa, a huge retail chain in the Northeast, for 25 years.

“We’re probably one of the last independents supplying product to Subway,” Guy says. “We were working with Subway back when they only had 150 stores...they’re now an international, 35,000 store chain.”

Guy Giordano’s efforts to satisfy customers hasn’t gone unnoticed. In July he was awarded the Subway Leadership Award at the Subway Convention in California. This award is presented annually to a company leader who is directly involved in the Subway business.

At retail, Giordano supplies products to all Supervalu retailers, Acme, Giant, HEB in Texas and Angelo Capputo’s in Chicago, among others. It also processes many SKUs of private-label meat – about 75 percent of its retail business is in private-label.

Giordano also handles Wegmans entire sandwich shop business and is the primary supplier of Subway’s roast beef and meatballs. Fast-food operators Jersey Mike’s and Slack’s Hoagie Shack, among others, are also supplied by Giordano.

The company sees great potential for growth in the sandwich side of the business. At present, the fastest-growing segment of the business is fast-casual, Guy says.

Plant efficiency

Giordano’s processing plant, which underwent four major expansions since 1977, has a raw and cooked side. Only Select or Choice steer products are used for the company’s range of beef products, McVey says.

When Guy began working in his family’s meat business, he always worried about high raw material prices. “But my dad said, ‘Our niche is making quality product’ so quality raw materials are a must. Today, we’re competitive at both the higher and lower end of the market. We can compete with the largest international players as well as private-label products – our private-label products are as good as or better than leading brands and very competitive in price.”

Craftsmanship and automation are married each day at the plant. Every morning, raw meat materials are first sorted by size, trimmed and/or marinated; cures are made on site. Metalquimia injectors, mixers and tumblers have been used at the facility for years. The plant incorporates a unique four-tumbler system; one moveable, custom-made dumper services all four tumblers by moving from tumbler to tumbler.

Roast beef products are cooked in six Fessman cage ovens while corned beef and pastrami are cooked in hot-water kettles.

The plant recently installed a new refrigeration system to maintain a consistent temperature throughout.

Although the plant previously sliced its own products, all products now destined for slicing are trucked daily to Long Island-based Five Star Foods, an independent slicing operation.

Sixty employees work in Giordano’s plant while 15 people man the adjacent corporate office. Plant employees work 10-hour shifts, five or five-and-a-half days per week. The night shift cleans and sanitizes the facility and equipment.

Specialty products

Vincent Giordano Corp. offers specialty products through Buona Vita in Bridgeton, NJ, which is one-quarter owned by Guy Giordano. Italian specialties processed include signature meatballs – it processes approximately 200,000 lbs. of product per day, or more than 500 million meatballs annually; hand-rolled, stuffed Beef Braciola; Italian Style Meatloaf made with a special blend of beef, breadcrumbs, seasonings and cheeses; Home Style Meatloaf, with peppers, onions and Worcestershire sauce; beef and pork crumbles for pizza toppings; and Sweet and Hot Italian Sausage.

“They make most of the Subway meatballs in the country,” McVey says.

Vincent Giordano Corp. is more of a hand-trimming operation while Buona Vita is more of a grind, form-and-cook operation, Guys says.

Guy adds the home meal replacement segment is one of the fastest-growing parts of the company’s retail business; consumers are demanding ease of cooking. “They’re also looking for value in quality products,” he says.

“Not everyone knows how to cook any more,” adds Guy’s daughter, Justine Giordano, director of marketing and regional sales manager.

“We have a braised short rib I can put into barbecue sauce or sell as is – bring it home and heat and serve it,” Guy points out. “We’ve also done pot roast. So all the things the moms in the world don’t have time to cook anymore we’re doing at the processing level...sometimes in a retail package, sometimes for restaurants.”

The HPP difference

While in the plant’s parking lot, entrepreneur Giordano points to a brick, one-story building across the street. Formerly owned by a childhood friend he sang doo-wop with on neighborhood street corners, the facility is now home to Guy’s newest stand-alone business – Safe Pac. Opening its doors in November 2010, this co-packing business offers high-pressure pasteurization (HPP) services for ready-to-eat meats, including all of the products processed across the street at Giordano’s processing plant. Safe Pac also treats non-meat perishables, such as deli salads, dips, fruits, vegetables and juices. Safe Pac services are available to all processors and it is billed as the first HPP toll-processing company in the Northeast and is one of only three in the entire US. (See side bar on how the technology works.)

Safe Pac uses a 420-liter, NC Hyperbaric horizontal HPP machine – the largest in the industry, Guy says.

“You can’t run an HPP machine without on-site mechanics because you have 90,000 lbs. of pressure on every plate, nut, seal and bolt,” Guy says acknowledging his hard-working mechanics. “One of the beauties of the NC Hyperbaric system is it has eight pumps to build up the pressure of the water. You can run on one, although it will take longer [to complete the HPP process].”

Safe Pac operates in a 30,000-sq.-ft., former warehouse created for Safe Pac’s HPP operation. Ninety-five percent of what’s HPP processed at this site is RTE meats. “In the future, Safe Pac’s business will be two-thirds meats and one-third salads, soups, guacamole – all kinds of perishable food items,” Guy predicts.

Giordano’s processing plant has the capacity to produce about 15 million lbs. of product annually. Safe Pac, currently operating with one machine, can HPP treat 15-20 million lbs. annually. “We have the space to add a second and third HPP line if necessary,” Giordano says. “This building could process 50 million lbs. by adding two more lines.”

Safe Pac’s HPP process yields a 5-log reduction of harmful bacteria – if a surface has 100,000 pathogenic microbes on it, a 5-log reduction reduces the number of microorganisms to one.

Almost every product brought in to Safe Pac’s treatment center is in a vacuum-sealed or hot fill-type package. The bulk of what Safe Pac treats is whole-muscle products for the deli – such as spiral hams and turkey breast along with sliced deli meats in retail zip-lock style packages.

Cooking roast beef is a critical process; for consumers in the Northeast, the rarer it is, the better it tastes. But most companies cook roast beef at a higher temperature to prevent potential food-safety problems, Giordano says.

By incorporating HPP, the company can produce rarer products with no worries.

“Thanks to Safe Pac, you have this safe, unbelievable tasting product with refrigerated shelf-life we guarantee for 90 days from the time of delivery,” Guy says. “I’ve sampled some products more than a year old – and you’d be hard pressed to tell me it was a year old.”

Safe Pac is HPP-treating both retail and foodservice products. “It gives our customers an opportunity to protect their brands,” Justine says.

Going global

While much of Giordano’s products are distributed in the US, some are distributed globally. “With Subway, we go all over the world,” Guy says. The company is also involved with a USDA Bovine Export Verification Program in Central and South America, and is in discussions about going to South Korea for Subway.

“Product with [HPP] extended shelf-life makes sense for international products,” Justine says.

Giordano’s plant is close to achieving SQF 2000 certification, Justine adds. SQF 2000 certifications are recognized worldwide and being requested more frequently by customers of food processors and manufacturers.

Regarding new product development, company executives review products in the marketplace that could be made “cleaner, greener, safer with longer shelf-life” by using Safe Pac’s HPP process, Giordano says. “Much of this past year I’ve asked retailers and manufacturers ‘What are your problems? What are you dealing with? What do you have the biggest concerns about? And I say ‘here’s how [Safe Pac] can help you,’” he adds.

Giordano’s Steakhouse Roast Beef is relatively new and very popular. “It has a grilled steak flavor that has been great for us. It’s a sexier roast beef,” Guy says with a grin.

Giving back

Giving back to the community remains a longstanding Giordano tradition. The company contributes to Beef Up for the Kids, a special promotional program that was created by Giordano in conjunction with Acme Markets to benefit Variety, the Children’s Charity, Philadelphia, Pa. Chapter. Giordano began a new promotion with Acme called Video Chef, offering the winner of a creative sandwich video a prize of $4,000. Vincent Giordano Corp. is also involved with the Golden Slipper Camp located in the Pocono Mountains, which has provided kids, ages seven to 15, with a setting that lets them discover more about themselves in a supportive, nurturing environment, among other charities.

Staying focused

Looking to the future, Guy Giordano says his primary focus is to make sure the company remains competitive and grows.

“We have only scratched the surface regarding products we can now offer, thanks to Safe Pac and HPP. I see our growth coming from organic growth networking through Safe Pac,” he concludes.

Squeezing in safety

High-pressure pasteurization kills pathogenic bacteria in ready-to-eat foods through a high-pressure process that applies up to 87,000 lbs. of hydraulic pressure per square inch to ready-to-eat food products in their final packaging. This non-thermal pasteurization process rapidly and uniformly inactivates bacteria and other key cellular structures necessary for the growth and function of bacteria that cause spoilage as well as pathogenic microorganisms.

During the HPP process, packaged ready-to-eat foods are loaded into a high-pressure chamber that is next filled with clean water. The chamber is pressurized by pumps employing isostatic pressure that is transmitted through the package into the food.

Because the pressure is instantaneously and uniformly applied, it is not controlled by product size and is effective throughout the entire piece of food. Pathogenic microorganisms are denatured both at the surface and internally. HPP is conducted at a constant ambient temperature, which eliminates the heat degradation associated with thermal pasteurization processes.

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