Sutton, Mass.-based J&G Foods Inc. debuted as a processor of frozen, portion-controlled meats for the foodservice and home-delivery markets when it opened for business in 1999. But in 2005, the company shifted its focus to niche categories of custom-made, fresh, refrigerated, case-ready meats after identifying an opportunity to efficiently serve the needs of supermarkets in the Northeast.
Company president and owner Joe Piperato explains the move leveraged his company’s agility and customer-centric philosophy, compared to its larger competitors. J&G Foods has evolved into a wholesale meat processor specializing in custom-cut, packaged and private-label meats. With products that are case-ready and ready-to-cook, the processor continues to increase and enhance its diverse, customer-focused capabilities, often serving as a commissary operation for clients.
Piperato is uniquely qualified to head his privately held business. A graduate of the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell Univ., he began his career at Armour & Co., splitting his time between sales and the corporate office. Later, at Standard Meat Co. in Fort Worth, Texas, he mentored under Meat Industry Hall of Famer Manny Rosenthal, acquired equity in the company and helped it grow from $8 million to $110 million in sales in 12 years, prior to it being sold to Sara Lee Corp. Relocating to the Northeast, Piperato then embarked on a 50/50 joint venture for 13 years before launching his current business.
An intriguing evolution
J&G Foods’ major business breakthrough came when it was selected to produce fresh, marinated meats for a major New England retail chain. Prior to securing the craftsmanship of J&G, this chain was marinating its own meats at the store level. J&G helped the chain streamline its operations, reduce its marinated meat shrink and improve customer satisfaction.
Its centralized production enabled J&G to prepare and vacuum-package the marinated meats exactly according to the store’s specifications. Featuring beef, chicken and pork in a wide variety of flavors, this program remains a solid success for both companies, Piperato says.
A certified organic processor since 2008, J&G Foods serves several niche-meat categories for a number of highly respected supermarket customers. Product lines include all-natural Choice beef; grass-fed beef; organic beef; all-natural pork; Australian lamb; as well as marinated meats. In 2004, J&G Food’s business was 95 percent frozen shipments. Its business is now 95 percent fresh, refrigerated finished goods.
“Supermarkets have very specific demands for their niche-meat requirements, just as they do for conventional meat categories,” explains Ralph Babcock, director of operations.
Raw material source, trim requirements, cutting techniques and marinade/seasoning selections must all be defined, he adds. The same holds true for the preferred packaging technology and presentation style. Product-code life and targeted price points are also essential considerations.
“Even though the shelf-life can exceed 21 days in vacuum packages, stores still order three times a week to receive product just-in-time,” Piperato says. “Customers call in an order with a three- or four-day lead-time. On the day it ships, they still may want to modify the order. We always try to accommodate them. We can turn on a dime; the big guys can’t do this.
“Our customers want products from top-of-the-line processors who regularly undergo third-party, food-safety audits...and they expect everything to be spot-on,” he adds. “So, you must have the capacity and all of the systems in place.”
J&G has no salesmen, per se: it’s all headquarters-to-headquarters consultation. “And our supply lines are limited so we have forged good partnerships going back to the raw-material source,” Piperato says. “We are quick-to-respond, nimble and committed to getting every order right. That’s what our customers appreciate. We are like an extension of their business.”
Regarding its commissary role, J&G Foods centralizes and manages the myriad of variables and creates tailor-made programs for each of its customers. “Our success is predicated on our customers’ success,” Babcock says. “We’re not creating our own branded products – we are focused on serving our customers and crafting products that satisfy their consumers and their bottom lines.”
Each J&G Foods product has a guaranteed extended code life for the safety, freshness and efficiency of retailers and consumers. Numerous vacuum-packaging options are provided, as well as conventional modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) and Mother Bag (a high-barrier bag containing individual pre-wrapped trays of meat) MAP packaging.
J&G is one of only three processors in North America to offer Mirabella packaging, which Piperato explains is similar to conventional MAP, but requires far less head space resulting in a sleeker presentation.
“We can’t sell custom-cut meats unless we properly package them according to spec,” Babcock adds.
To ensure its extraordinary packaging solutions meet growing demand, J&G Foods recently ordered its fourth Repak RE20 roll-stock vacuum-packaging machine from Canton, Mass.-based Reiser. All four machines will have identical master die sets.
“This affords the interchange of various forming molds amongst all machines, which translates into efficiency, flexibility and speed,” Babcock says. “Equally important, it assures back-up capacity for our customers at all times, but especially for the busy April to September grilling season.”
Room to grow
J&G Foods operates one production shift and a nightly sanitation shift. Its site will accommodate substantial plant expansion when the time comes.
The company has invested several million dollars to improve its 60,000-sq.-ft. production facility. A new ammonia refrigeration system was installed; production rooms were entirely reconstructed with new walls, ceilings and floors; energy efficient lighting was installed; new electrical, compressed air and fire suppression systems were put in place; locker rooms and break rooms were upgraded; and a new roof was installed.
“Next to our customer list and dedicated team, J&G’s facility is our most impressive marketing tool,” Piperato says.
J&G Foods is in the home stretch of implementing a new Enterprise Resource Planning System, provided by CSB-System International. When fully operational in February 2013, the company will have an integrated software solution for managing all aspects of its business and everything will be on a real-time basis.
“We’ll have the latest information technology systems in place to help run our business better, faster and smarter,” says Theresa Morin, business manager.
J&G Foods will soon become certified as a SQF (Safe Quality Food) Level 2 facility. SQF reaches beyond Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) in almost all protocols and required documentation. J&G employs a dedicated meat scientist to oversee the implementation of its SQF program.
To ensure its food-safety efforts are industry-leading, the company’s processing facility regularly undergoes an independent third-party audit by Silliker Laboratories. “We consistently score at the highest levels,” Piperato says.
J&G Foods is investing more than $500,000 in a green-energy project due to come online in April. In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent, this project is estimated to save $150,000 per year in energy costs. The equipment will generate on-site electricity and use the captured “waste heat” to produce refrigeration and thousands of gallons of hot water per day for the sanitation shift, as well as provide space heating for the administrative offices, locker rooms and break room.
Payback is expected to take just over two years. Thereafter, the annual energy savings can fund even further improvements for the business.
Piperato reflects on the evolution of his company. “I believe we are somewhat unique in that we position ourselves as a commissary, eager to prepare and package custom meats within the realm of our specialties and capabilities,” he says. “This, combined with our excellent performance record, is what sets J&G apart more than anything else.
“Changing the course of a business is not easy – financially, physically or emotionally,” he adds. “We now have a solid platform for future growth and we’re ready to embrace additional business. We’re proud of what J&G Foods has done, and we’re excited for the next chapter.”