Staying grounded

by Lynn Petrak
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 Devault Foods
Devault's leadership team (from left): Michael Zacco, executive vice president, sales/marketing; Thomas A. Fillippo, chairman; Thomas W. Fillippo, executive vice president; and Brett Black, CEO.
 
It’s not akin to a poodle skirt or bell bottoms, but the American dietary staple, the hamburger, does go through some style changes every few years.

In the postwar period of the late 1940s and early 1950s, the US economy was booming and so, too, were burgers, as Americans’ appetite grew for good-tasting, quick meals for their expanding families. It was around this time when Devault Foods in Malvern, Pennsylvania, started making its first hamburgers, selling them to local restaurants catering to consumers’ collective cravings.

“Since 1949, as a family run company, we have gone from a one-store small butcher shop to producing frozen burgers for fast-food institutions to introducing fresh burgers,” says Thomas W. Fillippo, executive vice president of Devault Foods, who represents the third generation of the founding family.

While Devault Foods’ portfolio today includes a wide range of portion-controlled meats, including meatballs, Philly steaks, sausages, steak and chops and other products, burgers have been a cornerstone of their business since Day 1.
 Devault Foods
While Devault's portfolio of products has grown since its founding, hamburgers remain a cornerstone.
 


Back to the grind

Today, Devault Foods’ burger offerings mirror customers’ changing tastes both when dining out and making their own burgers in the kitchen or on the backyard grill. “As a company, we went from fast-food burgers to where everyone seems to be focusing now, on quality-taste, and higher-end burgers,” remarks Brett Black, president and CEO.

Devault’s current burger items exemplify those shifting tastes for hamburgers, evident in form, appearance, composition and taste. “What began with humble beginnings with the 80/20 or 75/25 blended burger has grown to signature Angus, chicken, turkey, lamb and pork blends,” Black says. “People are also interested in high quality cuts, such as ribeye and brisket blends.”

This past February, Devault Foods launched new premium Angus burgers: Angus Chuck-Brisket-Short Rib; Angus Brisket-Short Rib; and Angus Ribeye, available in fresh or individually quick frozen (IQF).

“Our competitive advantage is our ability to consistently blend a high quality, great-tasting burger,” Black said at the time of the product release.

Compared to the trends of the mid-20th century, burger patties today look different based on consumers’ preferences. “People don’t want a burger that looks like it’s stamped out anymore – they want it to look home-style and handmade. So yes, appearance, plays a big part,” Black remarks.

Modern flavor trends also reflect what’s happening with the basic, but perennially loved burger. “Because of the broad food exposure through web-based outlets and cable channels, consumers are looking for more flavor experiences,” Black explains. “We have created various protein lines that reflect Mexican, Mediterranean and Asian flavor profiles in preparation to what we believe will be greater demand moving forward.”

As the Devault Foods team keeps pace with consumers’ tastes and dining habits, they also deliver products and formats that work for their foodservice and retail customers. “We actually developed some of the processes around introducing fresh and frozen burgers to the industry,” Fillippo reports.

Quick-service chains Burger King and Wendy’s, for instance, were among Devault’s early customers, seeking out frozen and fresh burger patties, respectively.

“For over 25 years Devault Foods developed the expertise and operational efficiencies to consistently provide quality burgers to these growing chains. Devault Foods benefitted in that Burger King wanted frozen burgers and Wendy’s wanted only ‘Fresh Never Frozen.’ This enabled the company to develop expertise in both preparations,” Black recalls.

There are other examples of how Devault has kept a pulse on demands and operations to provide optimal burgers. For example, while higher-end burgers are driven by marketplace demand, the Fillippo family and other leaders at Devault also were keyed into changing QSR dynamics, affected by the rise of the dollar meal several years ago. “Many manufacturers focus on the quantity of punched-out frozen burgers. We could do that, but in the 1990s, we made the decision to pivot the business and become a more boutique manufacturer that can deliver a home-style and custom blend fresh and frozen burger,” Black explains, adding that the home-style burger was first introduced so that operators could serve a burger that looks hand-formed.

In 2017, operators continue to seek out Devault’s decades-built expertise. “With our Individually Quick Chilled technique, which captures the fresh ground taste, there is no reason to grind and form the burger in house,” Black notes.

Innovation extends to packaging, too. “We’ve redone packaging and focused on making sure it’s convenient and what works for customers, whether it’s a restaurateur or someone who may get a package and take it home to make burgers,” Black says.

Ultimately, the company’s burgers are driven by people’s hankering for hamburgers, as are their other offerings for foodservice and private label. “As the customer demands more, you have to be able to adapt and adjust to them. They know what they want – it’s up to us to understand what they want and provide it to them, at the right quality and cost,” Black says.

“People love the hamburger because they can make it how they want it. As long as you’re starting with a good quality base, you can add tomatoes, special sauce, different kinds of cheese. It’s quite interesting when you can take something and make it truly unique to your own profile,” Black says.

Like all consumers, the folks at Devault Foods are particular about their own burgers. “I enjoy the ribeye slider – that’s my favorite and it melts in your mouth. I cook it with a bit of caramelized onion and blue cheese that you melt a bit under the broiler, and with a good brioche bun,” Black says.

Again, like classic style, the burger never goes out of fashion. “The hamburger is one of America’s favorite meals. Thomas DiFillippo, our founder, used to say ‘people have to eat’, so we’ll be busy,” Fillippo says.
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