The evolution of an East Coast icon

by Bryan Salvage
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KANSAS CITY, MO. – As anyone who has ever owned their own business will testify, during and after the start-up anything can happen. In many cases, it’s like clinging to a log in a rapidly flowing river—you do the best you can to navigate your fledgling business to success and say lots of prayers along the way. Despite start-ups being fraught with danger, many success stories exist in the meat and poultry industry today because true pioneers had the passion and guts to stick with a new business idea and were not afraid to take chances and make changes in order to succeed. One such success story is Danvers, Mass.-based DiLuigi Foods. I had the opportunity to visit this company’s plant in July and was inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit of its leaders and intrigued by the company’s history.

 

 Bryan Salvage

In 1950, Louis DiLuigi Sr. opened a butcher shop in a small East Boston storefront and taught his son, Louis Jr., the art of butchering and sausage-making. The business produced fresh cuts of meat and sausage for more than 30 years. Along the way, Louis Jr. took over the family business and converted the butcher shop into a sausage production facility. Having outgrown its Boston facility after several expansions, the business moved into a new production complex in nearby Danvers, Mass. in 2002, which has since expanded to more than 50,000 sq. ft. – half of this space is dedicated to production. More than 200 people work there.

Despite a volatile economy and business climate, business is good for this company – and growing. Annual company sales are between $100-$150 million and continue climbing. “Our growth target on an annual basis is 20 percent and we’re on target to meet that growth this year,” said Dean Souza, president. “Fueling the growth of the company is our flexibility and our ability to think out of the box [in product development].”

Souza, a friend of Louis DiLuigi Jr., owner/CEO and son of the company founder since age six, worked for the company making sausage during high school and his first year in college. “I went off to college and earned my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and Lou Jr. took over the family business,” Souza says. “Five years ago, he asked if I’d come back and run the company for him.”

From its humble beginnings, DiLuigi Foods has become the largest manufacturer of retail niche meat products on the East Coast, has greatly evolved and diversified its product offerings over the decades after starting out as a private-label pork sausage processor. Today, it is a leading retail-branded, artisan processor of preservative-free, value-added, refrigerated chicken, turkey, pork and beef cook-and-eat products, as well as frozen variations, under several brand names.

Its DiLuigi Foods product brand includes meatballs, marinated products and entrée products, such as Chicken Cordon Bleu and Stuffed Pork Chops; the DiLuigi Sausage product brand includes varieties of pork, chicken and turkey dinner sausage; the Aria Natural Foods brand of “high-natural” and organic products includes chicken-based breakfast and dinner sausage, ground chicken loaf and ground chicken patties – these products maintain the "never-ever standard” (no artificial ingredients, no colors added, no chemical preservatives and no antibiotics or growth hormones administered); its pork breakfast sausage, which utilize all-natural ingredients and features clean labeling, is produced under its Loften County brand; while its Bridger Beef brand products includes frozen beef burgers made from 100-percent whole muscle ground at its plant plus franks, marinated beef and shaved steak. Products are distributed along the East Coast from Maine to Florida – and into Pennsylvania and New York State. One California retailer is also a major customer.

Approximately 300 SKUs of products are produced at the Danvers plant utilizing leading-edge production and packaging technologies coupled with expert hand-craftsmanship. The plant, which has its own in-house lab, plus is SQF 2000, organic, Halal and HACCP certified, is growing and evolving with the business. When Bill Morris, vice president of operations, started at the Danvers plant in 2003, it had four production lines. “We now have 12,” he told me.

Innovative new products coupled with speed to market are driving company success. DiLuigi Foods began processing Certified Angus Beef (CAB) retail products in July 2013, thanks largely to John Cremens’, head of retail sales, past experience with CAB. Cremens was meat director of Foodmasters Supermarkets in the greater Boston area for 27 years before joining the company a year-and-a-half ago. Fourteen CAB items are being produced including gourmet and plain CAB burgers, beef sliders, meatballs, shaved steak, Beef Pinwheel Florentine and marinated kabobs.

“New product development is a passion,” Souza said. “This is the fun part of our business.”

To read about the future plans of DiLuigi Foods along with coverage on some of its innovative processing and packaging technologies as well as other new products, look for the special report on this leading processor in the August issue of Meat&Poultry.

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