“You’ve got to realize who you are and what you want to be as a business and then focus on that.” With those well-chosen words, Richard Longhini sharply defines what differentiates his Longhini Sausage Co. from the competition.
His third-generation family owned company in New Haven, Connecticut, is a standout Italian specialty meats company. Longhini Sausage Co. is able to retain its “links to the past” by staying with its traditional values.
Begun in 1950 by his immigrant grandfather Vito Longhini in nearby West Haven, the business has stayed with its basic product line-up of Italian sausage and porchetta, although it has expanded its protein sources and flavor profiles.
“When my grandfather moved to the New Haven location in 1962, he operated a retail store and deli, complete with ethnic groceries like cheeses and olive oils and Italian specialty foods,” Longhini recalls.
“I came to work with him and my father when I was about 12 years old, largely over the summer months.”
Replete with a degree in marketing from Central Connecticut State Univ., Longhini returned to the business 38 years ago and today wears the title of “whatever I have to be...owner, president, chief operating officer, or the person in charge of what has to be done right away.”
A key step in the growth of the company was the introduction of chicken-based Italian sausage, which started out as a 50-lbs.-a-week endeavor and now represents 10,000 lbs. a week of product. “I began introducing the chicken sausage simply because there were potential customers who didn’t eat pork but would eat chicken. Wow, did that ever take off.
“We make the finest Italian pork sausage that is available in link, patties or in bulk for toppings at area pizza houses and restaurants. “We offer a sweet, hot, no fennel with garlic and a garlic/parsley/parmesan version,” he says.
The porchetta, a spiced and flavored roast made from pork sirloin and a shoulder or ham, is also a mainstay for the 20-employee processing company.
“A year ago we made the decision to give up our retail deli,” Longhini reflects. “Retail at one time was about 45 percent of our business. Over the years as people’s buying habits started to change, we realized that wholesale was the area we could best compete in and offered the most growth potential. We still have a small area in our 7,500-sq.-ft. plant where retail customers can come in and buy 5-lb. boxes of sausage or porchettas, but we now regard ourselves as being almost 100 percent wholesale.”
Longhini Sausage Co. uses a fleet of six trucks to service commercial accounts throughout the state as well as independent distributors to sell their products as far away as Florida. About 50 percent of their product is sold fresh, primarily for local deliveries and the balance is sold frozen through distributors. The Connecticut customer list includes grocery chains like Shop Rite and Stop & Shop.
When asked about the ready-to-eat or microwave-and-serve market for his products, Longhini doesn’t rule it out, but admonishes that his goal for the next 15 years will be to focus on maximizing the use of his space more efficiently.
“About three years ago we undertook a major remodel of our production area,” he notes. “We were able to use suppliers like Risco USA Corp. to advise us on ways to improve our efficiency. It was a $600,000-plus project; we added needed freezer and cold storage space, streamlined our production conveyors and were able to more accurately portion our product with the addition of new servo stuffers.
“The accuracy of these stuffers is amazing. We are able to control 10-lb. boxes of 3-oz. patties to .02 of a lb. Being able to reduce a box weight that contains 52 patties means each patty is being reduced by .00038 of a lb. We started receiving the investment payback the minute we put them into service.
“We have also become more environmentally conscious by having our cold storage areas using outside filtered air in the cold months to help conserve energy.”
Longhini’s uncle is still overseeing the processing and manufacturing area as he has for over 50 years.
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Secret to success
“A major factor in our success is our employees,” he emphasizes. “We have very little turnover. Much of that is due to the fact that we really care about our workers.”
Longhini Sausage Co. competes in a state where Italian meat businesses are abundant. The firm operates under USDA inspection and unceasingly strives to bring a superior product to its customers. Longhini advises that the USDA fat level permitted for its Italian sausage is 35 percent, but beams that his company’s product has a fat level under 15 percent.
The business uses TV advertising and billboards to promote its meat products throughout the region.
Longhini also donates to many area food banks, soup kitchens and charities.
“We want to continue to try new product ideas, but it is more important to remember our links to the past and stick with the high quality meat that wears our label,” he comments.
“Certainly we can grow, but we don’t wish to compete with some of the larger corporations on price at the sacrifice of quality,” he adds. “This way, we can continue to offer the best products and service to those looking for authentic specialty Italian meats and a name they can trust. We know that quality, flavor and consistency are the most enticing aspects of our selection. With the introduction of any new product, there is no doubt we’ll continue to focus on our specialty market and maintain our traditions.”
This is a truly meaningful statement from the third-generation family business owner who cautions that it is important to look for opportunities but “always be sure it fits into who you are as a company. Sometimes you just have to step back and look at what you are thinking about a potential new line of product or business and ask yourself if this is who we are,” he says.