Healthy, humane and safe
With annual sales of approximately $130 million, the Swedesboro, New Jersey-based company employs 32 and works with 26 processors to provide everything from bacon and sausage to chicken nuggets to whole and sliced, packaged deli meats. Partnerships with over 100 farms provide humanely raised animals, and Colameco and Wellshire Farms will only do business with farms that treat animals humanely.
Selling its Wellshire brand exclusively to Whole Foods Market means using Global Animal Partnership (GAP) standards on those products. The company also maintains affidavits on file from raw material suppliers that they meet GAP or other third-party certifications for the humane treatment of animals. “We make sure that they always meet our criteria,” Colameco says. “We’re not going to take something from someone who is not animal friendly.
“We’re a family-owned business. I’m the sole owner of the company. I pretty much work on a handshake with everything and I don’t want my word to be compromised in any way. I believe that our loyal customers trust us and I would never want to do anything to disappoint our customers.”
In addition to humane treatment of animals, healthy and safe food takes top priority at Wellshire.
Colameco’s interest in healthy foods started with that first meat processing plant in the Southern town of Rio Grande, New Jersey. His childrens’ health played a role as he dove into recipes and began to ask questions about the food he wanted to produce, as well as the food he wanted to serve in his own home.
“When I started doing research on what was in products, I thought why are all these chemicals in there and why are my kids ingesting this type of stuff,” he says. “Even today, even at my own home, any kind of meat or poultry is antibiotic free. Anything I serve in my house is antibiotic free.”
Wellshire continues to use most of the same processors it has always used. “We did move away from a couple of partners because they didn’t evolve with us,” Colameco says. “We’re very food safety conscious, probably more than ever. Once you build up a brand, you don’t want to lose what you built. We have three full-time employees here just in food safety.”
All of Wellshire’s farmers and processing partners are subject to third-party audits. Wellshire has a full-time position dedicated to coordinating all audits and any corrective actions that need to take place. Another employee ensures all labeling is USDA compliant and a Ph.D. manages product development.
In 2006, Wellshire added another layer of food safety technology. “We were the first to use HPP [high-pressure processing] on our sliced lunch meat,” Colameco says. To offset the cost of HPP, Colameco went from 8-oz. packs to 7-oz. packs. A partnership with Philadelphia-based Safe Pac provides the service. Colameco comments that HPP comes with added benefits as well.
“A lot of it is taste,” he says. “It preserves the taste, you can still taste the smoke in it. Texture is a big factor too, when you go into lunch meat. So, that’s what we did to aid in both.”
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Wellshire Farms offers customers and consumers various brands and flavors of sliced, whole and Italian deli meats. The company offers its Wellshire brand exclusively to Whole Foods Market because Colameco feels the grocer had a hand in helping Wellshire get to where it is today.
“I don’t have to be everything to everybody, but I want to be the right thing to the right people,” Colameco says. “With the Wellshire, we buy about 90 percent of our raw materials through the Whole Foods buying group because they buy the whole animal. So, it helps balance the usage of raw materials.”
Aside from the Wellshire brand, the company sells its Garrett Valley brand to retail grocery stores specializing in healthier options such as Earth Fare, Ingles, Fresh Market and Sprouts. “We buy from farmers that we’ve used for years, some may be Whole Foods approved, and some may not be, but we assure that they all meet our animal raising standard,” Colameco says.
Like all of the Wellshire brands, Garrett Valley products are free of added antibiotics, nitrates, nitrites and preservatives. The deli meats come from animals that are raised humanely and fed vegetarian diets. Wellshire also offers its Colameco’s Primo Naturale brand of dried Italian meats utilizing the same ethical standards for all of its processing and farming, as well. “We offer a wide variety of old world Italian items, all utilizing simple ingredients,” Colameco says. “We have pre-sliced, we have the whole chubs, we offer the whole gamut for dried Italian.” In addition to its deli and lunch meat brands, Wellshire produces other items, such as various sausages, bacon and hot dogs under private label brands.
Being at the forefront of the health and wellness movement has put Wellshire Farms into a good position to maintain success in its relationships. Colameco believes today’s health-conscious consumers are looking for simple ingredients. He also believes that the paleo diet offers those simple ingredients and is trending up.
“One of the biggest categories growing right now is our paleo line,” he says. “We’re the only natural meat company endorsed by Paleo magazine because a lot of people use celery powder as a nitrite replacement in their pork bacon, we don’t, we only use sea salt. Our pork bacon may not be as red because we don’t use celery powder, but people are looking for simple ingredients.”
Organic is another category that Colameco looks to, but like many of the new “healthy” categories, it’s still a relatively young segment. “We do organic pork and turkey bacon, which is a growing category, but I don’t think it’s going to surpass antibiotic free,” he says. “You know they say it’s the fastest-growing category, but what’s there really to compare it to? It can only go up. It’s not established,” he adds.
As for the future of Wellshire Farms, Colameco and his staff have settled in and are happy with their position in the market. While it’s always on the radar, the right offer for selling Wellshire has yet to present itself.
“We always have people reaching out, but it has to be the right thing,” Colameco says. “We want to protect our existing vendor partners, farmers and our employees.” Wellshire’s CFO, Jasmel Sidhu, was only going to stay for five years when he started; he’s been there for 12 years. Colameco’s daughter, Jessica, is now a part of the executive staff and they’ve hired a general manager. Colameco is working less, delegating more, and has given up the extra-long work days.
“It’s not just about selling it and making a lot of money. Because how much money do you really need at the end of the day?” Colameco adds. “I’m happy with where I am in life.”