Villa Roma
Villa Roma maintains fresh business and watches chicken sausage sales grow.
Except for a stint in the Air Force as an astrogeodetic surveyor, Ed Lopes, president and CEO of Villa Roma Sausage Co., Ontario, California, has been in the meat business since the mid-1960s. Starting as a journeyman meat cutter in San Francisco, Lopes came back from the Air Force in the 70s and eventually ended up at the Real McCoy Meat Co.

“They did retail corned beef, pastrami and roast beef,” Lopes says. “I ran that company for six years and then I left there and went to another company that did the same thing called Smoke Bar Ranch, and I was the president of that company for four years.”

Birth of a business

While he ran the Real McCoy, a gentleman that worked for Lopes bought into a company called Bella Donna with two silent partners. Lopes eventually bought Bella Donna and inherited the two silent partners, but for personal reasons wanted to open a new company. He negotiated with some investors and started Villa Roma about 30 years ago.

“The investors in Villa Roma were the brokers, the distributors and the general management of Bella Donna,” Lopes says. “They all wanted to come with me.”

The Bella Donna business moved from the Los Angeles area to Arizona and eventually the company closed. But the closure gave Lopes an idea for the name and a loyal customer base for his next start-up. “When I started Villa Roma I had commitments from Albertsons, Bashes and Lucky’s to start on a Monday morning,” he says. “They bought their last pound (of meat) from Bella Donna on Friday and started buying from me on Monday.”

Villa Roma produces fresh sausage from three species. The company uses pork, chicken and turkey almost exclusively for the retail market. “We’ve got a couple of accounts that were left over from years ago, pizza places that buy from us and have bought from us for 30 years, but for the most part we are a retail animal,” Lopes says. He estimates 99 percent of Villa Roma’s volume goes to retail customers and everything is fresh, with a lone market being the exception.

“We do have one area that we sell frozen, and that’s Hawaii,” Lopes says. “We sell all of the supermarkets on the Hawaiian Islands. We’ve got a standing order once a month and it goes over on a boat and they get it frozen, slack it at store level, code date it, and we have 100 percent distribution in the islands.”

Otherwise, all the company’s sausage is fresh, all-natural and made with no preservatives. Nothing is cooked and nothing is cured. To get a better color for a little longer on the shelf, Villa Roma uses a unique unflavored herb mix that acts as an antioxidant and allows the product to still be called all-natural. In addition – to add a few more days of good color and longer shelf life – Villa Roma utilizes two new modified atmosphere packing (MAP) machines. “The key to our business really at retail, is color,” Lopes says.

“We’ve also got a microbial intervention that’s required by USDA at slaughterhouse level to keep Salmonella levels in check, and we require our fabricator to use that same intervention.

“Between keeping the microbial count low and the modified atmosphere in the package, and the blend of antioxidant herbs, we’ve got the best visual shelf life available in the industry,” he adds.

The combination gives Villa Roma Sausage the ability to maintain a fresh sellable color for 14 days, the general time period put on fresh product sold out of the meat case.