Fresh and effective
Approximately 25 people work at the 14,000-sq.-ft. Ontario, California, facility where production is between 90,000 lbs. and 100,000 lbs. of sausage per week. About 40,000 lbs. a week of that is chicken sausage. Villa Roma’s third-largest selling style behind Sweet Italian and Hot Italian pork sausages is its chicken breakfast sausage. Lopes believes chicken sausage’s popularity will continue to grow in the future based on the health and wellness trends continuing to gain momentum.
“I’ll tell you what I’m seeing a lot of, I think we’re going to see more and more fresh chicken sausage,” Lopes says. “I think the public is desiring more all natural, no preservatives, more antibiotic free (ABF).”
The majority of Villa Roma’s chicken sausage goes to specialty markets such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Sprouts, but poultry-based sausages continue to grow in the conventional style supermarkets. A new Kroger-owned account on the West Coast buys a significant amount of chicken sausage from the company, and the orders increase every week, according to Lopes. It’s telling that conventional supermarket shoppers are beginning to see the advantages of chicken and turkey sausage.
“The beautiful thing about poultry is natural fall on leg meat is 93/7. So, a skin-on thigh would come out to 93 percent lean and 7 percent fat. That in and of itself is significantly lower than what’s used to make [pork] sausage,” Lopes says. “The standard for USDA Italian sausage is 65 percent lean. So, you start off with a chicken sausage and you’re already 30 percent leaner than pork sausage, just because of the raw material.”
The USDA allowance on breakfast sausage is 50/50, which makes Villa Roma’s popular chicken sausage over 40 percent leaner right off the line. It’s so significant Lopes says, that the company uses “lower-than” claims on its labeling.
This desire for a healthier sausage includes specific certifications as well. However, Lopes cites multiple reasons for the difficulties involved with organic and ABF type production, the top of which is cost. The expense comes in the form of certifications and what producers need to do to obtain those certifications. While ABF materials don’t cost as much as organic, they still bring a higher per lb. price tag, but Lopes envisions ABF for Villa Roma in the future.
“My thought is to create, maybe in 2018, an optional line,” he says. “You can buy the regular pork or chicken, or you can buy the ABF. The regular is one price and the ABF is priced accordingly, and where ABF finds a home it does, and if it doesn’t, at least we’re offering it because I think there’s a customer out there.”
The 11 different pork sausages and six poultry sausages (four chicken and two turkey) Villa Roma produces go to retail stores as far north as Washington state, to the southern border of California and from Texas to the Pacific Ocean, including Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Colorado. The addition of the MAP packaging has allowed Villa Roma to move as far east as Texas, but Lopes admits that it’s difficult to go national from the West Coast with fresh products. He’s comfortable however with the company’s volume and notes that sales have been static for the past 10 to 12 years.
“It’s a good territory, and especially the southwest up to about San Francisco, you’ve got a lot of people there,” he adds. “We’ve got the advantage of having several million people to sell to.”