This year, Deli Brands of America in Baltimore, Md., the processing division of Saval Foods Corp., celebrated its 90th year in business. The fourth-generation company threw a party that was attended by employees, customers and vendors with a food show during the day and a live, private performance by reggae musicians, The Wailers.
“It was well attended, and a great time was had by all,” said Jeff Saval, president of Deli Brands of America.
Saval Foods Corp. employs over 300 people with Deli Brands of America employing 95 at its 34,000-square-foot production facility and 27 at its 22,000-square-foot center for slicing and logistics. In 2015 the company expanded the production facility and expanded the slicing and logistics facility in 2018. This year, it spent $1 million upgrading refrigeration, processing equipment and improving ergonomics, employee safety and process efficiencies.
Deli Brands of America provides products to nationwide supermarkets with service delis (29% of business), national chains (10% of business), foodservice businesses (56% of business) with the last 5% of business serving “other” channels. The company also copacks and private labels for many retail, foodservice and national chain customers.
Culture and community
Family businesses often struggle to pass the reins from one generation to the next. After 90 years and four generations of family leadership, Saval credits resiliency and employees who have become a part of the family through pride in their work and what they do to grow individually and with the company.
Saval said giving back to the community that the business serves and building partnerships with vendors that take responsibility for the success of all parties involved plays a key role in continuing the longevity of Deli Brands of America.
“From raw material, ingredients, packaging, equipment and facility improvement, we rely on these partnerships to make us a successful company now and in the future,” he added.
In 2006, the company experienced some significant changes. It had just purchased a company in Washington, expanded into dry goods at Saval Foodservice and saw third-generation leader Albert Saval retire. The company looked for something the leadership team could absorb, practice and use to navigate the change and create a lasting impression. What they found was Fred Kofman’s book, “Conscious Business.”
“That something became the principles espoused in “Conscious Business” — unconditional responsibility, essential integrity, ontological humility, authentic communication, constructive negotiation, impeccable coordination and emotional mastery,” Saval said. “Over the years we have taught and practiced these attributes with hundreds of our people and built a unique culture.”
Relationships with vendors and suppliers make up a large part of that culture. Deli Brands of America has preferred vendors it has worked with for many years, and as a fourth-generation business that’s operated for 90 years, many vendor relationships are into second and third generations.
“We take pride in creating partnerships with our vendors not just exchanging POs,” Saval said. “I buy weekly from my meat suppliers, so we are a very consistent customer.”
The company reviews product specifications, tests raw materials, ingredients and packaging prior to replacing any current items it uses or bringing in new raw goods. It purchases certain grades to match specific products and to meet the customer specifications for proprietary items processed for customers.
“We do not have the luxury of raising cattle or slaughtering,” Saval said. “We rely on our raw material vendors to supply the highest quality at every level of material we purchase.”
Stepping up to challenges
Deli Brands of America operates as a family business and works hard to maintain the culture it’s created over the years, but also tries to provide customers with the same types of experiences that larger players in the space do. The food business poses its own set of difficult challenges, such as cold and wet working environments and tasks being physically demanding. But longevity means that change is inevitable.
“We do what we can to make the plant a great place to work,” Saval said. “Family members are involved on a daily basis and continue to be involved in the day-to-day operations with a fantastic staff of managers. We’ve changed due to growing with 300 associates companywide and four facilities. We may not know every associate’s name in the company as we walk by, but we continue to treat each as a part of our family.”
Over the years, as regulations have increased, the company’s processing facility maintains USDA inspection and BRC certification with a team that assures worker and food safety; however, the cost of doing business has increased recently, especially since the onset of COVID.
“We never closed a day during the worst days of COVID,” Saval said. “As with every business we had our challenges and worked hard to remain open and support our customers. Costs of everything we touch whether raw material, packaging, ingredients, transportation or labor, has increased dramatically.”
Despite COVID and other challenges, Deli Brands keeps moving forward while addressing cost of production increases and remaining profitable to support its employees, customers and reinvestment in the company. The HR department works diligently to recruit, hire, train and retain qualified associates in response to labor shortages, something all companies are dealing with. Supply chain issues are projected to be challenging into the future as well, but Saval and his team press on.
“We have handled this pretty well,” he said. “We have frustrations on items that are not available or have tremendous lead times but work through the best we can with our partners to find items to substitute if needed for supply chain interruptions. We work with our customers to re-work formula pricing to recognize rising costs and streamline ordering cycles with customers to do our best to limit freight costs.”
Into the future
Due to limited space, Deli Brands hasn’t been able to invest as much in robotics as it would like; however, investment in the company’s future is strong.
“We invest heavily in our facility and equipment,” Saval said. “We take time to investigate both technological advances as well as equipment improvement that can improve processes and efficiencies.”
Those investments include newer equipment that provides consistency in product yields, temperature control, greater efficiency and better ergonomics. The facility has upgraded production planning and lot tracking software that assures traceability from ingredient batching to finished goods, as well as continuing to improve training as a critical piece to hiring and retention.
“We see continued growth in our future,” Saval said. “We look to diversify our offerings with new product development and work with our customers to develop items that work for them. As we all have labor concerns, our customers also look to reduce labor and liability in their operations. We can help with developing products that work for them. We will continue to invest in our facility and workforce to improve every day.”