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Lanovara Specialty Foods: Manufacturing and Distributing Goodies to the Northeast

The Lanovara family founded Lanovara Specialty Foods (Lanovara) in the 1920s, producing fine Italian pastries and baked goods in a local retail bakery in Rochester, N.Y. Lanovara has since expanded, now providing specialty baked goods and foods on a wholesale basis to markets in six states in the northeast, including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and Massachusetts. Lanovara operates out of one combined bakery and distribution facility in Rochester, N.Y., though the company is looking to expand its geographic footprint.

Bert and Kim Salisbury, the third owners of the company, have owned Lanovara since 2007. “My wife and I have worked to preserve what has made Lanovara special over the past century, while also looking to expand into geographies and add different types of customers,” elaborates Bert. “Over the last five years we’ve built upon the foundation of the business and expanded in different places.”

The Lanovara team now successfully operates two divisions. “We were founded almost 100 years ago as a retail bakery,” explains Bert. “One-third of the business today continues that operation, producing fine Italian bakery products. The other two-thirds is food distribution of our bakery products and other frozen, dairy and grocery specialty foods, primarily to grocery store customers.”

Bert and Kim have made major developments in Lanovara’s distribution side since taking over. The husband-and-wife team has expanded Lanovara’s product lines and geographic footprint in only five years.

Diverse Divisions

The commercial bakery division of Lanovara is the oldest component of the business and the true foundation of the company today. According to Bert, at some point in the 1930s or 1940s Lanovara shifted away from retails sales. Through the 1970s the company operated only as a commercial bakery, with one of Lanovara’s notable creations being the Italian “S” dipping cookie.

In the early 1970s Lanovara sold its entire cookie line to Stella D’oro. According to Bert, due to a noncompete agreement, Lanovara did not manufacture cookies for retail sale for 10 years. It was at that time the company expanded into the specialty distribution business, adding other branded products to sell to customers.

Then, in the 1980s, the company resumed manufacturing packaged cookies. Today Lanovara maintains two divisions: bakery and specialty food distribution. Lanovara makes cannoli, puff pastry (crème puffs and éclairs), Italian cookies and other baked goods.

“We sell most of our bakery products under our own label, as well as in bulk through foodservice channels, and we have a couple of key private-label relationships,” says Bert. “We are not even close to being the largest or most diverse Italian pastry manufacturer out there, but we have one defining capability that sets us apart from anyone else. Through our own formulations and processes, we have created products that can be frozen and thawed and still taste fantastic and fresh made. No soggy cannoli here. We make and fill our cannoli and puffs by hand, freeze the product, then store and deliver it frozen to our customers, who then thaw the products prior to serving.”

By delivering product in this manner, consistent product quality is controlled through the distribution channel. “Our customers love us because they achieve reduced labor costs and no waste,” says Bert. “Simply thaw and serve. All I need is the chance to get the product in a potential customer’s mouth and it sells itself. It’s a fun sales call when you see people’s eyes open wide because they can’t believe what they are tasting.”

Bert is proud to note that Lanovara is also a full-service distributor of specialty food products. “One of our key customers is Wegmans Food Markets, an 80-store chain operating in five states,” says Bert. “We also service Tops Food Markets, Price Rite stores, and many independent customers throughout the upstate New York region.”

Bert works with a sales team spread over the entire six-state market. The team delivers everything with an in-house fleet of trucks, controlling the products from warehouse to customer and streamlining the business and cutting costs that would later be passed on to consumers.

“On the distribution side, our trucks run weekly in western and central New York, from Utica to Erie, Penn., and down south,” continues Bert. “We send trucks to four other states, servicing Wegmans and other customers outside New York. Outside of direct delivery we have grown our foodservice business over the past two years with distributors such as Sysco, US Foods and other specialty distributors in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.”

A Fresh Approach

In the spirit of sustainable growth, the team is constantly working to diversify. Bert has pushed through several new initiatives at Lanovara to improve the quality of products and offer products tailored to different market segments.

“We’ve have success with three main initiatives,” notes Bert. “One is repackaging. We’re taking products that we’ve made for decades, tried and true, and repackaged them to be more applicable to a broader type of customer. For example, we make a sugar waffle that we’d traditionally sell in bulk to customers who sell them out of donut cases. We found a package that would fit the product in well. We’ve opened up a whole new customer base that couldn’t handle the unpackaged product. Our cannoli has always been packaged in bulk for foodservice and in four packs for retail. Now we also offer single cannoli in a cellophane package, added a label and it works for convenience stores. That opened up the world of ‘grab-n-go’ customers for our products.”

Secondly, the company is also adding new products to the arsenal of baked goods. “Our most successful new product has been sheet cakes,” says Bert. “Nine months ago we were presented with an opportunity to make sheet cakes for a single customer. The cakes are primarily sold to institutions, such as schools, nursing homes and retirement centers, and have been very successful. We offer delicious products, are very reactive to customer needs, and offer very competitive pricing.”

Thirdly, Lanovara continues to build a broker network and relationships with other distributors who can take the company’s products to their customers. “That way, we can continue to expand our business beyond our current distribution geographies and customer segments,” adds Bert.

Over the next few years, Bert and Kim see the company moving along the same course Lanovara currently rides. Lanovara’s manufacturing team will continue to develop better products and packaging solutions, meanwhile pushing for a greater geographic reach for both divisions.

“We recently purchased a new oven; we’re continuing to upgrade our packaging and fillers; we continually upgrade our delivery fleet,” says Bert, “Nothing dramatic. This business is extremely labor intensive and that’s the majority of it when we grow.”

Another factor the Salisbury’s point to in Lanovara’s success is the people who work at the company. The core employees have been at Lanovara for many years – some as many as 30 – and there has been very little turnover since Bert and Kim purchased Lanovara in 2007. The day-to-day management of distribution and bakery operations is critical. “We have a really fantastic team that gets the job done every day,” says Bert proudly.

While the Lanovara team strives to provide the best quality and service in the business, certain aspects of the company remain unchanged. Lanovara pushes to offer new products and innovations to classics that suit changing demands in the industry. Lanovara Specialty Foods continues to offer classic Italian sweets and a range of specialty items to an increasingly broad demographic.