FACTS & STATS
ON THE HORIZON
An SQF Certified Company
"SUCCESS AT THE PLATE"
About 10 years ago, Albert Girgenti noticed a problem:
the pork products he was selling to supermarkets
were not making it to store's meat case
because there was a bottleneck between the back room and
the shelves. Girgenti knew if it was not out front for customers
to see, then they were not going to buy it.
A few years later in 2002, the President/CEO of Always
Value Added Pork Products created a solution to his problem.
Girgenti developed a case ready line of pork: it was cut
and packaged when it left the meat distribution company's
warehouse so all the grocer had to do was put the package
on the shelf.
"When a store is backed up and cannot get meat out, they
can use these pre-packaged products as a helper. It is especially
useful during nights and weekends, when the butcher is not
working," said Girgenti.
By mimicking the packaging of each of its customers, the case
ready meat from AVA looks like it was cut in the back room
of each store, which Girgenti said is key. "Customers want to
believe it was cut in the store, not some facility," he said.
The company uses a retailer mentality instead of a packer
mentality to ensure that each of its customers is receiving individualized
attention. Girgenti gets excited when a customer
asks him to do something different because he knows he can,
unlike larger companies that offer one stock product across
the board. To personally make sure customers' needs are met,
Girgenti either spends his day at his distribution center in Hicksville, NY
or visiting the customer in person.
AVA Pork Products started in 1985 when Girgenti saw a need
to help pig farmers market their product. "Pigs-that was what
they knew, not distribution. So I decided to form a baseball
team, where they would pitch the first few innings and I
would handle the last few. Together as a team, we got a higher
value for the farmers' pig meat," he explained.
AVA developed private labels for bacon and sold them to area
supermarkets. In time, the company started selling other cuts
of pork as well as ground beef. With the success of distributing
meat-both pre-packaged and not-AVA outgrew its original
distribution center and, in 2006, opened a 50,000-square
foot facility in Hicksville. At the time, Girgenti was opening a
facility that was a lot larger than what he needed.
"Opening the new facility was the toughest thing I ever did.
The overhead was higher and the facility was underutilized. I
was a little too early to the party with my idea, so I had to wait
for the industry to catch up," he said.
Luckily, Girgenti is persistent. He got on the phone and
called supermarket after supermarket, trying to convince
them why it was a good idea to buy pre-packaged meat.
Because many customers were not comfortable committing
to full-programs, he offered them incremental sales, targeting
the weekends when the butcher was not working. He developed the Case Space Optimization program, which helped
stores keep their meat case full by having a variety pack of meat from AVA to fill in the gaps.
In 2009, AVA started to get back on solid footing and
soon after turned a profit. While most companies were
reducing their workforce, AVA hired 90 employees in 2010
and another 50 in 2011. The company has also had success with
employee retention. According to Girgenti, the average
turnover rate at a packinghouse is 60%; at AVA, it is 2%.
When the company opened its new facility 20 miles away from the old one, 95% of its employees followed.
"They feel at home here," said Girgenti. "We find what
employees are good at and let them do that. We focus on
their strengths; their weaknesses are irrelevant."
Girgenti thinks the future of his company is strong, as more
grocers are using AVA's pre-packaged products to fully stock
their meat department. He attributes a few reasons for this
The first is due to a limited availability of butchers. Girgenti
said the average butcher is in his 50s and it is not a trade that
younger generations are embracing. Another reason is consistency.
If a grocer has multiple chains and multiple butchers, it can guarantee consistency among stores by buying
the prepackaged products. This also helps with shrinkage and yield differences because the store can better
track how much product comes in and how much is sold.
However, food safety is probably the most popular motivator
for switching to pre-packaged products. With constant reports
about recalls on contaminated products, food safety is on
everyone's mind, including the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). As the agency tightens up regulations, it
becomes more costly and time consuming for grocers to meet these standards.
"Supermarkets do not want the exposure, it is easier to let
someone else worry about it," said Girgenti "I believe eventually
stores will completely outsource their meat department because of food safety
and a shortage of butchers."
AVA is set up for all testing that is required by the USDA. In
the last five years, the company has received gold ratings in its
third-party facility audits. The company has invested a lot of
money into the plant and its equipment for both safety measures
and technological advancements.
Even though Girgenti stays abreast of new technology, he does
not always jump on board with the latest and greatest. "We
want to make sure our product looks like it was cut in the
store. We will always go with that older, traditional look like
the product is coming straight from the back room," he said.