Industry News

Special Frozen Pizza Feature: Family pies

August 5, 2008
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Home Run Inn tops pizzas with its own fresh, all-natural sausage.


It comes to life in the sepia-toned photographs of friends and family hanging on the building’s walls and in the “nonno” (granddad in Italian) nameplate sitting on CEO and President Joe Perrino’s desk. It’s also found in the warm and casual way visitors are greeted by the Perrino family, many of whom are company executives.

“It” is the family pride and tradition that are as much a part of Home Run Inn Pizza Inc., Woodridge, Ill., as the all-natural ingredients the 60-year-old company uses to make its award-winning frozen pizzas.

It’s been two decades since Perrino inherited the company from his father. When asked what he’s most proud of, he thinks for a moment before responding, “I would say family. Then I would say the people that we have within the company. … I’m proud that we’re still around. I’m proud that our structure is still the same.”

Despite this modesty, Perrino could easily have chosen from a long list of impressive accomplishments Home Run Inn has seen during his 20-year tenure.

For one, Perrino says the company has maintained its status as Chicagoland’s No. 1 selling frozen pizza since 2004 (according to ACNielsen, New York, data). In addition, Home Run Inn, which began as a Chicago-area restaurant chain, has seen its frozen pizza sales grow to make up 65 to 70 percent of its overall sales (a jump from about 40 percent of sales approximately 15 years ago). And, while Home Run Inn began by distributing frozen pizzas only in the Chicago area, the company now distributes pizzas in several Midwest markets, as far west as Denver and as far east as the Atlantic coast.

In fact, frozen pizza sales have grown so much in recent years that the company invested $14 million to expand its Woodridge processing plant last year and doubled its production capacity. This month the company will spend another $3.5 million to move a refurbished older line into the newly built facility thus increasing capacity by three times. (See plant story, p. 30)

And Perrino says Home Run Inn is not finished growing.

“We are positioned very well to take in three, four times the sales this year,” he says (as a privately-held company, Home Run Inn does not release annual sales figures). “We have some new items coming up and we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, but we’re in a very good position.”

To Perrino’s point, this summer will see Home Run Inn launch new packaging and varieties, and divide its offerings into three distinct categories: Signature, Classic and the new Ultra Thin Crust.

Mark Carlson, vice president of Frozen Food Operations and Perrino’s nephew, explains, “The Classic varieties are the core: the Cheese, Sausage, Pepperoni, Pepperoni and Sausage. The Signature is a little more upscale: Plum Tomato, Sausage Supreme with fire roasted vegetables. The Ultra Thin Crust is basically the Classic varieties but with a crust that is ultra thin - it seems to be very popular in the marketplace right now.”

In addition to the four new Ultra Thin varieties, this September will see the company launch Meat Lover’s and Sausage and Mushroom varieties under the Signature product line.

“A challenge in the industry is that retailers want everything line priced,” Perrino says. “It’s always a challenge to make a better pizza -- or add more toppings - when it's line priced. So  with the split in the line, we’re going to be able to offer far greater varieties now including different toppings than we offered in the past.”

These new varieties will join Home Run Inn’s existing line up of approximately 17 SKUs and three different sizes: 6-inch, 10-inch and 12-inch.

Home Run Inn will alert consumers to the changes with regional radio and TV ads.

“We are going to be doing a decent amount of marketing in Q3 and Q4,” says Gina Bolger, director of marketing, and Perrino’s daughter. Part of this marketing will emphasize what is staying the same at Home Run Inn -  high-quality pizzas made with all-natural ingredients including  mozzarella cheese made from real milk, naturally yeast-risen crust and tomato puree-based homemade sauce.

“What I’ve seen over the years is that pizza has been catapulted into a junk food category … and we just started moving totally back. You have your carbohydrates, your proteins, your vegetables, your dairy - pizza is a balanced diet. We want to move it back into a more balanced food item,” Perrino says.

“We’re really focusing on keeping our label extremely clean. The only product that we’ve ever had that had any preservatives is pepperoni, and we found a company that is making an all-natural pepperoni,” he adds, noting they are in the process of making this change.

And if all goes according to plan, the message that Home Run Inn produces all-natural and clean label products will be heard far-and-wide. Perrino says he would like to see Home Run Inn’s Chicagoland market share grow from around 20 percent to 30 percent in the next five years and perhaps move into new markets, geographically.

“Are we going to be all over the country? Maybe. We’ll take it one market at a time and we’ll see how it goes,” he says. “I see too many people grow too quickly and growth costs you. … I’d rather see a nice steady growth pattern.”

And, he adds, with his nephews and daughter sitting around him, he wants to ensure that the next Perrino generation sees a smooth transition to power.

“I see myself as the steward of the family business who passes it down to the next generation of leaders that basically can utilize me as a resource, but grow into their own model and make their own decisions,” he says. And despite the current economic climate of rising commodity costs, he remains optimistic.

“I think when we come out of this we are going to be a stronger company. … If someone told me 10 years ago where we were going to be now, I wouldn’t have believed it. … But you show up to work everyday and you make more pizzas than you did the day before. What happens? All of a sudden we’re in 20 states.”



AT A GLANCE

Home Run Inn Pizza Inc.

Location: Woodridge, Ill.

Top executive: Joe Perrino, CEO

Brand: Home Run Inn

Channels served: Retail, industrial, foodservice (Home Run Inn operates eight Chicagoland pizzerias)

On the Web: www.homeruninn.com

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