Sunrise Foods emerges to meet foodservice demand for customized, healthy products.


by Bob Garrison

Everything old is new again. Of course that familiar phrase refers to tastes and trends. Then again, here’s a case where it applies to an entrepreneur.

It was in 2004 that Californian Joe Blancato cashed in more than 40 years of foodservice industry experience – everything he knew from running restaurants to foodservice product supply and distribution – to create his own poultry company. Heck, even the company’s name – Sunrise Foods – reflects a new beginning.

Then again, Sunrise Foods isn’t small on experience or capabilities. Having bought out several partners in a poultry cutting and portioning operation, Blancato soon transformed the Albertville, Ala., plant into a custom processing house for frozen further-prepared, valued-added chicken products.

Officials say the five-year-old business offers raw portioning, custom coating systems and flavor profiles and functional ingredient systems. Today’s operation can produce as many as 30 different types of breaded chicken breasts, breaded tenderloins, boneless wings and popcorn chicken. In turn, Sunrise supplies these par-fry and individually quick frozen items to regional and national chain restaurants, commercial foodservice operations and fundraising groups.

Most importantly, Sunrise is drawing notice for the right reasons. For example, it was one of only 13 vendors to earn supplier-of-the-year honors from T.G.I. Friday’s. Sunrise earned the fast-casual chain’s top “innovation award” for 2009.

Steve Troilo is Sunrise Foods’ vice president of sales.

“I think we received the ‘Innovation Award’ for displaying forward thinking as well as an enthusiastic willingness to work on any project – no matter the size,” he says. “We assisted T.G.I. Friday’s in efforts to improve product quality and increase the ‘ease of execution’ in restaurants. We also have helped them comply with industry nutritional and labeling requirements.”

Recognizing nutrition as an important emerging foodservice issue, Blancato led Sunrise Foods to apply an innovative chicken-protein based coating, NutriLean, to commercial poultry products. The coating can be sprayed onto food or mixed into a batter so that foods absorb less fat during cooking. Since 2007, Sunrise has become a poultry industry forerunner with better-for-you products that feature 25 percent to 75 percent less fat and up to 50 percent less sodium.

“This technology uses natural methods to provide a great taste and texture while the food retains moisture to satisfy the most discerning pallet,” says Troilo. “Moreover, customers can easily reduce the fat and sodium in an existing product with no major taste change.”

Behind the scenes, it’s perhaps no surprise that Sunrise has had to expand to match its sales. Since its start-up, the business already has added two more production lines (par-fry, IQF) for a total of three in Albertville. In fact, it completed its second par-fry line just last February  – adding 400,000 pounds of weekly volume.

“We’ve grown the operation to a level where our par-fry and IQF production lines are producing millions of pounds per year for major chain restaurants and foodservice companies,” says Troilo.

“As SRF grows, we will remain committed to developing products that addresses our customers’ rapidly changing demands and operational requirements. Likewise, we continue to pursue high-quality healthier products at very competitive pricing.”

Sunrise Foods LLC

Location: Albertville, Ala.

Top executive(s): Joe Blancato, founder, president; Steve Troilo, vice president

Founded: 2004

Product line(s): Par-fried and individually quick frozen, further processed chicken

Brands: N/A

Distribution: Nationwide to restaurant chains, institutional operators, fundraisers

Web site: