“Talent, innovation and execution are at the core of Monterey Gourmet Foods,” says Eric Eddings, chief executive officer of Monterey Gourmet Foods Inc., Salinas, Calif. “We introduced this mantra when I came on as CEO, not as a political statement, but as a lifestyle and culture.”

This mantra not only is a phrase recited before meetings, it’s being executed from the ground up.  Eddings can point to several examples in his 16 months as CEO that support this statement: restructured corporate leadership, more than 50 new products that launched in the last year and revamped packaging design for retail fresh pasta.

These changes – and others – began in September 2006, when Monterey’s board of directors asked Eddings to take over as CEO. At the time, he was president and chief operating officer of Monterey’s natural foods division including Cibo Naturals and Emerald Valley Kitchen brands, two of four smaller companies acquired by Monterey between 2002 and 2005 (see sidebar “All in the family” for more on Monterey’s brands).

“The company as a whole was run in silos. While we were under the umbrella of Monterey Gourmet Foods, each company was running individually - that was the culture,” he says. Eddings accepted the CEO position under the condition that he would have the autonomy to make changes to the corporate culture and organization.

“We made a lot of changes but they were simple changes,” he says. “And they were all centered on good business practices. You have to have trust. You have to have respect and you have to have vision. And you have to have common leadership and that’s what we’ve created.”

During his first two weeks as leader, Eddings gathered the eight “most talented people in the system” for a strategic planning meeting.

“I locked us up with a very talented facilitator and we peeled it all back,” he says. “We took four days to hammer out the business - what practices were helping and what practices were hurting the company - as a whole. We agreed that we were one company with one common goal-no more silos.”

That strategic brainstorm seems to be paying off. Last year Monterey sent more than 50 new retail products to market - representing more than 10 percent of total revenues, year-to-date. New products include 100 percent organic cut pastas and raviolis made with organic ingredients under the Monterey Pasta Co. brand. The company’s other brands also saw new products go to market: Casual Gourmet Chicken Meatballs, Emerald Valley Kitchen Edamame Spreads and Cibo Naturals’ Tuscan Bean spreads.

The executive committee – a group of nine key leaders of the company – also decided to revamp the packaging of Monterey Pasta Co.’s retail line of fresh pasta in October 2007.

“This was a very exciting initiative for us,” Eddings says. “We had identified that our pastas were over-packaged. ‘Going green’ is an initiative for us as a company and we knew that a new direction was needed for this line from a packaging standpoint as well as a cost standpoint. Within a 90-day period we introduced the concept all the way through to execution on the shelves. We were very successful in re-introducing the packaging but still retaining the look so our consumers didn’t have to find us again.”

More changes came last year when Monterey consolidated the company’s Seattle operations. In November, Eddings announced the signing of a 10-year lease for a 93,000-square-foot facility in nearby Kent, Wash., that is slated to begin operations in early summer as a USDA-certified organic facility.

“We are consolidating our four Seattle facilities into one and giving ourselves significant room for growth,” notes Eddings, adding that “the company will lease out the excess space until it is needed.” In addition to the new location, Monterey operates plants in Eugene, Ore., and Salinas, Calif.

Room for growth seems to be exactly what this expanding company needs. Eddings has plans for future acquisitions, new product launches and more exploration of the foodservice channel – all in the coming year.

While Monterey currently distributes to more than 10,000 retail and club locations worldwide, Eddings plans to “aggressively” pursue the foodservice channel this year.

“We’ve done [foodservice] business with some very big companies, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg for us in that category,” he notes.

And his plans for the future don’t end there. Alternative fuel solutions, clean ingredient decks and sustainable packaging are all on Eddings’ radar. But at the end of the day, he insists his goals are simple.

“We need to continue to improve our shareholder value. To accomplish this we need to continue to demonstrate aggressive growth centered on our core competencies. We can’t be everything to everybody but what we need is for our customers to know that Monterey Gourmet Foods is number one in quality and innovation.”

All in the family

The Monterey Gourmet Foods family has many members. Below is a snapshot of each brand’s offerings.

Monterey Pasta Co. – Fresh, chilled pastas – ravioli, fettuccine, borsellini and tortellini – including whole wheat, organic and made with organic varieties. Also includes One Step Gourmet frozen skillet meals including pasta, sauce, protein and vegetables.

Casual Gourmet Foods – Gourmet fresh poultry sausages and meatballs.

Cibo Naturals – All-natural, ready-to-eat pestos, soft-flavored cheese spreads and toppings for retail and foodservice customers.

Emerald Valley Kitchen – Organic salsa, bean dips and hummus.

Sonoma Cheese Co. – Refrigerated branded specialty cheese items, including Sonoma Jack Cheeses in a variety of flavors.


Montery Gourmet Foods Inc.

Location:   Salinas, Calif.

Top executive:   Eric Eddings, CEO

Annual sales: More $100 million

Brands:   Monterey Pasta Co., Casual Gourmet Foods, Cibo Naturals, Emerald Valley Kitchen, Sonoma Cheese Co.

Primary products: Chilled pastas and entrees; ready-to-eat spreads, sauces and cheeses; fresh poultry sausages; tamales

Channels served:   Retail, club stores, foodservice

On the Web:   www.montereygourmetfoods.com