It’s no accident that frozen Italian pasta and entrée processor Michael Angelo’s Inc. started out as a pizza parlor. In many ways, the Austin, Texas-based processor still abides by principles that any self-respecting pizzeria would adhere to: products are made to order just before delivery – and everything is prepared according to family recipes.

“Our made-to-order process provides customers and consumers with the highest quality, freshest tasting frozen product on the market at a competitive cost,” says Joe Kent, director of marketing.

In addition, each product formula is approved by Sara Agnello, vice president of R&D – and mother to Chief Executive Officer Michael Angelo (Mike) Renna. In fact, it was Renna’s mother whose recipes first inspired the idea to sell Italian entrees.

It all began in 1982, when Mike’s brothers opened a 600-square-foot pizzeria in Solana Beach, Calif.

“Mike had been out of the area, and he came back to the West Coast and got thrown into the pizzeria,” says Kent. “The brothers started losing interest in the pizzeria and wanted to get back to other business interests, so it kind of fell into Mike’s lap to manage it.”

It was during this time that Mike got the idea to package and distribute frozen authentic Italian entrees prepared according to his mother’s recipes.

“It started with a makeshift ‘production’ line in the pizzeria at night after closing – freezing products overnight and delivering by car in the morning,” Kent says.

The idea was a success and the company soon outgrew the pizza parlor and moved into a 5,000-square-foot facility in Carlsbad, Calif.

Business kept growing into the ‘90s. The frozen products, including entrees such as meat lasagna and eggplant parmesan, as well as pasta dishes such as manicotti and ravioli, sold well – especially in club stores, Kent says. After expanding once more to a 55,000-square-foot facility in Vista, Calif., it soon became clear to Michael Angelo’s officials that an even bigger space – and new location – were necessary.

By 1994, the company was doing so much business on the East Coast -  including retail, club store and foodservice sales - that it no longer made sense to keep the headquarters in California. It was then that Michael Angelo’s moved into its current location – a 132,000-square-foot headquarters and operation in Austin.

Today, the Austin plant processes approximately 80 different items – everything from 6-lb entrees to family-size (36-oz. to 40-oz.) and single-serve (10-oz. to 12-oz.) entrees to protein-only entrees and hand-held products. 

Although stand-bys - such as family-size Meat Lasagna and single-serve Eggplant Parmesan - are some of the best selling products, Michael Angelo’s new launches have been successful as well, Kent notes. Recent retail and club store product innovations include Baked Ziti with Meatballs, Shrimp Scampi and halibut and salmon entrees.

Product innovation is something that Michael Angelo’s officials have always considered a priority – perhaps now more than ever.

“Several years ago we lost a couple of major [retail] customers,” notes Kent. “It gave us the opportunity to look introspectively at innovation, [at] where we can be more efficient, how we use our personnel, what products we have on the market, the profitability of those products and how we go to market.

“I think it made us realize that we needed to have a better focus and mix of business across all different parts of trade.”

For Michael Angelo’s this means balancing all channels – including club stores, grocery stores, natural food stores (the company offers an extensive all-natural line) as well as foodservice.

“They say from something bad comes something good,” Kent says.

And in this case – at least – the saying seems true.

Kent continues, “The challenges we have had over the years caused us to open our eyes and say ‘OK, how are we going to not just survive but thrive? How are we going to compete?’ We had to get leaner and smarter. Over the last couple of years we have enjoyed good double-digit growth.

“What it comes down to is more diversification still with the same focus on quality and innovation of products,” he says. “Products have to be oozing quality and flavor. That’s what our products do.”


Michael Angelo’s Inc.

Location:   Austin, Texas

Top executive:   Michael Angelo (Mike) Renna, CEO and founder

Annual sales:   privately held

Brands: Michael Angelo’s

Primary products:   Frozen Italian pastas and entrees, hand-held calzones and wraps, appetizers

Channels served:   Retail supermarket, club stores, foodservice

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