You could say that the last five years have been a whirlwind for Rosina Food Products, Buffalo, N.Y. Actually, you don’t have to; Chief Operating Officer Roger Palczewski will say it for you.

“With the moving of Celentano and the Italian Village acquisition – it has been a whirlwind,” Palczewski calmly says from his desk in Buffalo, mere miles from one of the company’s newest projects, a 120,000-square-foot pasta and entrée facility that Rosina purchased in 2002. “After we finished the Italian Village acquisition, we had the fryer project and then we brought in a new line for entrées, so now it’s time to catch our breath.”

Company officials and associates clearly have earned this right. Rosina, originally a sausage, meatball and pizza topping processor, purchased Celentano Bros. Co., an Italian entrée and pasta processor in 2000.  With the acquisition came two plants in Verona, N.J.

“When the [Verona] plants started, the town grew up around them,” Palczewski explains. “Soon the plants were surrounded by houses and we couldn’t expand. We could run only during the day, we couldn’t get trucks in. We needed to be in an industrial area.”

At the same time that Rosina encountered these problems in Verona, Lender’s Bagels announced that it would be selling its Buffalo factory – located down the road from Rosina headquarters.

“So, before they had the chance to put it on the market and get a realtor and everything, we jumped in,” says Russell Corigliano, Rosina president and chief executive officer. “It had freezers. It had refrigeration systems. It had all the things that we need in our business.”

Still, while location and some of the amenities proved fruitful finds, Rosina had a lot of work to do before integrating the new plant into its operations.

“We went in and gutted everything,” Palczewski says. “We took the ceilings out, redid the concrete floors. We redid everything. The only things that we really left were the outside walls.”

To complicate matters, the challenge of getting the plant up and running came with a deadline.

VirenSitwala is vice president of operations and was hired in 2003 at the time Rosina was designing and building the new plant.

“The plant in Verona was sold,” he says. “We had to move the processing by Nov. 1, 2003, and we started construction in January 2003.”

Today, the fact that the company hit this deadline is an enormous source of pride and officials credit the plant’s 125 associates (another 275 work in the protein plant, adjacent to company headquarters).

“You can have the best products in the world, but if you can’t deliver, it doesn’t mean anything. Our people are the ones that make it happen,” says Frank Corigliano, executive vice president.

To Frank’s point, Rosina officials don’t take these associates for granted. Both plants employ a quarterly bonus program based on a predetermined schedule for each day.

“If they hit 100 percent of the day’s production, they get a point, if they hit 95 percent they get one-half point, and if they get 105 percent of the day’s production they get one-and-a-half points,” explains Palczewski. From there, total points are divided by the number of days of production per quarter and multiplied by $250.

“A couple quarters they have gotten more than $250 because they have exceeded production goals,” Palczewski notes. “It’s a simple program but it’s been designed so that everyone at Rosina feeds into it. It affects my bonus and the management team’s – even mechanics are involved. If someone slips up along the line everyone suffers. … It’s a very motivational program.”

So much so that associates often come into the office at the end of the work day to see how many points were earned, and if there was a problem, they find out why and try to fix it, he says.

Another motivational program is based on safety initiatives. Plant shifts – of which there are two at the pasta and entrée plant and three at the protein plant – are awarded a dollar amount for every 90 days that they go accident-free.

“They can keep multiplying it up for every 30 days on top of that – it’s a cumulative thing. We have one shift here that has been accident free for five quarters,” Palczewski says. A fact made all the more impressive when one considers how much volume has increased since Rosina purchased Italian Village in 2005. All in all, more than 100 different varieties are processed in the pasta and entrée facility (approximately 350 varieties are processed at the protein facility) and about 80 million pounds of product are processed a year at both plants combined.

Despite the increased volume, the pasta and entrée plant is much more efficient than the Verona plants were, Sitwala says.

“The bigger difference here, we designed this plant to be USDA approved – not just FDA approved – so that it could be a meat facility for entrées and other uses,” adds Palczewski.

A new entrée production line, used for Celentano entrées and co-packing, was added for a total of five lines in the pasta and entrée plant.

“Before, we had entrée lines with more manual work. The new lines can run 100 to 120 trays per minute, while we were only running 40 trays per minute before [in Verona],” notes Sitwala.

The plant also is equipped with new ravioli machines and new eggplant fryers.

Sitwala highlights the changes, “At the Verona plant we were running about 2,000 lbs to 3,000 lbs per hour capacity, with our new ravioli machines we can run about 6,000 lbs per hour.

“Before [in Verona] we had two fryers doing about 1,000 lbs of eggplant per hour and this new fryer alone can do 3,000 lbs to 4,000 lbs per hour,” he adds.

Other improvements include both Buffalo plants getting certified USDA Organic by certification authorities.

“The new oven we put in allows us to retain a lot more grease that we are selling to another processor that could be put into biofuels,” says Palczewski.

Rosina officials are looking toward the future in other ways as well.

“Raw material costs are going so high so fast,” says Sitwala. “One way for us to counteract this is to invest in new machinery. We are always looking into becoming more productive and cost effective.” 

Ravioli roundup

A step-by-step look at how Rosina makes Celentano Mini Cheese Filled Ravioli.

Step 1:
Flour is tossed in a dry hopper and fed into a dough extruder where it mixes with water and other ingredients to form a flour-slurry mix. This mix is then formed into long, skinny “loaves” of pasta dough. When the loaves are ready they are manually moved to the ravioli machine.

Step 2:
Meanwhile, the ravioli’s cheese filling is being made. The filling, which is made fresh daily, is a combination of spices and Romano cheese imported from Italy. The Romano cheese is ground fresh and combined in a cheese hopper with water, spices and Ricotta cheese. The mixture is then moved from the cheese hopper to the ravioli machine.

Step 3:
The dough loaves are fed into the ravioli machine where they are flattened into sheets. The dough sheets move through the machine, where the cheese filling is fed in between the sheets through a nozzle. The sheets of pasta with the cheese mixture sandwiched in between come out the other side where formers stamp them into mini ravioli shapes. The mini ravioli convey out and are fed through a blancher in which they are cooked.

Step 4:
The cooked ravioli cools as it travels past an inspector who ensures each mini ravioli is the correct shape and is sealed on all sides. Next, the mini ravioli convey over a shaking table that separates them and prevents clumping. The mini ravioli continue through a spiral freezer where they are individually quick frozen.

Step 5:
After weighing, the mini ravioli fall through vertical form-fill-seal bagging machines and are sealed (on this day) in 13-oz. bags. The bags travel on a conditioning conveyor and pass through a metal detector before they are packaged in 18-count cases and palletized for storage or shipping.