Ones to Watch: Bakery Foods: Play to win
Rocky Mountain Pies Founder and President Mark “Par” Grandinetti has a simple business axiom that has served him well for more than 18 years in the pie industry: “Understand the rules and play to win.”
Sure, it sounds like something a high school football coach would tell his athletes before they storm the field - but that’s part of the reason Grandinetti likes it.
“I love it because it really equates to sports for me and it’s motivating,” he says. “If you understand the rules up front, then you can be successful as you work with your customer base.”
Surprisingly, the pie industry and sports have more in common than one might think. While certain basic rules have stayed the same for decades, both competitive areas have seen subtle changes. This is something Grandinetti understood well when he and a group of industry veterans (who worked together at Western Country Pies) started up this Salt Lake City-based frozen pie company in 2007.
“In the last 18 years many of our potential customers consolidated into big corporations that have their own corporate pie programs that they have to adhere to and follow,” Grandinetti explains. “And it’s just made this business that much more challenging. So we’ve learned how to play this game.”
And Rocky Mountain plays to win. In its first year of business, the company hit sales of $10 million and is on pace to double that amount this year.
“Our customer base has doubled, really it’s probably more than doubled, but what really has doubled is our sales volume,” Grandinetti says
He notes that it has been the company’s ability to adapt to its customers’ changing needs and structures that allowed them to grow so quickly.
“Rather than trying to push a program that is a ‘me-too’ program, we prefer to work with customers to build a program that works within the parameters of their market area,” Grandinetti told Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery (an R&FF sister publication) earlier this year.
This could include developing a specialty pie or pre-labeled product for private label sale or creating a trans-fat-free option - all of which Rocky Mountain has done in the last year - among other things. There are few limits - the company now offers more than 300 different pies including fruit, meringue and cream-based pies in several different sizes.
Despite the large variety, Grandinetti ensures that these pies all have at least a few things in common - a homemade appearance and amazing taste.
“Our goal for our customers is to stop the shopping cart at the pie display in the bakery, because you can ‘eat the product with your eyes,’ and then once they take the pie home and eat it, we’ve got them,” he says. “And you get them to stop the shopping cart by doing the extra little touches.”
At Rocky Mountain these “extra touches” include hand-placed lattice tops on fruit pies and hand- peaked meringues on the company’s top-selling meringue pies. While it operates a modern, fully-equipped 75,000-square-foot Salt Lake City production plant (see Inside the Plant), Rocky Mountain doesn’t mind taking the time for these “handmade” touches.
Grandinetti notes, “We’re happy to run the pies at that speed and provide a better product. That’s kind of our signature, our niche.”
Looking ahead, growth also is proving to be a signature of this company. Grandinetti already has several new endeavors for 2009 lined up that he says will double sales for the third year in a row.
“I want to continue down the path we’re on and reach $50 million in sales in the next five years,” he says.
Not that the path is easy. Rocky Mountain Pies’ first two years of business coincided with unprecedented increases in commodity prices. Grandinetti adds that it was a year where even the company leaders had to sort out their roles.
“When we first launched this new business, we were all wearing so many hats, it was very difficult to accomplish everything that needed to be done,” he says. Still, Rocky Mountain Pies posted a profitable summer.
And it’s here that Grandinetti keeps it simple, once again, as he sums up the company’s future plans: “We will continue to stick to our business plan, produce the finest quality products at a fair price and enable our customers to grow their pie category and shower them with great service.”
Rocky Mountain Pies
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
Top executive: Mark (Par) Grandinetti, president
Annual sales: $10 million (in 2007)
Primary product(s): Frozen cream, meringue, fruit and other dessert pies
Brands: Rocky Mountain Pies, private label
Distribution: Nationwide to supermarkets for retail and in-store bakery sales
On the Web: www.rockymountainpies.com