Think of it as micro meets macro. Some of the industry’s small- to mid-size companies are growing as they address “macro” trends. These Refrigerated & Frozen Foods’ “Ones to Watch” honorees are making a name for themselves in food safety, artisan and premium new products, ethnic adventure, at-home convenience foods and better-for-you products.

Winning combination: new technology and new, on-trend meats.

Think of it as micro meets macro. Some of the industry’s small- to mid-size companies are growing as they address “macro” trends. TheseRefrigerated & Frozen Foods’ “Ones to Watch” honorees are making a name for themselves in food safety, artisan and premium new products, ethnic adventure, at-home convenience foods and better-for-you products. If you want to grow, these are some names to know! Read on for growth profiles in each of six categories:

Cutting-edge processing, food safety equipment, new products mark Columbus Foods’ rise from the ashes.

CJ Foods rides consumer interest in ethnic taste adventure, better-for-you foods.

Ciao Bella Gelato expands, scoops up more consumers with award-winning frozen desserts.

Class in session. Canada’s Boulart wants consumers, customers to visit, taste “the new school of bread.”

Acquisitions, new products fuel Inventure Foods’ rise in “better-for-you” frozen foods.

Jane’s Dough Foods plans to double take-and-bake pizza sales by 2014 with custom new products for every channel.

MEAT & POULTRY: Four-alarm fire. Four-star plant.

Cutting-edge processing, food safety and new products mark Columbus Foods’ rise from the ashes.

Better to make headlines for the right reasons. Perhaps no one knows that more than Columbus Foods Inc.

This 94-year-old Bay Area company made news when a July 2009 fire destroyed its salami and deli meats slicing and packaging facility, one of two locations in South San Francisco, Calif.

This summer – two years to the month – Columbus again made headlines by opening a 60,000-square-foot slicing and packaging facility in nearby Hayward, Calif. The project meant enclosing and renovating roughly half of a 122,000-square-foot distribution center.

Most importantly – at a time when media are connecting widespread food-borne illness to everything from poultry to produce – Columbus Foods has an even better story to tell. That’s because its recent $31 million project featured a high-pressure processing (HPP) line.

Still relatively rare in U.S. food plants, this cold water-based technology creates and transmits enough pressurized force to kill harmful bacteria without affecting taste, color or texture. Employees place packaged product into specialized canisters and insert those containers into a high pressure, cold water chamber.

Tim Fallon is Columbus Foods’ chief executive officer.

“After we lost the other slicing facility, major customers inquired as to whether we would have the capability to apply HPP to our sliced deli meats. Accordingly, when we built the new facility, we invested in that technology.

“We are dedicated to the safety and quality of our products,” he adds. “Now this plant is one of the United States’ most technologically advanced slicing facilities – including the most advanced HPP technology.”

For the record, Columbus Foods processes and markets 223 types of artisan and premium bulk and sliced deli meats (most of which carry the Columbus brand). It ships nationwide and supplies retail grocery, deli and club store customers. In 2006, company management and private equity investors Endeavour Capital led a recapitalization of the company through which a majority interest was acquired from family ownership. Endeavour has offices in Portland, Seattle and Los Angeles.

Fallon notes that Columbus applies HPP to a portion of the deli meats sliced and packaged in Hayward. Engineers designed the operation with specialized rooms and restricted process flows for hygienic zoning, as well as separate slicing rooms for deli and cured meat. Columbus Foods estimates its initial HPP capacity – based on three shifts, seven days a week, 48 weeks out of the year – at approximately 20 million pounds.

The company’s new facility also employs some of the meat processing industry’s latest slicing and packaging equipment – including some of the industry’s fastest and most efficient slicers; robotic pick-and-place units that transfer meat into packaging; and high-tech units to package deli meat and salami into flexible modified atmosphere or zippered containers.

How will those high-tech products and packages perform in the market? Fallon says he expects Columbus Foods, a mid-size processor, to post double-digit sales annual gains in 2012.

For its part, Columbus Foods has kept pace with market trends. Officials say the business’ latest new products include No-Nitrate All Natural Italian Dry Salame, Low-Sodium Salame, a line of wine salame and reduced sodium Herb Roasted Turkey Breast twin-pack (processed through the HPP system).

Interestingly enough, the October 2011 issue of Women’s Health magazine also recognized Columbus’ Reduced-Sodium Turkey Breast as one of the “125 Top Packaged Foods.”

“This slow-roasted deli turkey is miles ahead of other packaged meats in the flavor department - a coup, since it also has 43 percent less sodium and is virtually fat-free,” the publication said.

Fallon notes that all Columbus products are gluten free, trans fat free and contain no MSGs. Meanwhile, consumers also appear to be biting for anything with artisan or upscale appeal (similar to breads, cheeses, dips and spreads).

“Consumer trends are favorable for premium products and there’s a growing culinary appreciation for authentic, higher-end and artisan dry-cured meats,” says Fallon. “We also are educating consumers about pairing options as well as traditional and innovative product usage. We believe that we are the United States’ leading artisan dry-cured meat manufacturer.”

At a glance: Columbus Foods Inc.
HQ: Hayward, Calif.
Top exec: Tim Fallon, CEO
Products / distribution: More than 220 branded types of bulk and pre-sliced, packaged dry-cured salame, meats and deli meats for nationwide supermarket retail, deli and club store sales. Columbus also distributes bulk deli cheeses and condiments.

New CJ Foods and Annie Chun’s frozen offerings for club stores and supermarkets.


CJ Foods rides growing consumer interest in ethnic taste adventure, better-for-you foods.

Heard of the “ripple effect?” Consider this an example where science meets business and where water meets wontons.

You can see a ripple effect by dropping or throwing even a small object into a still body of water. The object’s initial force creates energy transference with concentric rings of water that ripple and expand outwards.

A diversified global company, South Korea’s CJ Corp. started a similar ripple effect in 1978 when it formed CJ America, a U.S. sales subsidiary. CJ’s next market ripple occurred between 1997 and 2004. That’s when it started a beef processing business in Alabama; created CJ Foods, a Los Angeles importer and distributor; and started a fresh bakery operation.

CJ Foods’ next ripple came in 2005 when the business struck up a strategic distribution and sales partnership with Annie Chun’s Inc., a San Francisco distributor of Pan-Asian natural instant meals and sauces. The following year, CJ bought Omni Food Inc., a Commerce, Calif., a processor of frozen Asian dumplings, noodles, rice and meats for branded retail (Ohana House) and contract sales. Included was Omni’s 17,000-square-foot, USDA-approved facility in Paramount, Calif.; and a 20,000-square-foot noodle-making facility in Southgate, Calif.

It was an important move as CJ Foods shifted from an import and distributing model to a domestic OEM profile.

Today finds CJ Foods riding a new wave of activity in refrigerated and frozen snacks and appetizers. One key to the latest news involved CJ Foods formally buying Annie Chun’s last January. The deal certainly fits CJ Foods’ U.S. growth goals.
Elliot Chung is CJ Foods’ senior U.S. brand manager.

“CJ is a company based on delicious, convenience foods made with the freshest ingredients possible. Our frozen products … show we are extremely devoted to this philosophy and committed to authenticity,” he says. “In 2012, we would like to increase our retail availability across the U.S. and make our products consumers’ top choices for everyday meals.”

That led CJ Foods to take the next step with Annie Chun’s, which already had recently begun its own national media campaign (“Bring Something New to the Table”) with TV advertising.

“Our distribution has expanded so that we are available nationwide in natural health and specialty stores as well as in general supermarkets,” says Diana Wang, Annie Chun’s director of marketing. This is a huge achievement for us. It proves our loyal consumers welcome and enjoy our brand’s innovative offerings and bold flavors and appreciate that our foods are made from the highest quality organic ingredients, with no trans fats or MSG.”

At a time when consumers are interested in ethnic taste adventure, Annie Chun’s broader Pan-Asian positioning gives it license to showcase new tastes from anywhere in the region. Likewise, at time when consumers are more interested in better-for-you offerings, Annie Chun’s has a strong natural and organic positioning.

Wang says there are as many as 14 different Annie Chun’s product lines. They include three refrigerated items and now as many as 10 frozen SKUs.

Refrigerated organic potstickers and mini wontons debuted in 2010. This year brought an entirely new line of frozen savory wonton soups (Chicken & Cilantro, Chicken & Garlic, Spicy Vegetable) and more frozen vegetarian appetizers such as Annie Chun’s Organic Shiitake & Vegetable Potstickers and Spicy Vegetable Mini Wontons. This year also marked the debut of Annie Chun’s refrigerated, Japanese-style Udon freshpak noodles.

“Our refrigerated foods are nationally recognized in health and food outlets as easy-to-prepare options for nutritious and delicious meals,” says Wang. “Meanwhile, many of our foods also have caught national attention. The Today Show, Oprah Magazine, Every Day with Rachael Ray and many nutritionists have promoted and praised our all-natural, Pan-Asian cuisine.”

This year also saw Annie Chun’s promoting ties with Dale Talde, a celebrity chef and former contestant on Bravo’s Emmy award-winning series Top Chef. This summer, Talde created an exclusive signature recipe series featuring Annie Chun’s products.

Speaking of chefs, CJ Omni (a sister company) launched a foodservice business at the 2011 National Restaurant Association Hotel-Motel Show last May in Chicago.

“Although CJ Foods has been in the United States for more than 30 years … Korean food in America has become a phenomenon in recent years and is now considered to be one of the most significant trends in cuisine,” says Becky Westby, CJ Omni’s director of foodservice. “There is no better time for CJ – as a leading authority on Korean food – to lend its expertise to foodservice. Operators are asking for healthy, better-for-you items that provide bold, authentic flavors and are operationally effective. That’s what we offer.”

At a glance: CJ Foods
HQ: Commerce, Calif.
Top exec: Eliot Chung, Senior Brand Manager
Products / distribution: Refrigerated and frozen wontons, dumplings, noodles, soup and other items for branded and private label sales at supermarkets, health food stores and club stores. Newly formed CJ Omni supplies commercial restaurants as well as non-commercial operators, c-stores and vending.

Brand expands from scoop shops to mainstream retail shelves.

Dairy: Hello beautiful

Ciao Bella Gelato expanding to take its award-winning products to more consumers.

Here’s a scoop. There’s more to the dairy industry than Greek yogurt. Although, interestingly enough, one of the category’s more intriguing companies also has Mediterranean ties.  

Look at the premium frozen desserts and one business making headlines for everything from new products to expanded sales … is Ciao Bella Gelato Company. What began in 1983 as gelato scoop shop in New York’s Little Italy is becoming a coast-to-coast leader in new ice cream and novelties innovation.

For the record, five-year market tracking from Mintel finds that total retail ice cream and frozen novelty sales (all grocery, food drug and mass merchandise outlets) fell 8 percent to $10.2 billion from 2006 to 2011. Still, study authors concluded, ““Full-fat, indulgent brands have performed well in the last year, appealing to consumers’ desire for a rich, creamy, flavorful and fun eating experience, gaining share but not growing fast enough to reverse the segment’s steady decline.”

Meanwhile Ciao Bella, Florham Park, N.J., is a company on the rise. Officials credit former executive F.W. Pearce who bought the business in 1989 and then – along with Charlie Apt – expanded Ciao Bella’s sales to area restaurants, retailers and, eventually, more scoop shops.

That profile was well established by 2008 and 2009 when Ciao Bella posted 20 percent to 35 percent annual top-line sales gains, earned rave reviews from Oprah Winfrey and was named as one of Brandweek’s “Brands on the Verge.” Mid-2008 brought an important capital infusion from private equity investors Encore Consumer Capital and Sherbrooke Capital. In February 2009, Ciao Bella then hired CEO Stan Fabian, a veteran of Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream for nearly 20 years

With ultra-premium gelato and sorbet shops in major cities on both coasts, Ciao Bella decided in 2010 to push broader and deeper retail packaged sales in specialty and mainstream supermarkets.

In conjunction, Ciao Bella closed production plants in New Jersey and California and struck up a contract processing agreement with Oregon Ice Cream Co., Eugene, Ore.

Fabian focused capital spending on promotion, marketing and the company’s award-winning product development group, led by Executive Chef Danilo Zecchin and Deborah Holt, Ciao Bella’s vice president of sales, marketing and head of new product innovation. In part, the group has been responsible for developing more gelato and sorbet offerings (particularly novelties) and redesigning Ciao Bella’s retail packaging.

Most importantly, the process appears to be working. Last year saw Ciao Bella introduce six pint flavors and convert is six most popular gelato and sorbet flavors into single-serve retail cups. It also launched three frozen novelties: Blood Orange Bars (only 60 Calories), Key Lime Graham Gelato Squares and Chocolate-Dipped Tahitian Vanilla Raspberry Gelato Dips. Along the way, Ciao Bella also earned its 16th sofi Award for its Key Lime Graham Gelato Squares. The item was named most Outstanding Dessert or Dessert Topping from the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, Inc. (NASFT).

The company pushed even more development in 2011.

“This is an exciting year for Ciao Bella – more stores, more products and ultimately, more ways for fans old and new to enjoy Ciao Bella,” said Fabian, in an April release. “Finding ways to better accommodate our consumers is always a top priority at Ciao Bella. We’re thrilled to offer them the convenience of more locations and a variety of new products to choose from when purchasing our brand.”

Ciao Bella expanded distribution to include major retailers nationwide such as Whole Foods Market, Safeway, Kroger, Costco, Giant Landover, Target, Jewel, Cub Foods, Albertsons, Wal-Mart, ShopRite, and BJs. The company also opened in-store gelato scoop shops at retailers in Atlanta, New York City, South Florida and both Northern and Southern California. Complementing this was a summer sampling and promotion blitz in key new markets. Ciao Bella took it tastes to the road and sampled product at Jimmy Fund Scooper Bowl in Boston, BlogHer in San Diego, Ghirardelli Square Chocolate Festival in San Francisco and Fashion Week in New York.

Meanwhile, Ciao Bella’s new products continue to attract attention. Following the 2010 buzz around the brand’s Blood Orange Sorbet Bars, Ciao Bella expanded its low-calorie line of sorbet novelties with Blueberry Passion Bars, a 70-calorie combination of Wild Blueberry and Passion Fruit flavors. It also developed Belgian Chocolate S’mores Gelato Squares, which won NASFT’s 2011 gold sofi Award for Outstanding Dessert or Dessert Topping.

“Next year, we want to continue expanding sales penetration in our existing market, improve purchase frequency and extend our sampling and brand-building efforts,” says Holt.

And perhaps in an unavoidable nod to the dairy category craze, Ciao Bella is readying adonia by Ciao Bella, a frozen Greek yogurt line, for an early 2012 launch.

Each of seven new varieties (retail cups first, followed by novelties) is made with real Greek yogurt, has only 130 calories per serving, nine grams of protein per serving and is fat free.   

At a glance: Ciao Bella Gelato
HQ: Florham Park, N.J.
TOP EXEC: Stan Fabian, CEO
PRODUCTS / DISTRIBUTION: Ciao Bella produces and distributes retail sorbet and gelato products for national distribution in retail single-serve, pint and novelty forms. It supplies its own scoop shops as well as foodservice operators.

Bakery Foods: Fashionable food

Canada’s Boulart grows, combines high volume industrial scale with artisan innovation.

They say great minds think alike. Or how about a case where one great mind applies the same creative approach to different fields. Case in point, what fashion is to clothing, Boulart Inc. is to bread. It’s going beyond the functional for a higher quality edge and experience.

Meet Michel Saillant, a French Canadian business owner and entrepreneur who has sold everything from real estate to French and Italian apparel. Saillant then became a business consultant – only to soon join Montreal’s Au Pain Doré, a French bakery distributing to own Montreal retail outlets as well as area restaurants and supermarkets.

Saillant eventually left Au Pain Dore in 2004 and nurtured a vision of his own business that would concentrate on artisan, all-natural frozen breads and rolls. Moreover, that business would start with an entirely new niche product: a baguette inspired by Italy’s ciabatta.

The goal was to sell these breads (branded and private label) more broadly through supermarket in-store bakeries as well as to the foodservice trade. Specifically, Saillant wanted to help in-store bakeries set up small upscale (higher profit) bakery shops within their departments – far away from more commercial, branded on-shelf offerings. Fully baked breads and rolls would arrive frozen. Store employees then simply re-heat them for three or four minutes in the in-store bakery’s oven prior to display.

Saillant’s passion and patience turned into three years of travel to Europe (mostly France and Spain) to find just the right industrial process and technology (make-up equipment, dough dividers and ovens) for a long fermentation, high moisture product. Saillant hired a master baker, Claude Seaonsky, and once the pair was convinced it had the right machinery, Saillant found the financial backing in 2007 to build a bakery and launch Boulart.

At its start, Boulart produced as many as 80,000 baguettes each day to supply area supermarkets including Canada’s Metro Richelieu and Sobeys (initially in the Montreal metro area). In just its first year, the company earned a 2007 Canadian Grand Prix New Product Award for its private label breads marketed as Metro’s “Irresistibles” line. Germany’s Baking + Biscuit International magazine interviewed Saillant the following spring, shortly after the awards were announced.

“To us, baguettes are a classical product for Sundays, something one is looking forward to,” Saillant told the publication. “I wanted quality without any compromises. Breads made exclusively from flour, water, salt and yeast, without bakery improvers or additives, but taking a lot of time.”

Three years later, Boulart (annual sales not disclosed) produces and distributes as many as 30 SKUs to retail and foodservice clients in Canada and the northeast United States. Its product line includes classic French baguettes, half baguettes and dinner rolls, ciabatta breads and flavored specialty items.

This year also found Boulart ready to take its next growth step. For starters, it held something of a “coming out” party last June at the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association’s 2011 Dairy-Deli-Bake convention in Anaheim, Calif. The event drew 8,554 attendees and 1,576 exhibitors, officials said.

Boulart also has brought in new talent, including Executive Vice President Michel Benoit, a Quebec native with 25 years of CPG sales, marketing and brand development experience in both the Americas and Europe.

“Boulart hasn’t reached its maturity yet but – because of its fairly rapid development – it’s time to refine business processes and market penetration strategies,” says Benoit. “As we attract more interest in new [distribution] markets, we want to steer the development of this brand and make our processes more efficient and consistent.”

Benoit knows Boulart already is in-step with consumer interest in healthier foods and upscale, artisan products. He notes that Boulart’s all-natural offerings start with a formulated base of unbleached and untreated flour, filtered water and natural sea salt.
Although Benoit didn’t attend Dairy-Deli-Bake, Boulart officials were still buzzing about the event when he joined the company in August.

“It was an opportunity for Boulart to become more widely known and solicit feedback for its items,” says Benoit. “It proved to be an extremely busy show with long lines of people waiting for sandwiches featuring our breads... Our products taste amazing so it’s a matter of seducing consumers to try them. When you taste an amazing bread to start off a meal, it sparks your appetite.”

That said, Boulart is not about to “sell out” for larger mass appeal.

“We’ll grow with quality partners that provide a genuine commitment to the artisan breads category,” says Benoit. “Our goal is not to cover the earth but to take a targeted, rifle approach.

“We have capacity to grow but we want to do so in very close, careful collaboration with our retail and restaurant partners,” he continues. “We like the notion of supporting local restaurants and retailers and building demand from the ground up.”

With that, Benoit echoes Saillant’s 2008 comments to Baking + Biscuit International. A confident entrepreneur, Saillant spoke of passion and patience.

“I have learned to say no if necessary. Customers who are not willing to follow our concept of constant freshness and premium quality and who do not stick to these preset standards are not our type of customers. Our brand is defined by quality and freshness.”

At a glance: Boulart Inc.
HQ: Lachine, Quebec
Top exec: Michel Saillant, Owner, President
Products / distribution: Approximately 30 types of frozen French and Italian artisan baguettes, breads, rolls and sandwich breads for Canadian and U.S. supermarket and club store in-store bakeries, white tablecloth and chain restaurant accounts.

New products spur dramatic growth at Rader Farms, Lynden, Wash

FRUIT & VEGETABLES: Mind the (market) gap

Acquisitions, new products fuel Inventure Foods’ rise in “better-for-you” frozen foods.

Mind the gap. It’s a widely known cautionary phrase associated with England’s London Underground railway. Then again, “mind the gap” also can be a business strategy.

While installing and servicing bagging machines in 1970’s snack food plants, engineers Jay Poore and his older brother, Don, observed the finer details of potato chip production. They also noticed a void in the market.

The brothers decided to develop their own snack brand and create a thicker, kettle-cooked chip. That unique product idea led to the 1983 start-up of Bob’s Texas Style Potato Chips, which the brothers sold to a partner in 1986. Afterward, the pair moved to Arizona and started another company with the Poore Brothers brand.

That was still just the beginning. In 1996, Poore Brothers joined private investors and went public. Then the company acquired several small snack chip businesses (including Bob’s Texas Style), factories and popular brands, including T.G.I. Friday’s (a licensing deal) and Boulder Canyon. By 2006, Poore Brothers was a national snacks company and officials changed the name to “The Inventure Group” (since renamed Inventure Foods) reflecting the business’ focus on “innovation” and “new ventures.”

Behind the scenes, the brothers and board members hired seasoned snack and larger CPG company veterans to manage the growing national business. And it wasn’t long then before the company struck out on an important new venture: a new platform for better-for-you and specialty natural/organic foods. In 2007, it paid $21 million to buy Rader Farms Inc., a family-owned Lynden, Wash., grower, processor and marketer of premium branded and private label IQF (individual quick frozen) berries and berry blends.

Steve Sklar is Inventure’s senior vice president of marketing.

“The idea was to diversify our business and add to our health / natural foods unit,” he says. “Fruit is clearly part of the trend toward health, wellness and better-for-you foods. We had a number of execs with frozen food experience (from Minute Maid, Marie Callender’s, Tropicana, Haagen-Dazs) and that made the acquisition more palatable. Ultimately, we saw the opportunity to add product innovation, better packaging, sales, marketing and operational expertise to grow the business.”

Inventure followed through a little more than year later. Again, officials found growth opportunity in an unmet market need.
“We were looking for additional uses for our fruit and wanted to create value-added products,” says Sklar. “We saw that smoothies were growing rapidly in foodservice, but there was a gap in retail. Jamba Juice Company – being the largest smoothie chain – was a clear target as a retail partner.”

Inventure invested in plant upgrades, new packaging and filling equipment and more people for Rader Farms. Rader launched its own fruit smoothie kit line in early 2009. Inventure then signed a licensing deal with Jamba Juice to produce and market three of the chain’s top selling varieties in a make-at-home kit format. Jamba All Natural Smoothies debuted just nine months later, in March 2010.

Last February found Inventure President & CEO Terry McDaniel commenting on fiscal 2010 results. He noted Rader Division revenues were $48.5 million, an increase of 19.9 percent from previous year.  Excluding Jamba, Rader revenues for the year were up 11.4 percent, reflecting continued growth in both existing and new customers, officials said. Meanwhile, McDaniel said Jamba revenues were $3.4 million ($4.9 million gross) for the year, which exceeded internal expectations.

Brad Rader is a Rader Farms’ vice president and general manager.

“We are very agile and can adjust and react quickly to customer request or market shifts. And this year, we have been successful with new items,” he says. “Our plant has grown tremendously during the past 24 months and we have a great group of managers that care about their staff and our product quality. They have rallied as we add shifts and new production lines and we haven’t skipped a beat.”

With Rader’s plant operating at an estimated 50 percent capacity (as of February 2011), Inventure turned up the volume. During the past nine months, the business has expanded distribution to Midwest, East Coast and even Canadian retailers (reaching an estimated 9,000 outlets); added a fourth variety, Caribbean Passion; and increased its promotional efforts, which included a July profile on Food Network’s “Unwrapped.”

“Jamba is a powerful brand,” says Sklar. “We need to make consumers aware that our make-at-home, Jamba-branded smoothie kits are now available in the freezer section of their local supermarkets, mass merchandisers and club stores.”

Meanwhile Inventure Foods promises to press on. McDaniel noted the Jamba At-Home Smoothie sales reached $10.4 million during the first two quarters of fiscal 2011 (ending June 25).

“We are committed to leveraging our sales momentum with continued targeted spending in critical slotting, demonstrations and other promotional efforts as we continue to secure new distribution across the United States and Canada,” said McDaniel in a July earnings release.

At a glance: Inventure Foods Inc.
HQ: Phoenix, Ariz.
Top exec: Terry McDaniel, President & CEO
Products / distribution: Approximately 100 SKUs of frozen branded (Rader Farms, Jamba Juice) and private label fruits, fruit blends and smoothie kits for grocery, club and foodservice accounts.

Jane’s Dough Foods General Manager Alan Hoover and Janet Sprouse, executive director of research & development.

MEALS & ENTREES: Meet Jane's Dough

Donatos’ take-and-bake pizza business plans to double sales by 2014 with custom new products for every channel.

Remember the ‘70s? That’s when one hamburger chain playfully advertised that its signature sandwich featured “special sauce.” Talk to Alan Hoover today and he’ll tell you that a special source is his key to double-digit annual sales gains.

Hoover is the general manager of Jane’s Dough Foods Inc (JDF)., a three-year-old Columbus, Ohio, business producing as many as 45 different frozen pizzas (included branded, private label and contract varieties) for supermarket delis, convenience stores, restaurants, schools and other non-commercial foodservice outlets.

Hoover, the former president of Kahiki Foods, joined Jane’s Dough last April. The 12-year food industry veteran says he has been impressed with JDF’s special sauce, represented by parent Donatos LLC.

“What makes us unique is a 48-year restaurant heritage and Jim Grote, who opened and managed the first Donatos pizzeria while he was still a 19-year-old sophomore at Ohio State University,” says Hoover. “Today, Donatos has nearly 165 pizza restaurants and [no other frozen pizza processor] has this type of history combined with our manufacturing capabilities.”

“We have a [Donatos] support system complete with marketing, R&D and consumer insights,” Hoover continues. “Plus [industrial food processing equipment supplier] the J.E. Grote Company is right next door. As a result, our plant provides a host of complete solutions all under one roof – from dough production, proofing and freezing all the way to topping applications and modified atmosphere packaging. Everything we do is designed to help customers sell more pizza.”

Those customers include convenience stores looking for custom hot foods, such as JDF’s 7-inch personal pizza, which they can easily prepare to draw in consumers. Still more customers are supermarket retailers looking for more ready meal solution offerings. Retailers buy JDF’s 11- to 14-inch pies for grocery take-and-bake pizza and private label programs. Last but not least, JDF also specializes in 16-inch sizes for school lunch and contract feeding accounts.

For the record, Jane’s Dough (named for Jim Grote’s daughter, Jane Grote Abell) also produces about 25 different types of frozen pizza dough shells for Donatos and other restaurant operators. Officials say the frozen product matches in-store taste and texture profiles. Meanwhile, frozen dough shells also eliminate store-level dough handling issues providing product consistency, employee safety and shrink reduction.

JDF grew at a double-digit pace in 2010 and Hoover says officials just completed a three-year growth plan calling for JDF to double its size by 2014. The business’ two-pronged strategy targets greater sales within existing customer channels as well as expanded branded retail sales.

To the first point, JDF already can tap into Donatos’ vast network of everything from consumer insights research, marketing and product development to finance and supply chain management. Meanwhile, Hoover says JDF will hire additional sales personnel to support a sales push in each major customer channel.

Serving new and existing customers also requires wider distribution capabilities. And while Donatos is concentrated in the Midwest and mid-South, Hoover says JDF aspires to support customers in new geographies such as California, the Pacific Northwest, the upper Midwest and the Southeast.

Back in Columbus, meanwhile, Hoover says JDF is just beginning to rev up its own new products program. Just in time for the Ohio State football season, JDF introduced a licensed Donatos take-and-bake pizza with pepperoni applied in the shape of the university’s famous “Block O” design.

A former food packaging materials veteran, Hoover also has redesigned Donatos’ own take-and-bake offerings and says JDF soon will launch an entirely new package with a new name: “Fresh Bake by Donatos.”

It’s a package Hoover expects to see soon in supermarkets. A former college baseball player, this South Carolina native is unabashedly competitive and routinely visits area supermarkets – before work starts – to check store sets and displays.

“Pizza is what we do,” says Hoover. “It is what Donatos has done incredibly well since 1963. We believe we do it better than anyone else in the industry … and we are constantly seeking to improve all facets of our business so we can better serve our customers’ needs.”

At a glance: Jane’s Dough Foods
HQ: Columbus, Ohio
Top exec: Alan Hoover, General Manager
Products / distribution: Approximately 70 types of branded, private label and contract frozen pizza dough shells, topped pizzas and bread sticks. JDF supplies nearly 2,000 points of distribution in restaurants, supermarkets, convenience stores, hospitals, schools and stadiums.