You might not know it but McCain Foods USA has a retail business that’s vibrant and helping grow retailers’ sales, officials say.

Although it processes potatoes, pizzas and onions for both branded and private label business, McCain – part of a larger global retail giant – is particularly proud of its branded entries.

“Our Ellio’s brand pizza continues to be the No. 1 selling pizza in the Northeast,” says Bill Flood, vice president of retail sales. “And, on a nationwide basis, retail potato category growth is significantly stronger at customers that stock McCain [brand frozen potato products].”

The company’s most established retail business is Ellio’s, a regional favorite known by its familiar “no upper crust” rectangle shape. Distributed in all northeastern states, Information Resources Inc. data shows Ellio’s with $40 million in annual sales at all food, drug and mass merchandise stores (excluding Wal-Mart). During a 52-week period ended December 2, 2007, Ellio’s dollar sales were flat while unit sales rose 1.5 percent.

To grow, Flood notes that Ellio’s has developed several new offerings, including a microwaveable Cheese variety, followed by two SKUs in their traditional format (three pizzas, three slices each): Sausage/Pepperoni Combo and Supreme, which are now in test markets.

Meanwhile, officials say Ellio’s was the first brand in the Northeast to highlight 0 grams trans fat on its package. Ellio’s also has extended its distribution down the East Coast to Miami.

“Consumers have enjoyed Ellio’s pizza for more than 40 years and it remains relevant, with almost a cult-like following,” notes Brand Manager Laura Trevino. “U.S. soldiers recently contacted us to request shipments prior to their deployment to Iraq. The soldiers told us they grew up with Ellio’s and it continues to be one of their favorite foods today.”

Also gaining wider stateside distribution is McCain’s retail potato business. Although primarily concentrated in the Midwest and Northeast, the brand has steadily gained distribution in the Carolinas, Texas, Kansas, Colorado, Utah and Arizona.

Flood notes that McCain’s frozen potato business now boasts $40 million in annual sales as well. Interestingly, he notes too, that the frozen potato category has been growing at a significantly faster rate since 2003 at those retailers who stock McCain potato products. Case in point: IRI data for a 24-week period ended December 2, 2007, show those retailers with McCain product experienced a 3.6 percent category sales increase. On the contrary, retailers’ frozen potato sales – excluding McCain – were down 0.4 percent during the same time period.

Flood also can point to several reasons why McCain is helping build categories.

“We keep our focus on unique, innovative and ‘better-for-you’ products,” he says.

In 2003, McCain eliminated all trans fats in its retail products. Meanwhile, the company stocks store shelves with unique shapes and flavors that complement the category. These range from Sweet Potato Crinkle Cut Fries (a top seller after just 24 months) to new McCain Popcorn Potatoes (mini popcorn-shaped shredded potatoes).

Last but not least, McCain is supporting its retail potato brand with timely promotions. The company just finished a promotion in support of the Y-ME National Breast Cancer Partnership. During this past October and November, it packaged some of its best selling items (McCain Smiles, McCain All-American Roasters) in all-pink stand-up bags. The packaging not only drew attention to the program but McCain likewise donated $25,000 to the national Y-Me organization.