Albert Guarnieri Co. Displays 125 Years of Diversification
NILES, Ohio -- “The business has changed so dramatically, I’m not even sure I can describe it,” says Albert Guarnieri III, as he looks around the Eastwood Expo Center and sees more than 1,400 products from 200 manufacturers on display Wednesday during Albert Guarnieri & Co.’s spring trade show.
It’s the 15th year that the 125-year-old family business has staged the event, and it was 15 years ago that the Warren company diversified into food products and equipment -- in a way, reclaiming its roots as a fruit and vegetable vendor only now wholesaling today’s prepared, processed and convenience foods.
From Snicker Bites to Taco in a Bag and eight-cookie packs of extra large Oreos that promise retailers a 40% profit margin, the “Spring into Green” trade show offered a preview of food industry trends – for instance, more Hispanic varieties of snack foods.
Among the trade show vendors were local food producers such as DiRusso Sausage, which offered samples of its hoagie meat patty sold to restaurants.
One of the industry’s largest company’s, U.S. Foods of Rosemont, Ill., had a number of prepared food products on display, including the “Taco in a Bag.”
“It’s basically heat and serve. It all has to be pretty simple,” said Gene Szegedi, a U.S. Foods employee who demonstrated the preparation of a steak sandwich with seasoned peppers.
Looking for ideas as well as bargains at the trade show were restaurateurs, grocery and convenience store operators, and representatives of nonprofit organizations that operate concession stands and raise funds through catalog sales.
“My grandfather went from a horse and buggy to, as I tell it sometimes, to the moon,” the senior Guarnieri marveled as he observed all the activity.
“The boys expanded into food products and other items and it’s been good for us.”
The “boys” are Guarnieri’s sons Rob and John, the fourth-generation to operate Albert Guarnieri & Co. The company was founded in 1888 when their great-grandfather and great-grandmother operated a fruit and vegetable stand on Market Street in Warren. A retail candy, tobacco and ice cream store followed and eventually the wholesale business, which until the diversification into food service, centered on candy and tobacco products.
Today the company is based at 1133 E. Market St. in Warren, where a major expansion of its warehouse was completed 10 years ago, including the addition of a test kitchen to develop new menu items. It employs 85.
“We write ‘X’ number of hundreds of thousands of dollars of business during the trade show,” says John Guarnieri.
The second and third quarters typically are the company’s strongest, he says. With revenues a reflection of consumer spending habits, the Great Recession took its toll.
“It’s a little challenged at the moment,” John Guarnieri says of the company’s bottom line. “It has been for the last several years but we are starting to see some uptick and we certainly hope so with the shale play.”
Tobacco products were well represented at the show. A representative for one of the vendors – the only one who would comment – said sales of generic cigarettes continue to rise even as the industry sees its overall sales numbers continue to drop.
Following the U.S. surgeon general’s report in 1964 that linked smoking with lung cancer, Albert Guarnieri & Co.’s tobacco sales began to fall off, “a percentage every year since,” the senior Guarnieri recalls.
“It made us work smarter and diversify our business, which is what we’ve been focusing on since we got into the food service part of the business,” says John Guarnieri. “That allowed us to diversify our products lines and also our customer base.”
To stay ahead of its competition, the company also implemented technology to modernize its distribution system and sales force. And the family business created Mid States Fundraising, a catalog sales division that offers products for nonprofit organizations to sell.
“We work in and out of schools – with booster groups, athletic groups, anyone who needs to raise funds for anything they don’t have money for,” says Donna Guarnieri, Rob’s wife.
“You can raise thousands and thousands of dollars with a fundraiser,” she says. “I have cookie dough sales that are $40,000 sales. It just depends on your participation levels and what the motivation is.”
Copyright 2013 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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