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Zweigle’s rolls out changes

Zweigle’s offerings include deli products, hot dogs, classic sausage and poultry sausage. (Photos by Kimberly McKinzie)

Operating in Rochester since 1880, Zweigle’s Inc. is gaining momentum well over a century later.

The 135-year-old company will carry two new brands starting in March to position for 10 to 15 percent revenues growth in its food service division, where the company supplies products to restaurants, colleges and universities, and institutions such as hospitals.

Company officials expect its retail side to follow that upward trend.

“(The new product lines) give us product diversification,” said Julie Camardo-Steron, president of Zweigle’s and fifth-generation owner. “We are known as hot dogs but we do more than that currently. We do extruded products, meatballs, crumbles, and then fully cooked whole muscle meats.

“This gives us the capability to ex-pand on what we do currently and with different products than we’ve ever had before.”

Food extrusion forces mixed ingredients through an opening, after which it is cut to size. Breakfast sausage, meatballs and toppings/crumbles are all considered extruded products. The whole muscle meat product is a chicken breast or pork loin that is marinated, cooked and sold as a prepared entree.

Zweigle’s offerings include deli products, hot dogs, classic sausage and poultry sausage.

The new product lines are divided into two categories: Italian and Savory Sensations. The Italian line will primarily be extruded products, including meatballs or pizza toppings. Savory Sensations will focus on breakfast items including sausage links, patties and fully cooked entrees.

“On the retail branded side it may take a little longer because we still have to do all of the packaging design, which is in process but we can’t do photography for packaging until we’re actually running the product off the line,” said Steve Vacanti, director of marketing.

The firm also has installed a new oven at its plant on North Plymouth Avenue.

The company’s new oven—it takes up 4,500 square feet—enables another option for cooking: a spiral process. The oven was part of the recent expansion done at the plant. Some 4,500 square feet was added and the new area includes the forming equipment, the oven, the freezer and the packaging line. The total plant is now 38,500 square feet.

The company’s current main method of cooking, which includes stuffing products into a casing, hanging them and then cooking them vertically in smoke houses, will still be used. The new spiral process reduces the amount of human intervention required.

The spiral process requires three or four people, while the older process took 12 to 14.

The new machinery is expected to contribute roughly a million pounds of product a year to its capacity for a single shift. The existing side of the plant produces 8 million pounds annually for a single shift.

Last September the County of Monroe Industrial Agency approved Zweigle’s for breaks of $53,393 for a nearly $1.4 million expansion at its 651 N. Plymouth Ave. facility. The community benefit of the 4,300-square-foot addition was projected at $445,130.

The expansion included $750,000 in new equipment to allow for a new production line to expand product lines, officials said. The plan was projected to create five jobs over five years.

The company is targeting regional chains to foster controlled growth. Nearly all the firm’s business is local. The company’s fiscal year ends in September. The full of impact of the product launches will not be realized in 2015, officials said.

“I’m hoping for a positive reaction from the community,” Camardo-Steron said. “The product will still be that same quality product from the Zweigle’s brand, but we’re launching some additional lines. Our hope is that we’ll be able to maintain the employment we have here and grow that employment, and that will be positive for Rochester.”

The firm employs 46 staffers and hopes to add a handful of employees this year, depending on growth.

A challenge is helping local customers see Zweigle’s with fresh eyes, Vacanti said.

“It’s not like we just started this; we’ve been talking about it for two years,” he said. “We’re not a national company, so we don’t have the resources to go out and do mass media campaigns to grow these brands.

“We own this market for hot dogs and we do a very good job of servicing our accounts (but) now every customer we have is a prospect for the new stuff,” he added.

The firm will partner with Fantauzzo Family Brands Inc.’s Salvatore’s Pizza on meatballs and sausage products this year.

“They operate how we try to operate Salvatore’s,” said CEO and founder Salvatore Fantauzzo, known as “Soccer Sam” locally. “They just take care of their customers, they care they reach out to you and it’s not just the business relationship, it’s a friendship. I just admire how they operate. We hope to launch more products with them in the future.”

Fantauzzo aims to keep his products and manufacturing in Rochester, he said.

“We try to keep everything local that we can and we’re buying thousands and thousands of product out-of-state. Why not keep it here in this local community and why not give those 50 to 100 employees work?” he said. “It benefits everyone. (For all) companies in Rochester, I think we should all get behind them and support them whatever way we can.”

The key to Zweigle’s future is to continue to innovate while remembering the company’s roots, officials say. Diversification is pivotal for the firm’s next stage.

“You always have to keep an eye on core business and it’s important to us to have that branded Zweigle’s business that people know us so well for, but in order to keep the company growing I need to think beyond hot dogs,” Camardo-Steron said. “It is not a growing market. It is actually a shrinking market because of the health concerns, and so we need to be out there focusing on new and exciting opportunities.”

2/6/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


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