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Piazza Produce picks up specialty food line

Piazza Produce Inc. seized on an opportunity when another Indianapolis company went out of business this spring.

On May 24, Pete Piazza, president of the firm, told The Produce News that in the prior 60 days, a company that had specialized in providing high-end specialty food items to the foodservice trade had gone out of business.

Mr. Piazza did not need to buy the defunct company, but rather he hired some salespeople from the firm who knew the packaged food line. And he quickly ramped up efforts to add new items to the Piazza Produce sales sheet. “The company was upside down. I wanted no part of the company, but I wanted their lines and the people who know how to do the sales. We hired people from the company who know the product line and customer base. We got the people who do know about it.”

In late May, Mr. Piazza was trying to brand the new category for his firm with a private label, but he did not wait on new sales opportunities of items like high-end cheeses, olive oils, chocolates and soup bases. “We picked up several of their lines and continue to add different products to fill niches.”

The defunct firm supplied high-end clubs and hotels and other similar businesses through central Indiana and into nearby markets like Lexington, KY, and Louisville, KY. Those happen to be the same markets already served by Piazza Produce, which also specialized in foodservice sales.

A difference is that Piazza Produce serves those markets six days a week. “The company before served them 35 times a week. We are able to handle the niche better. You order today and we have it at your place tomorrow.”

In late May, Mr. Piazza said, “This is our fourth week already, and we are shipping 250 SKUs and are growing all the time.”

He said that the success of the service business is “all about drop size and gross profit. When you are a produce company, you need things to make the gross work. We are real excited with the new endeavor.”

Meanwhile, the Piazza Produce staff was being trained to take the packaged food orders on the phone. “We have sales people on the street with chefs, but if they call in, we have people” to take the orders.

“We are putting a lot into this project with money and time and investing in people. We have had a very good reception from chefs and purchasing agents around our area of distribution.” The new category “is kind of unique for me.”

On the produce side of the business, Mr. Piazza said that his firm is meeting customer interest in locally grown product. The firm created a “Buy Fresher” line of local products for distribution to regional restaurants and foodservice organizations. Piazza Produce defines “local” as those businesses within its delivery area. The company web site notes, “We can ‘backhaul’ from areas where we deliver. This includes most of Indiana and large portions of Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio.”

“Local is a hot button right now,” Mr. Piazza told The Produce News.

He said that between 40 percent and 50 percent of his sales are in the metropolitan Indianapolis area, and the firm leases its delivery trucks. “We are in the distribution business. We leave running them to somebody else.”