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‘Just Add Lettuce’ line expands with additional salad topping flavors

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Anthony Mongiello, president and chief executive officer of Formaggio Italian Cheese Specialties in Hurleyville, NY, introduced the company’s “Just Add Lettuce” product line to the produce industry at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit in 2008. Since then, it has drawn acclaim from retailers and consumers across the country. “Just Add Lettuce” is a line of gourmet salad dressings that are retailed in produce departments.

“The idea for the dressing line came from consumers,” said Mr. Mongiello. “We produce fresh mozzarella balls in oil, which are sold in deli departments of retail stores. Customers often wrote to us telling us what they did with the remaining oil when they finished the cheese. The flavor of the cheese permeated the oil, and many people were using it as a salad dressing. We decided that we could have great success by producing salad toppings in a jar.”

Entrepreneurship is the result of a creative and enthusiastic person taking an idea and bringing it to fruition, which is exactly what Mr. Mongiello did.

The “Just Add Lettuce” line was launched with three flavors: Greek, Italian and Spanish. The suggested retail price was $5.99 for a 16-ounce jar.

In the past year, Mr. Mongiello decided to revamp the product into a 14-ounce jar so the price could be reduced to a more competitive figure.

“Depending on the store, we now see it retailing from $3.99 to $5.99,” he said. “Some stores decided to keep the price the same.”

He continued, “We also added two new flavors in the past year, both of which are having great success. One is called chef salad with Provolone and is a combination of Italian meats, roasted peppers, green and black olives, and mountains of fresh produce. The other is fruity blue cheese. This has crumbled blue cheese and dried fruits. Even people who are not fond of blue cheese love this topping.”

The company also offers a 24-ounce club pack of product and five-pound pails for the foodservice segment. Mr. Mongiello said that foodservice operations are major users of the product, which he said is perfect for salad bars and cafeterias. He noted that high-end restaurants use it because of the outstanding flavor, and it eliminates the labor needed to prepare toppings in-house.

Formaggio Italian Cheese Specialties has also expanded its distribution range in the past year. “Just Add Lettuce” is now sold in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Texas and most recently in California and Canada. The line is found on shelves at major retail chains, independents and gourmet stores.

That 3 million bags of ready-to-use lettuce are sold every day in American grocery stores was enough inspiration for Mr. Mongiello to head to the development table for “Just Add Lettuce.” A major part of being a successful entrepreneur is moving quickly with a great idea, and Mr. Mongiello wanted to be the first to introduce such a product.

He called “Just Add Lettuce” the world’s first three-dimensional topping. “Regular salad dressings are two-dimensional,” he said. “They have length and width. ‘Just Add Lettuce’ has length, width and height. It contains olives, cheese and fresh produce. The toppings are nutritious, fresh and convenient.”

Mr. Mongiello said that the success of “Just Add Lettuce” has been outstanding. The consumer response the company gets from the line of toppings is 20 to one of any other product it produces.

“We continue to get tremendous response, and many write to us asking where they can buy it,” he said. “And that, to me, means everything because they are my true customers.”