By GREGORY ZELLER //
The irony is not lost on Salvatore Asaro.
The president and CEO of Hauppauge-based Botticelli Foods recognizes the dichotomy in using social media, smartphone apps and other e-commerce solutions to maintain culinary traditions that stretch back through centuries and all the way to the old country.
But this is a new world, one in which millennials increasingly do their shopping – including grocery shopping – on mobile devices, and where major supermarket chains are responding in kind by spicing up their online options.
It’s in this digital domain, Asaro reasons, that his 16-year-old family business – which he runs with his brother, Russ, and brother-in-law, Anthony Ienna – must thrive.
“Supermarkets are getting into e-marketing and understanding that more and more millennials are using their mobile devices to purchase their products,” Asaro told Innovate LI. “We’ve been at the forefront of that, really concentrating our initiatives on those e-marketing segments.”
Botticelli’s latest e-commerce expression debuted this month: The distributor of authentic Mediterranean olive oils and Italian specialty foods announced a deal with the producers of “Cooking With Nonna,” an Internet cooking show focused on Italian cuisine and traditions.
The show, owned and operated by New Jersey-based BaciTV LLC, will feature Botticelli Foods products in 12 episodes, including on-set product placement and plugs by host Rossella Rago.
The Botticelli Foods logo will be included in each episode’s opening and closing credits, according to Asaro, while BaciTV will also produce half-a-dozen shorter segments where Rago discusses a specific recipe and whips it up using Botticelli products.
“Cooking With Nonna,” the centerpiece of a website that dives deep into Italian food heritage, features guest grandmothers visiting with Rago, telling stories related to certain recipes or ingredients and getting busy in the kitchen.
“She’s using our products right on the show, with Nonna,” Asaro noted. “This will get consumers engaged with the products and get them into the heritage behind the recipes, and using our products makes it all the more authentic.
“You can see the strategy,” he added. “Now you have the young celebrity chef … keeping the traditions alive, celebrating them with the older, heavy olive-oil consumer. We love the concept of the young chef who keeps the traditions moving forward. That’s great for our brand.”
Reimagining the brand is a familiar recipe for Asaro and Co., who launched Botticelli Foods – they just liked the name, Asaro noted – as an olive oil importer in 2000.
At first, the company exclusively imported oils created by a 50-year-old family enterprise back in Italy, the CEO said, and it still imports many of those products today. But within a fairly short time, the Botticelli Foods brand grew well beyond those old country roots.
The startup quickly secured regional and national distribution agreements with major supermarket chains including Key Food, Foodtown, Publix, Long Island-based King Kullen and ShopRite, for whom Botticelli Foods manufactures various private-label specialty products. Those products, and other specialty Italian items on Botticelli’s current menu, came to be at the urging of the supermarket chains, who according to Asaro liked what they saw and wanted more.
“They’re the ones who encouraged it,” he said. “Just looking at our growth in the olive oil segment, they said, ‘Hey, you need to be expanding in other categories to complement what you’re doing with the olive oil.”
So, about four years ago, Botticelli Foods began expanding into other product categories. Like the markets, customers proved eager to give them a try.
“They liked the quality of our olive oils, so they stuck with the brand,” Asaro noted. “They gave the pasta a try, and the pasta sauce, and the balsamic.”
Those three product lines, including a wide variety of sauces and balsamic vinegars, are the company’s most popular, the CEO added – except for its olive oils, which “always have been and always will be” Botticelli Foods’ top seller. The company also offers specialty products including canned tomatoes and jarred roasted peppers, all available through its third-party distributor channels and on the Botticelli website.
While it does take online orders directly from consumers, Botticelli Foods is most interested in directing customers to the retail locations where its products are available.
“Partnering with supermarkets is the really important thing – working with their e-marketing initiatives to promote our products to their shop-from-home segments,” Asaro said.
Of course, Botticelli Foods is also targeting that segment on its own, with initiatives like the “Cooking With Nonna” sponsorship and a coming-soon mobile app, which Asaro said is in early development. The app will feature recipes, cooking videos, question-and-answer functions and, in keeping with Botticelli’s supermarket-first mentality, a tool that helps consumers locate nearby outlets carrying the Botticelli brand.
The company will also be introducing new food items, though Asaro was tight-lipped about what new specialties are in the offing. He referenced a “vigorous new-product launch process” that can take up to 24 months, including product development, tastings at “multiple test sites” and detailed quality-control measures, not to mention a lengthy packaging process and new distribution negotiations.
The pots are boiling, Asaro said, but customers will just have to wait to see what comes out of the kitchen next. For now, his 15-person company is excited about the benefits of the “Cooking With Nonna” exposure and busily meeting the increasing demand for its existing product line.
“We’re growing on a lot of different fronts,” Asaro said. “Not just with Facebook or the website or with Twitter. We’re always looking for ways to keep the older generation engaged in our brand, while our e-marketing side concentrates on millennials.”