VIETTI FOODS MERGES WITH CHOICE FOOD GROUP
Nashville, Tenn. (March 17, 2006) – Choice Food Group, a privately-held investment company, has made an investment in one of Nashville’s oldest food institutions, Vietti Foods Company, Inc., known for its historical national roots and identifiable brands.
Founded in 1898 and incorporated in Nashville in 1936, Vietti Foods is a 108-year-old manufacturer and marketer of canned food products, employing nearly 50 people. The company maintains a USDA-inspected manufacturing facility in Nashville producing canned products, including chilis, stews, pastas, condensed soups, hash, beans & franks, beans & rice and sauces.
“Purchasing Vietti Foods adds another link to our food chain,” said Choice Food Group’s Chief Executive Officer Jerry Walker, “bringing together a manufacturing side to Choice Food Group’s food distribution business.”
The purchase was completed on Sat., December 31, 2005. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Choice Food Group is a local, Nashville-based investment company, led by entrepreneur Michael D. Shmerling, a principal investor, and a team of food service executives.
Choice Food Group recently invested in two other long-standing food service distributors, Nashville Egg, Inc. and Gibson Food Products, Inc., merging the two companies to form Choice Food Distributors, Inc., an independent wholesale food service distributor of broad line products.
With the addition of Vietti Foods to its portfolio, Choice Food Group now represents food companies with over 170 years of established food service businesses.
Management and operations of Vietti will remain the same. Walker said that Philip Connelly will continue to serve as president of Vietti Foods and Mark Johnson, a certified public accountant, as its chief financial officer, with operations remaining on Southgate Avenue.
“Vietti’s operations are a perfect complement and strategic fit with Choice Food Group’s overall objectives”, said Shmerling. “But what also attracted us to Vietti was the caliber and depth of experience of its management team which will offer our company greater opportunities to recruit additional ‘best of the best’ professionals within the food service industry.”
Prior to joining Vietti Foods in July 2001, Philip Connelly spent over 10 years in Atlanta and Chicago working for such consumer food giants as Whitehall/Robins (Advil, Primatene), Borden and Sara Lee. As vice president of Atlanta-based Edwards Fine Foods’ Retail Group, Connelly joined former Keebler and Heinz executives and New York-based venture capitalist Ripplewood Holdings in the late 1990’s to build Edwards Fine Foods into the third largest frozen dessert operation in the United States, with sales exceeding $200 million annually.
“I had spent my formative years in business working under corporate cultures that would perennially ask me ‘to do more, with less, but quicker’,” said Connelly, smiling. “That seemed to be good training for the task at hand.”
Mark Johnson was affiliated with Shoney’s commissary operation for 14 years before joining Vietti Foods. He was controller of COI Food Service, then a wholly-owned subsidiary of Shoney’s Inc. He joined Vietti Foods in April 2002.
Background on Vietti Foods. Vietti Foods was privately-owned and managed by the founding families of Vietti, Sawrie, and McKinney through the late 1990s when the company found itself in a vulnerable position, unprepared to compete in a rapidly changing marketplace dominated by savvy and sophisticated retailers such as Wal-Mart. While larger, publicly-owned competitors had been investing in plants and equipment, gaining efficiencies, broadening product and packaging offerings and securing new markets, Vietti Foods had remained relatively dormant.
Vietti’s Professional Management Team is formed. In late 2001, Vietti’s board of directors acknowledged that the survival of their business was at stake. They made a leap of faith by hiring professional management and providing ownership in the business as an incentive. Their search led to finding consumer products veteran Philip Connelly as its chief executive officer who subsequently hired Mark Johnson, both becoming the first shareholders outside of the original four families since stock was first issued in 1936.
Vietti’s new CEO teamed up with Dee Folmar, Dean Foods and Pillsbury’s research and development specialist, and Trent Baker, president of the Utah Society of Purchasing Management, making possible an ambitious product development strategy. Voyne Stepp, Connelly’s former colleague and mentor from Whitehall/Robins, was hired as Vietti’s national sales manager. Meat industry veteran, Frank Baltz, was retained as director of operations, with the challenging objective to upgrade production capabilities with limited resources.
Vietti’s transformation from latent manufacturer to innovative marketer. In 2002, with aggressive new management in place, Vietti Foods began to transform from latent manufacturer to innovative marketer, supplementing chili and stew products with pastas, soups, beans & franks, sauces, and corned beef hash. Vietti brand chili was reformulated as an “all-natural” product. Celebrated New Orleans Chef Paul Prudhomme of K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen agreed to develop spice blends for a line of beans & rice products and to put his “Magic Seasonings” logo on the label.
Other innovative marketing moves included Connelly securing brand licensing agreements with the makers of Louisiana Brand hot sauce for a spicy, hot chili and with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation for reduced-carbohydrate products to help diabetics control their blood sugar.
Concurrent with these innovative moves, Vietti management worked to upgrade the production infrastructure and to reshape the culture of the company. Discipline and structure accompanied the acquisition of new manufacturing equipment to maximize output from an aging facility built in 1968.
Vietti Foods Company, Inc. now distributes over 15 brands in the 48 contiguous states and Europe, including: Vietti, Varallo Famous Foods, Southgate, Ray’s Brand, Tony Packo’s, Kitchen Cooked, Chef Max, Texas Pete, Kelly’s, Vietti Family Style, Vietti Signature, Louisiana Brand, SunMeadow and Moonlite.
For further information on Vietti food products, call (615) 244-7864, or visit its website at www.viettichili.com.
Vietti Foods executives Phil Connelly, president, left, and Mark Johnson, chief financial officer, right, have a new charge. Vietti Foods, a 108-year-old Nashville, Tenn.-based food manufacturer, was acquired by Choice Food Group, a local investment company that focuses its efforts on the food industry. The acquisition brings Vietti Foods into the group as providing the food manufacturing component of the business, a compliment to their wholesale food distribution sector.