Joseph Campione: Authentic Value

by Laurie Gorton
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Entrepreneurs know that when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. And if you do a really good job, everybody will want you to make their lemonade, too.

For the family who owns and operates Joseph Campione, Inc., Oak Creek, WI, it wasn’t lemonade but the Old World Italian baker’s equivalent: garlic bread. Today, this business holds a leadership position in the category, annually producing millions of cases of frozen garlic bread, garlic toast and breadsticks, with the majority going out the door packaged under private label or contract arrangements.

Actually, Joseph Campione created its own category: premium frozen private label. “We brought a quality product to the private label category,” said Gina Campione, vice-president, sales and marketing. And the quality is noticed and appreciated by the consumers.

“Years ago, we had a customer tell us that our product was too good for private label,” said Salvatore (Sal) Campione, vice-president, operations. Then there was the shift into high gear for private label. The company’s grocery accounts looked to match or exceed the quality of branded products. “We take pride in producing the top-of-the-line product. Our customers know they are getting the best product available.”

Company president and family matriarch Angie Campione remarked, “We’re a quiet company and tend to be humble about ourselves.”

“But we’re very passionate about our customers,” Sal added. “As a business, we have a believable story and a great product.”

Madlyn (Maddy) Campione, vice-president, sales and marketing, confirmed her brother’s statement, “People like us because we’re a family. You can call any time, and we will be here to answer and accommodate our customers.”

“Our goal is to give our customers complete confidence in the product and in us,” explained Anne Campione, vice-president, sales and marketing.

INVESTMENT AND GROWTH.

The company, which Angie leads along with her three daughters and one son, operates in an understated fashion and sells part of its output under the Joseph Campione label. But it also operates efficiently by leveraging its high degree of automation and process flexibility to hold costs down and keep prices reasonable for its private label and, more recently, food service customers.

Joseph Campione makes Old World Italian breads: breadsticks, pizza toast, cheese breads, dinner rolls, garlic breads and Texas toast. All products ship frozen throughout the US, and some reach international markets as far flung as Asia and South America. The company’s newest items include an all-natural line of three garlic toasts and three ciabatta breads, made from wheat flour, water, salt and yeast, plus buttery toppings of garlic, virgin olive oil, cheese, tomatoes and spice blends. It tops its breadsticks and toasts with all-natural ingredients including butter, margarine, garlic blends, and grated and shredded cheeses, and it even offers sweet toppings of apple, cinnamon, blueberry and raspberry.

The Oak Creek facility, the third location for the business, houses multiple processing and packaging lines in a 207,000-sq-ft building. The most recent expansion began in 2008 and represented a dedicated family investment. The company added 120,000 sq ft to bring manufacturing up to 140,000 sq ft, warehousing to 46,000 sq ft and offices and ancillary services to 21,000 sq ft. This marked the second addition to the plant, originally 38,000 sq ft but now covering its entire 7½-acre site.

CRITICAL TIMING.

Joe and Angie Campione moved from Brooklyn, NY, to establish a small retail bakery in downtown Milwaukee in 1960 with the help of a modest loan from an uncle. They made authentic hearth-baked Italian breads and supplied the city’s grocery stores. But during the early 1980s, more and more supermarkets installed their own in-store bakeries. “Our business suffered,” Angie said. “We had to change.”

At that time, the oldest two of the couple’s four children had graduated from college with degrees in business management. All four had worked in the bakery when younger, so they knew the dynamics of the business. Sal came up with the idea on his own of producing garlic bread. He enlisted Anne, and they started making the recipe completely by hand. They cut loaves of Italian bread with a serrated knife and dipped the tops and bottoms of the loaf into the garlic spread. They manually loaded the bread into foil bags, sealed them and put the finished product in cartons.

Anne described selling the bread one day, making more products the next day and then actually delivering the orders the following days. She recalled delivering one such load to a customer in Green Bay, WI, on a December day in 1985. Sitting in the truck alongside her father, both were excited about the new venture they were doing together as a family.

“We shipped our first case in November 1985, and the timing was right,” Anne recalled. “There was only one other company in the frozen garlic bread category, and it made a pan bread product, which we considered more of an American white bread style. We offered a hearth-baked Italian style option for the frozen garlic bread category.”

The new venture received strong support locally, and Angie and Joe Campione were optimistic. The company found a 4,500-sq-ft production location on the north side of the city. “We used that facility as a processing plant for almost nine years,” Anne said. “And we aggressively promoted our line of products and connected with great folks in the industry who awarded us the business, in many cases, for both private label and branded opportunities.”

By 1989, Joseph Campione phased out of fresh bread completely. Early on, the company dealt with traditional entry fees and other costs of entry into what was then a smaller category and somewhat flexible. When a national food manufacturer launched its garlic bread and Texas toast, the entire category increased to a new level and brought national recognition to frozen garlic breads. Soon after, private label for the garlic bread category was under development in many regions. Supermarkets around the country wanted to sell similar products under their own labels. Joseph Campione made timely presentations to capture the opportunities.

“Our first private label customer is still our customer today,” Gina said.

By this time, supermarkets started abandoning the generic approach to private label, opening the doors to premium-quality goods at value prices. It was the perfect opportunity for the Campione family, who knew how to get the private label equation right: Offer superior-quality products in consistent fashion at an honest price made possible by holding down costs through appropriate automation.

CERTIFIED APPROACH.

In the years since, the Campione family continued to invest in plant and process and stepped up efforts to prove its company’s worth though various inspection programs, required and voluntary. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspectors visit the plant regularly. Because some products have meat toppings, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the department’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) also inspect the facility.

To supplement such scrutiny, the company participates in third-party food safety audits, notably the Safe Quality Food (SQF) program recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). In fact, it recently achieved SQF 2000 Level 3 certification. Scott Fulton, director of operations, explained that most food processors target Level 2 compliance, but very few opt for the rigorous Level 3. Also, the facility just received its fourth Superior rating from AIB International. As one aspect of these programs, the company asks all visitors to sign a Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) agreement form before entering the plant.

“We went with these top-level audits to support customer confidence,” Angie said. “Scott Fulton and our quality assurance manager Ilda Nace helped us achieve this.”

Mr. Fulton explained that Ms. Nace came on board three weeks before the company’s initial SQF audit and carried it out with flying colors. She is currently enrolled in the company’s employee tuition benefit to add to her education.

A native of Albania, she is also the reason that the communications board in the hallway at the entrance to the production area posts reports in Albanian as well as English and Spanish. The 300 people who work at Joseph Campione are a diverse group.

“The reports posted here are for our employees as are the stars in the banner above,” Mr. Fulton said. The boards show how orders, production volume, staffing, safety and other critical variables stack up against previous measurements. The boards also display the inspection certificates.

“When we started this reporting in 2007, we were at 98% efficiency,” he added. “We’re still at that level today, but each year, we raise the standards. We want our people to understand their importance in this.”

Pending is participation in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), an employee safety effort aimed at preventing injuries in the workplace.

The Campiones’ investment in these programs demonstrates their blend of passion and integrity. “We’re respected in the industry, and not just for our 99.8% on-time shipping,” Maddy said.

AUTOMATED, FLEXIBLE.

“With the amount of product we now sell, we couldn’t fill the orders if we were not automated,” Gina said. “Automation allows products to be consistent.”

Angie was even more blunt: “The simple reason for automating is that it is needed to be able to produce the quantities as well as make the product extremely consistent.”

Each time the company automated an operation, it redeployed staff to better leverage their skills.

Sal worked for three years to develop the company’s new state-of-the-art breadstick line. The result is an operation in which human hands never touch the product. Layout of this line, installed during the latest plant expansion, will allow the company to double its output in the future with the addition of another mixer and a second bank of moulders.

A current project involves bringing to full capacity a line making meat-topped garlic bread, which managers describe as “the USDA line.” Its new slicing and conveying system is about to leave the factory in California for transport to Wisconsin.

“We are not very complex in our processes, but we are highly automated,” Mr. Fulton observed. “We try to keep the process simple to get the greatest consistency.”

When considering the potential offered by equipment, the Campiones turn to trusted technology partners. The plant’s roster of vendors includes companies big and small, domestic and international. An honor roll plaque in the building’s new lobby recognizes suppliers and bakery staff for their contributions.

Monitoring, control and operation of equipment throughout the plant are accomplished through computerized systems with touch-screen terminals. Integration of the electrical and computer equipment, however, is done internally. “The manufacturers gave us the setups for their equipment, and then we did the programming ourselves,” Mr. Fulton explained.

Production, which Maddy schedules, generally proceeds five days a week, 24 hours a day. Sanitation and engineering staff are always available during manufacturing shifts. Saturday hours are an option, but before the latest expansion, the facility ran flat out, seven days a week.

By adding two more lines, the company smoothed out its schedules, and by maximizing the size of the building, it created room for at least one more major production line.

Operations encompass two separate activities: baking and processing, with processing defined as preparation of the topped breads, toasts and sticks.

“The production flow is very smooth and moves east to west in the building, from baking through processing and packaging,” Mr. Fulton explained.

ROOM TO GROW.

The facility’s expansion included installation of a 4-deck restaurant-style oven, used for new product development. “Sal is our mad genius test baker,” Mr. Fulton explained. By testing new flavors and styles on this relatively small oven, the company need not interrupt its highly productive lines. A 2-deck oven from the same manufacturer was installed in the demonstration kitchen.

“Customers are always interested in what new products we can make,” Gina observed.

“It is our responsibility to keep our customers informed with new trends and product opportunities within the category,” Anne added.

Because of its ability to handle meat toppings, the USDA line has inspired several new products. Additionally, the company also serves the food service supply chain. “We look at markets and customers’ needs and match or create what they are looking for,” Gina said.

“Garlic bread is a comfort food. It is loved by every age group and all ethnic groups,” Anne said. “And that in itself gives us many resources of untapped opportunities.”

The company’s growth has not come easily. It required — and continues to require — dedication, patience and passion. But it has been rewarding, on a deeply personal level. “I was just in Minneapolis yesterday to meet with our broker there,” Anne said, “and we expressed amazement that we have known each other for more than 20 years already.”

Family patriarch Joe Campione saw only the first few years of the reinvigoration of the family business. He passed away in December 1997, shortly after the move to Oak Creek. Summing up the progress of the business and the success of the family, Angie said, “Joe would have been really proud.”
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