Cannoli for all

by Joanie Spencer
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You never know when simple serendipity is going to shake up the market and change the course of your business. Just ask Golden Cannoli, a second-generation cannoli manufacturer based in Chelsea, MA.

While exhibiting at the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association tradeshow a few years back, sisters Valerie Bono, vice-president of sales and marketing, and Maria Malloy, vice-president of marketing and advertising, had to quickly find a solution when they started to run out of their signature cannoli shells to sample at their booth. “We started breaking the shells in half and giving out little pieces with just a cup of the filling,” Ms. Bono recalled. Instantly, they had a hit on their hands.

For the next trade show, Golden Cannoli employed the “chip” concept as an exhibit strategy. Instead of folding the shells, they put the product into the fryer flat and broke them into pieces to dip into the filling. “Thousands of samples later, people kept telling us, ‘This is amazing,’ and we knew we had changed the use of cannoli,” Ms. Bono said.

Today, Golden Cannoli’s cannoli chips are purposeful — and rather successful — products making their way across the country in retailers and restaurants. “It just kind of happened without having to spend crazy money and time in product development,” she explained.

Typically known as a specialty item more popular during fourth-quarter holidays, cannoli in the form of chips or a chip-and-dip combo becomes an everyday item. “October through January is like ‘cannoli craziness,’ ” Ms. Bono explained, “but this brings it outside that timeframe. People will bring them to a cookout or just over to a friend’s house.”

This “Americanized” version of cannoli, as Ms. Bono described it, is offered in 9-oz clamshell containers in powdered sugar, cinnamon sugar or cookies-and-cream varieties of the chips, as well as a chip-and-dip platter packaged in a 20-serving tray that comes with powdered sugar chips with the traditional ricotta filling as the “dip.” Chip packages have a suggested retail price of $3.99, and the platter retails for $14.99.

The product launch quickly required expansion, moving the company to a 30,000-sq-ft facility from its original digs of 13,000 sq ft. The new plant includes a dedicated line for chip production — it didn’t take long to scrap the idea of simply using broken shells for the chips. “We have strict standards on the production floor; if there are more than a couple broken shells, we have a big problem,” Ms. Bono said. “So, rather than promoting breakage, we were more efficient in our production overall. I mean, why fold the shells if you’re just going to break them?”

The growth isn’t over for this product. As sales continue to grow throughout the US, the company’s R&D is focusing on regional flavors and possible savory combinations. And while international sales pick up in Canada and Mexico, Ms. Bono’s dream is to bring it all full-circle. “My ultimate goal is to export back to Italy. That would be the best, to sell our product back where it all began,” she said.

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