Benjamin Aquilina Interview
(Victoria Packing Co.)
It’s a family business that’s been around since 1929.
We are talking about the Victoria Packing co. makers of one of the finest pasta sauces around – Victoria Sauces.
To give us some background on the company, we went straight to the top, to speak with Mr. Benjamin Aquilina, President of Victoria Packing Co.
Q – Mr. Aquilina, 48 years with the co. you must really enjoy your work.
A – Yes I do. I started here as a child, actually when I was 13 years old. My dad had the philosophy that he would never give us money. However, he would allow us the opportunity to work and in turn earn money and in this way myself and my brother learned the value of a dollar.
Q – As President, are your duties mostly administrative?
A – I am still very active although my responsibilities have changed as the company has grown. I have built a great team over the years, my brother Jerry is Vice-President and controls the operations of the co. and we’ve worked together for 32 years. I have an excellent Vice President of Sales that has been with me for 13 years, my financial Vice-President has been here for I think 14 years, my plant manger for 11. These people are very well paid and they run the company. today my duties are more to steer the company in an ever changing market place and come up with the creative ideas to bring the company into the future.
Q – When did Victoria Packing Co. enter into the pasta sauce business?
A – We entered into the pasta sauce business approximately 25 years ago (1984).
Q – And why?
A – One of the reasons we entered into the pasta sauce business is we’d seen a different type of consumer emerging. At one time the only person who would use a jar sauce was the consumer in the middle of Kansas that really didn’t know how to make sauce and was looking for an alternative to ketchup or something else on her pasta and she used a store bought jar of sauce. Today we have a different consumer. We have a woman that knows how to make wonderful sauce, but, she is what I call time deprived. She’s what we call today the Soccer mom. She’s got one child that’s got to go to soccer classes; another that’s got to go to dance classes, another one that has baseball practice and it’s really difficult for her to stay home and make sauce. Today with the wonderful products that are on the market she is willing to pay a reasonable price for a truly great product.
Q – I notice you said she, but there’s probably quite a few he’s out there as well.
A – Oh, there’s no question about it. I use the word she, but I think men shop just as much as women for food and in many respect are much more demanding of quality products.
Q – Were you involved in the actual creation of the sauce and the way it tastes?
A – Yes, we were. I am involved really in every formulation decision.
Q – What makes your pasta sauce unique?
A – Victoria is the largest importer of Italian tomatoes in the country for their own use. We import each year approximately 300 containers of Italian plum tomatoes. Our sauce is made only with Italian plum tomatoes, Italian olive oil and all fresh and natural ingredients. Basically what we’re doing is making the same type of pasta sauce that your wife would in the kitchen only on a commercial basis and in a much more controlled atmosphere. We have very rigid requirements a great QC department, and each batch is tested and tasted. Our plum tomatoes are contracted in Italy and packed to our specifications, we have a great facility and all jars are vacuumed packed and pasteurized. Combine all these with 25 years of experience and you get a great product
Q – How do you get stores to carry your product?
A – We make wonderful products, have a great name and wonderful reputation and work very hard at it, certainly its not easy and takes a lot of persistence.The market is constantly changing and you have got to be pretty fleet footed to keep up with the changes, but I guess that is what keeps it interesting. Victoria has 22 direct street salesmen, 3 inside sales people and we store door directly to the chains. we then hook up with 5 key distributors around the country and sell directly to the warehouse clubs.
Q – This pasta business is a tough business isn’t it?
A – Well, pasta and pasta sauce is a tough business, but it is a huge category. Pasta sauce is a billion and a half ($1.5) category. In today’s present economy, in 2009, statistics are saying that pasta is up 27% in sales. Pasta and a good sauce is a wonderful meal on a great, bright sunny day in a wonderful economy. But, in a tough economy as we are in today, for $10 a woman can buy a couple pounds of pasta and a jar of sauce and she has a wonderful meal that feeds a family of 4. It’s still a wonderful, inexpensive healthy meal for you.
Q – What do you think of some of these pasta sauce cos. like Patsy’s and Rao’s that charge between $7.99 and $9.99 for a jar of sauce?
A – I think they’re good sauces, however a little bit over-priced. They’re playing off of the name of their restaurants.
Q – Why did your grandfather call the co. Victoria? Was that because his wife or daughter was named Victoria?
A – My grandfather started the co. in 1929, right after the Depression. He used the name Victoria because he felt that he wanted the co. to be victorious. He liked the name over here and that’s where the name Victoria came from. My grandfather was an Italian immigrant that came to this country from Sicily. He came to this country really with true values. He didn’t speak a word of English. He worked very, very hard. My grandfather opened up a little grocery store in the Bath Beach section of Brooklyn. My grandmother would be doing a lot of the cooking in the backroom. She always canned her own tomatoes and her own olives and her own cucumbers. In turn, her canned goods in the backroom became very, very popular in the neighborhood and my grandfather started a little route at first delivering himself, in his car and then later on he had a small truck. My father growing up as a child, this was his only job. My father had only one job during his life and that was working for Victoria. My father took the co. over from my grandfather and myself and my brother Jerry have taken the co. over from my dad who has since passed away.
Q – Then your children will take over the co. when you retire?
A – Well, that remains to be seen. We’ll have to see what happens in the future.
Q – I would imagine it would be difficult when there are just so many career options for young kids these days.
A – I never had the opportunity when I was young; I graduated high school in 1961 and at that time the business was in a difficult stage in its existence. My father didn’t really have the money to send me to college full-time, so, I worked in the factory during the day. I attempted to go to college at night and I did that for 6 months and I just couldn’t keep up the schedule of working in the factory during the day and going to school at night and I wound up dropping out of college.
Q – What were you taking in college?
A – I was studying to be a C.P.A.
Q – A good choice when you want to run a co.
A – Yes it was , however I never thought 48 years later I would still be running this company, but I really enjoy what I do.
Official website: www.victoriapacking.com
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