Diane Thorne Interview
(Costantino’s Kitchen)

Costantino’s kitchen produces gourmet Homestyle pasta sauces that have been in their family for over five generations.

These days it’s Christopher Costantino at the helm of the company following in the tradition of his grand mother in the making of their unique sauce, a sauce that contains no chemicals or preservatives.

Adding to our understanding of what makes Costantino’s kitchen pasta sauce so unique is our conversation with Diane Thorne, director of marketing for Costantino’s.

Q - Is it accurate to say that at this time Costantino’s kitchen pasta sauce is only available in Arizona?
A - That’s correct. It’s only available in Arizona through grocery stores, but, we do sell online and this past year we also sold to two of these clubs. Ones called the amazing club and one I think is called club galore and they have a sauce of the month club. So, it was sent out to all of their customers around the country. We have seen a little bit of online sales increase as a result of that. So we do sell online, but all the grocery stores we sell to are in Arizona.

Q - What would it take to get Costantino’s onto the grocery shelves of the other states?
A - Well, that’s a good question and obviously one of our goals. This past year we got a distributor, DPI and they have connections in the other states. So, were working through them to be introduced to some of the other grocery chains that might be a good outlet for our product. It would be low level grocery stores. We mostly sell through sort of upper scale specialty stores. That kind of thing is a better fit for us and there’s a number of those around the country obviously. The other thing were working on in some of the stores we sell through do have a regional or national presence and so were hoping to show by the sales we have here in Arizona, to consider taking us at least regionally or giving us a national presence. The first one we’re going to do that with in probably March is Whole Foods. We’re accepted by Whole Foods here and we’ve been invited to present regionally to see if we could be accepted regionally by Whole Foods. So, we're going through the chains we have  going through DPI, were trying to expand our online presence so that we have a little bit of a name outside of our Arizona. That’s kind of what we’re looking at.

Q - Your sauce would be considered what, a gourmet sauce or organic sauce?
A - Not organic. It would be considered a gourmet pasta sauce. It’s all natural which is something that’s important for Whole Foods. Were also in natural grocers. There is no preservatives. It’s gluten-free. It’s vegan except for our Puttanesca. There is no added sugar. If you look at a lot of these sauces they have a ton of added sugar. Our sugar is just from our tomatoes and carrots and it’s also low in sodium. I picked up a jar the other day and there was 590 mg of sodium per serving. Ours is like 310. Our artichoke is 270. We feel our process is not only authentic Italian but, is good for people. It doesn’t have all that crap in it.

Q - What does a jar of your pasta sauce so for?
A - It retails at $8.99.

Q - How do you combat a supermarket chain like Wegmans sells their pasta sauce for as little as $.99 per jar?
A - Well, (laughs), I’ve never tasted Wegmans. I’ve tasted a lot of pasta sauces. We don’t compete with the shopper who wants the cheapest product possible. We can’t, obviously we try to appeal to the person who has some taste or that wants a good tasting pasta sauce. Like I said, I’ve tasted a lot of them and most of them taste really terrible. So, we think if people taste our sauce and they’re not going to be the kind of person who buys the cheapest no matter what, then we have a chance of getting their business. We’re not going to get everybody’s business but, it’s a huge market so we need to get our share of the discerning customers business. And another thing, were finding that a lot of people that are actually good cooks and would say I would normally make my own sauce will taste our product in then say, okay I’m going to start with your sauce, but I’m going to use it to make a huge lasagna for my family or I’m going to put in some Italian sausage or peppers in do something with that. So they’ll start with the basics sauce that’s really good and put their own flair on it and they’ve got a great meal. Time is really important to them as well and they haven’t really invested as much time. They’ve let us invest the time in making the basics sauce and they just add their flourish meant to it.

Q - How many flavors of sauce do you have?
A - We have five flavors. Our first one was grandma and she is tomato basil and that Chris Constantino’s grandmother who came over from Italy when she was a young girl and brought these recipes with her. They were her grandmother’s recipes. So, we say their five generations of authentic Italian recipes. Chris would help his grandmother make spaghetti sauce when he was a little kid and eventually he decided he wanted to start the company into something as a tribute to his grandmother so he named the first sauce Grandma Angie’s. Then he came out with the Puttanasca and a few years later he came out with Artichoke with Sun-Dried Tomatoes which is actually one of our best sellers and the Mushroom sauce. This past year, probably two months ago we came out with Arizona Arrabbiata which I have to say is not his grandmother’s recipe. She would be very unhappy that he put jalapenos in her spaghetti sauce (laughs). We did some focus groups and taste testing and people especially millennial’s, younger folks loved it and so we came out with it this year (2015). It looks like it could also be a very good seller.

Q – How many jars of pasta sauce are you making every day?
A – Oh, we don’t make it every day. We make large batches; I shouldn’t say large batches, not large compared to Prego or any of those mass manufacturers. We share a kitchen with another fellow and so we have capacity. We have use of the kitchen at least one day a week. We could probably use it two days a week, but, it’s quite a large kettle and there’s three of them so we could male three batches at a time. We probably make I would say, one kettle makes 60 cases. I don’t know how many we make a week to tell you the truth.

Q – Did Chris’s father have anything to do with the business?
A – No. His father didn’t, but, the grandmother who was the inspiration for the business was his father’s mother, his paternal grandmother. His father just eats a lot. (Laughs). Chris is the one who came up with the idea and went out and got a good mentor in this fellow who he shares the kitchen with and has really just taken it off the ground, starting from scratch. It’s really been amazing the growth that we’ve had each year, getting into more and more stores. Next year we’ve been told we’re going to be in Fry’s which is an Arizona division of Kroger. They want to put a local section together and we’ve been told our pasta sauce will be included in that. That’ll be another good outlet for us.

Q – Do you have a lot of competition with other Arizona pasta sauce companies?
A – Yeah. The pasta sauce category is difficult to compete (in) because there’s so many of them that spring up and fall off and everybody thinks they can make a pasta sauce. So yes, there are local ones we compete with like Rao’s, some of those. I’ve tasted Rao’s and I think ours is better, but, that’s just me. (Laughs).

Q – Are you the first Marketing Director for Costantino’s kitchen?
A – Yes.

Q – What attracted you to this position?
A – Well, I’m retired from my previous job. I’m attracted to the position because Chris is my son. So, I’m his mother and now that I’m retired I’m trying to help him out with the marketing aspect of the job. We’ve gotten in a few magazines. We do those large festivals, hand out flyers. We write articles for other newspapers and magazines. That’s how I keep busy, trying to make connections in the community and get us some good publicity.

Q – Have you encountered any obstacles along the way in getting the word out about the pasta sauce that you might not have thought about in the beginning?
A – Let’s see, obstacles? Well, there’s lots of obstacles I guess. One of the best ways we’ve found in getting the word out is by actually having demos in the stores where we sell it because we do find when people taste it, they really like it and want to buy it. Some people will say it’s too expensive, but nobody will say it tastes crappy. They love the taste of it. So, as far as obstacles I would say the biggest obstacle is it’s a long time to get into one of these stores especially in the pasta sauce category. And so it’s just a matter of being persistent and being aggressive without being a pain in the neck and just keeping in front of them ‘til they eventually agree to put your product out and that’s what we’ve done. Another obstacle I guess is sometimes dealing with distributors. We’re glad to be with DPI now cause they seem to be very professional, but, we’ve had another distributor which, some of the stores we self-distribute. We go in, see that they’re low and give ‘em another case and that works fine but obviously we can’t do that as we grow and get into more and more stores. So, getting a good distributor relationship has been a little bit of a challenge and I think we’ve achieved that now. Sometimes when you go into a new chain, you have to use their distributor so, you always have to be on the lookout of who’s distributing and who do you want to have a relationship with. Sometimes you have to have more than one distributor.

Official website: www.costantinoskitchen.com

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