Joel Whitfield Interview
Move over Paul Newman, Frank Sinatra is coming through! We're talking
of course about the new spaghetti sauces carrying Frank Sinatra's name that
have made their way onto our grocery shelves. The sauces, made by the Artanis
(Sinatra spelled backwards) Corp. and owned in part by Armanino Foods of
Distinction of South San Francisco, come in three varieties. They are
Tomato Basil with Parmesan, Milano Style, Marinara Sauce and Marinara Sauces
with Mushrooms. First introduced in Northern California in November of 1989,
Sinatra's Sauces are now being distributed throughout the U.S.
We spoke with Mr. Joel Whitfield, the Senior Vice-President and Chief
Operating Officer of the company.
Q: Mr. Whitfield, when did Frank Sinatra come up with the idea of actually
marketing his spaghetti sauce?
A: I don't know exactly when it was, whether he personally came up with
it or it was a combination of his people who do a lot of marketing of Frank
Sinatra, and his concerts, in conjunction with him. We've been in business
almost two years, and it was four years ago they started talking. See, he
is a self-confessed chef. By that, I mean he does cooking. One of the things
he prides himself in cooking the best is his spaghetti sauce. There's
where people first tasted his sauce, and said, "Frank, this is delicious!
You should market this." And naturally, it's not his thing. He didn't
say, I'll find someone tomorrow morning and go do it. That's just not the
way Frank is. He's not a self-promoted kind of individual like that. But,
I guess his conversation did develop from that, and I'm not actually sure
how many years ago that happened. Over a period of time, it developed from
that conversation to his people looking at the opportunity of doing it.
And there's where the base of the seed was planted.
Q: Did the success of Paul Newman's product line have anything to do with
A: I don't think it had anything to do with it whatsoever, other than
the fact that they knew he had products out there under his name. It was
not a determining factor that Paul Newman was already out there, 'cause
he's in popcorn, olive oil, not olive oil, salad dressing, lemonade, and
the pasta sauce, spaghetti sauce. So, he's into some other things other
than the Italian. See, our focus is strictly on Italian food, period. We're
not gonna go into lemonade, popcorn.
Q: You have a Frank Sinatra apron available?
A: We have a stick-on; this is actually what our brokers do. It's designed
to put right on the label at the store level, and the broker puts it on.
It's honoring Frank Sinatra's birthday (75 last December), and from that
we have a Frank Sinatra apron, which is an exclusive offer. The way you
can get it, is to send in 3 labels and $15.00, which includes all postage
and handling. You also get a coupon for a free jar of sauce.
Q: It's been reported that Ventre Packing of Syracuse has the contract
to make Sinatra's sauces for the East, South and Midwest. How does that
A: Well, we have more than one plant. We actually have three plants. We
have a plant in Stockton, California that handles all the western states.
We have a plant; our very first back east was in Patterson, New Jersey.
To say that the sauce was made in Frank Sinatra's backyard is almost tongue-in-cheek,
because Patterson, New Jersey is right there at Hoboken, where Frank Sinatra
grew up. That was our first plant. Then less than four months ago we signed
an agreement with Ventre Packing in Syracuse to handle some markets in upstate
New York, including Buffalo, Albany, Rochester and Syracuse. Currently,
they're handling all of our upstate business out of Syracuse.
Q: Do you give them the recipe and they make the sauce right here in Syracuse?
A: Right, we have a person who is responsible for our production and R
and D (Research and Development.) and QC (Quality Control). She is on a
retainer with us and she's been with us since we started. She works in conjunction
with us, in developing the recipes. We in turn then have a confidentiality
agreement with the plants. We take the formula, and also secure the ingredients
for that formula and it's all shipped into the plant. Then it's produced
at the plant under our direction and supervision, both in terms of R and
D and production and QC. They in turn manufacture it to our specs, in terms
of the formula and how it's made. We watch it, and make sure it's set up
properly. They run test productions to make sure their equipment is
right before we ever decide to utilize that particular plant.
Q: Was there a lot of competition to get the Sinatra Sauces from different
A: We looked at all the plants in the east. We looked at maybe six different
plants that had the equipment and also the capacity and interest in doing
the sauce. From there we narrowed it down to four, and then we did some
tests in the plants. Then, we narrowed it down to three, two. Then we selected
one in New Jersey. We have a second one because our volume back east is
such that we'll make sure we have the capacity to fill the need. So, that's
basically how it developed.
Q: Which of the three styles of sauces is selling the best, or is it too
early to tell?
A: In some markets it's certainly too early to tell because we've only
been out in upstate New York three months. In upstate New York they're all
selling equally about the same. In other markets you will find that on the
west coast for example, it's a big, big mushroom market. So the marinara
with mushrooms is a big item on the west coast. On the east coast mushrooms
are not that big of an item. Consequently you'll find the tomato basil and
the milano marinara sauce are big sellers, not to say mushrooms isn't doing
well. It's just the consumer back there is not a big mushroom eater. If
they do, they probably buy their own mushrooms. You'll find meat sauce is
big on the east coast where on the west coast; you couldn't give away meat
Q: What is the slogan you're using to market the
sauces -- "The Frank
Sinatra Sauces, They are so Italian!"
A: Well, the one catch phrase we have right on the label is called Sugo
Da Tavola, that's sauce for the table. That's basically Frank Sinatra's Sugo
Da Tavola. That's Italian for sauce of the table. So Italian is a descriptive
term that we put on our marketing primarily because these sauces we feel are
the most Italian on the marketplace. We say it because they're made in smaller
vats than most sauces. We have large clunks of tomatoes. They're all natural.
No additives. No preservatives. We have the flavor of the herbs and spices
to bring forth a good homemade flavor, and homemade taste. You get that
freshness from the product. That's one of the reasons why we feel they are
so Italian, because that's the way the cooking is done in Italian households
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