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 it?
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 work?
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 plants?
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 sauce.

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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