Robert Harris Interview
(President and CEO of Silver Palate Kitchen)
Silver Palate Kitchen makes a wide variety of products including salad dressings, dessert toppings and pasta sauces.
And it is the pasta sauce we are most interested in for this interview.
And who better to answer our questions than the president and CEO of Silver Palate Kitchen, Mr. Robert Harris.
Q - Mr. Harris, what happened to the original founders of this company, Julie Rosso and Sheila Lukins?
A - The two ladies sold out in 1988 and my son Peter worked for me as a sales manager for me for a company called Smart Balance which I founded, you know the buttery spread?
Q - Sure, I’m familiar with that product.
A - Peter was the sales manager and he left to acquire Silver Palate from the two ladies who wanted to spend their time in 1988, writing cookbooks instead of selling food. So, he took over the company. To make a long story short I sold Smart Balance many years later and created a new line of products and joined him in Silver Palate.
Q - Did these ladies in fact go on to write cookbooks?
A - Yes, they did, the Silver Palate Cookbook is a very famous cookbook. It’s been available for about 25 years. They just celebrated the 25th anniversary. It was one of the best-selling cookbooks for many years. They actually wrote two cookbooks, Silver Palate cookbooks. Peter Harris took over the company in 1988 as I said and runs it to this day.
Q - Besides the pasta sauces, the company also makes dessert toppings and salad dressings.
A - Yes. All those things.
Q - So, what sells the best for the company?
A - I would say there are three products that sell the best, one is the pasta sauce and the reason it does is because it’s unique. We use San Marzano tomatoes imported from Italy which are unique in that they are naturally sweet so we don’t have to add sugar and we do not add tomato paste as most brands do. So, we use whole tomatoes imported from Italy with extra virgin olive oil imported and the quality is very, very good and the price is quite moderate.
Q - Did I see your pasta sauce in Walmart?
A - Yeah. We have some Walmart distribution and were also in some major accounts around the country.
Q - How hard is it to get your pasta sauce on the shelves of supermarkets today?
A - It’s hard because anybody with the garage thinks they can make pasta sauce. They keep coming out and they keep dropping off. (Laughs). If your Italian and you like your grandmother sauce you come out with it and think the world is going to absorb it but, it doesn’t. There are too many brands. What your grandmother made in a pot can’t be duplicated easily in a jar. At any rate it is hard. We’ve been gaining distribution all over the country for two reasons: number one, silver palate is fairly well known and two the pasta sauce is very unusual. As I say, it’s the one that’s made with San Marzano tomatoes, with no added sugar and no tomato paste. So, the quality is really great.
Q - Are you in Wegmans?
A - Were not in Wegmans. We almost got into Wegmans, but, we didn’t quite make it because we found out we have to sell through a distributor and we don’t sell to distributors. We sell direct to the stores.
Q - Even if you were fortunate to get onto the shelves of Wegmans, they would turn around and undercut your products with their own.
A - Oh yeah. They like their own brand.
Q - For everything.
A - For everything.
Q - And that has to hurt a company like Silver Palate.
A - It definitely does. We almost got in there. I personally was there and learned that they wanted us to sell it to their distributor who would mark it up and it would be so much more expensive that it wouldn’t sell that well.
Q - What’s interesting about that statement is, in their DeWitt store the sauce that sells the best is patsy’s and that goes for something like $7.00 or $8.00 a bottle.
A - Now, you take a look at Patsy’s and you’ll see they used tomato paste and sugar. We don’t do any of those things. But, at my rate, are pasta sauce is doing very well. It really is. We just introduced two new pasta sauces which are really doing well. One is called low-sodium marinara where you taste the tomatoes instead of the salt and the other is marinara oreganata. It’s being met with very good enthusiasm. The second category that we sell at Silver Palate is called Grain Berry. You never heard of that because it’s up in Western New York. It’s in lower New York and it’s in some New England markets and it’s in the Midwest. It’s quite new.
Q - How do you get the word out about your pasta sauce? Your son is on the road as we speak.
A - He is. He travels every week, sells the three items, main items. The pasta sauce, grain berry cereals and Silver Palate oatmeal. Those three categories.
Q - He’s marketing that personal connection to all the grocery stores.
A - Yes, he is.
Official website: www.silverpalate.com
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