As a private-label food production company, Butterfield Foods has set itself on a continually evolving track of making quality foods that taste good.
The company, which began in 1981 as a small commissary that produced deli salads, has grown both in size and capabilities. For a growing list of customers that includes supermarkets, restaurants, convenience stores, big-box retailers and other food production companies, the company currently makes a variety of custom-formulated entrees, side dishes, soups, sauces, hand-pulled meat products, sandwiches, salads and desserts. Some ready-to-eat offerings include shrimp scampi, lasagna bolognese, beef BBQ, pasta salad, macaroni and cheese and fruit cobblers.
“This is not a one-size-fits-all business,” owner Frank Violi says. “We are all about custom-food production to address our customers’ specific needs.” As a result, Butterfield Foods invests much of its focus on research and development initiatives. The company employs a certified research chef, Nick Granju, as director of product development. Granju is one of only 79 certified research chefs in the United States, which gives Butterfield an edge over its competitors.
Clients generally approach Butterfield Foods to solve their food production or service issues. For example, a restaurant may want to develop a soup with a specific flavor profile, such as broccoli soup with beer and applewood-smoked bacon. Or, they may have a chili recipe that they want to commercialize, or they might need assistance incorporating popular flavor profiles into their existing recipes.
“Our clients will offer Nick information about what they’re looking for – whether it’s a new or existing recipe,” Violi notes. “He may ask what flavors they like about the current product, what they’d like to change, as well as the best packaging methods for their operation.”
“Our staff is very easy to work with,” Violi says. “We are very willing to try new ingredients and cooking methods that the customer hasn’t been able to find anywhere else.” For example, one client needed an individually packaged, portion-controlled lasagna. Serving individual portions from a large pan can result in irregularly sized portions and unacceptable amounts of waste. Butterfield now can portion specific sizes of lasagna servings in pouches that are ideal for reheating in water baths or microwave ovens. Customers now have greater control over product quality and food costs.
In addition to its stellar research and development team, the company has good relationships with reputable suppliers who provide quality ingredients to produce the best-tasting dishes possible. Using this information, Butterfield Foods will present four or five different options from which the client can choose.
“One customer wanted to modify its vegetarian burger patty because it was not the correct size, weight and shape for its operation,” Granju says. “We then reverse-engineered the product and ended up with a patty that the client thought tasted better, too.” In fact, he says that when the product test had stopped, the client began receiving complaints about the product because it switched back to the previous burger.
Butterfield is currently working with a convenience store customer in Texas that is trying to emulate the flavor of authentic Texas barbecue for its sliced beef brisket sandwiches. By getting feedback from the client, and using input from suppliers as well as its own culinary team, Butterfield is working very intensely on the issue to deliver an authentic solution.
Violi says that other clients ask Butterfield Foods to prepare a “kit,” such as pre-cooked pasta, sauce and meatballs that are packaged separately, but can be assembled at the operation. “Some foodservice operations only have access to a microwave oven,” he says. “They can then customize the dish with a garnish or add cheese, but work within their operational constraints.” The firm also has the ability to assemble pizzas and sandwiches for delivery to the client.
“We’re seeing a lot of our clients wanting to develop gluten-free products, such as pizza,” Violi says. “Not only are we fulfilling that need, our products taste as good as the gluten-containing versions.”
The company also is seeing much interest in incorporating chipotle flavoring into foods. “We’ve developed a black bean chipotle burger that is vegan as well as vegetarian,” Violi claims. “Not only does it offer a bold flavor, it also appeals to health-conscious consumers.”
Although Butterfield Foods gleans much of its information regarding new trends from clients, the team also works with its suppliers, restaurants and other retailers to develop bold, on-trend flavors and incorporate these into new products.
“We’re in the process of developing a gluten-free soup that includes crab and Caribbean spices with a coconut-milk base,” Violi describes. “In addition, we’ve come out with a line of healthful breakfast sandwiches that include leaner proteins, like turkey ham or bacon, egg whites and gluten-free bread.
“We understand that the palate of American consumers is getting more sophisticated,” Violi says. “They want flavors that are more exciting – and we’re trying to meet that need.” He adds that the company is seeing a trend toward more healthful dietary options. “We see no reason for healthful food products to be bland,” Violi says. “It pushes our staff to be more resourceful in finding ingredients that fill this need.”
The Whole Package
Violi adds that there’s more to Butterfield Foods than just hitting the flavor profile. The company covers all facets of usage including such packaging solutions as boilable pouches or resealable tubs. It also offers modified atmosphere packaging, skin packaging and cartons.
“If our client makes something a certain way or has a certain type of packaging, we try to customize the product to accommodate those requirements,” Violi says. “We’ll also invest in whatever equipment or technology [is] necessary to make sure the recipe comes out correctly for the end-consumer.”
For instance, when Violi acquired the company in 2007, the manufacturing facility had only one small, unlidded soup kettle that didn’t fit Butterfield Foods’ needs. “We added a modern Chester Jensen steam jacketed kettle on load cells with automated controls,” he says. When other soups required kettles with different capabilities, the company acquired a Blentech horizontally agitated kettle to better serve that particular client. Other equipment includes a cryogenic freeze tunnel, a variety of ovens and a wide array of cooking processes. “The only capability we do not have is frying,” he says.
Of prime importance are the company’s quality measures. A dedicated quality assurance team monitors its HACCP program and an in-house laboratory conducts contact surface plate testing within the facility. In addition, Butterfield Foods has achieved SQF 2000 Level 3 certification, which is the only program headquartered outside of Europe that is recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative. In addition to USDA inspection, the plant routinely undergoes third-party audits to ensure food safety measures are strictly enforced.
“We make great food for retailers and multi-unit foodservice operations,” Violi summarizes. “Our future will be driven by how well we integrate our culinary integrity with our operational excellence. I’m confident Butterfield Foods will be around a long time.”