Casa Imports Inc.

If a person’s diet focuses too heavily on pizza – with its gooey cheese, spicy meats, rich tomato sauce and doughy base – it’s likely that person’s waistline will expand. Similarly, Casa Imports Inc. got its start by focusing on pizza, which resulted in the large expansion of its business.

“We started out by supplying products to the pizza market in the mid-1960s, and in 1975, we decided to buy out an Italian foods wholesaler,” President Vito D’Alessandro explains.

“We spoke Italian and already were in the restaurant supply business, and with the acquisition we enlarged our product offering. When the pizza business started booming, we really started to grow. Now we supply a variety of businesses – some are national, but most of our customers are in New York and the surrounding states.”

Based in Utica, N.Y., Casa Imports now supplies pizzerias, Italian restaurants, Italian-branded supermarkets and other specialty stores with a variety of cheeses, meats, spices, vinegars and dressings, olives, beverages, desserts, sauces, seafood and soups. “Some of our newest products are a few different pesto sauces and balsamic vinegars,” D’Alessandro points out. “We get new samples every day from manufacturers, but we only choose the best to add to our lines.”

He explains Casa Imports won’t sell a product that hasn’t been tested by the management team. If the team sees potential in a product, it goes through two to three months of testing before it’s made available to customers. Additionally, the company educates the sales team on how to sell and prepare the new product, so they are equipped with all the necessary information when they offer it to customers.

“We truly believe it is important to know a product before it goes on the market,” D’Alessandro says. “Our sales people are great at working with our customers to meet their needs.”

Comprehensive Imports

Approximately 50 percent of Casa Imports’ products are sold under its Casa and Cora private labels; the Cora label has more than 100 items, D’Alessandro notes. These are produced by vendors, with which the company has long-term relationships and trusts. Casa Imports maintains strict specifications for all of its private-label goods.

“Quality is extremely important because our name goes on many of these products,” D’Alessandro says. “We work closely with our suppliers to ensure the products are made the way we want them. Additionally, everything is inspected extensively. Not only are they inspected when they come in through customers, but we also inspect them in our own labs. The products may meet the standards of the government, but they have to meet our standards as well, and we are stricter.”

Casa Imports sends its products out daily from its 200,000-square-foot warehouse via its 20 trailers and large fleet of vans. Customers receive their products within 24 hours of placing the order; most customers receive deliveries at least two times a week. For customers outside of the New York area, the company ships its products via common carrier.

“Our retail customers come to us because we have one of the most complete lines of products available, and our products are among the best in terms of quality,” D’Alessandro asserts. “With our pizzeria customers, we know at least 80 percent of them very well and have worked with most of them for many years. We’ve grown through their word-of-mouth, and that is because of our quality products and service.”

In 1995, Casa Imports became one of the nine Italian foodservice distributors who were founding members of the Bellissimo label, which makes it part of “La Famiglia Bellissimo,” D’Alessandro notes. Since that time, he says, Bellissimo has become the nation’s leading foodservice provider to pizzerias and Mediterranean and Italian restaurants. It now has more than 40 distribution centers throughout the United States and serves more than 26,000 independent restaurants weekly, which is approximately 40 percent of the independent pizza and Italian restaurants in the country.

Pride in Repeats

Due to the fact that the economy has yet to pick up much pace, Casa Imports is focused on slowly growing its business. D’Alessandro explains the company always is conservative in its plans because it continuously adds new products and gains new customers, and it wants to maintain the resources to attract and retain new clients, while also serving its established customer base. He says growing too fast will keep the company from “keeping on top” of its entire business.

“The majority of our customers are repeat, and we are proud of that,” he says. “Most of them buy at least 75 percent of their products from us because we offer the best prices and quality.”

He stresses that by delivering consistently fresh products every week, Casa Imports makes sure that its customers stick around for more than one sale.

“We are growing every year, and we take pride in our customers and the quality we provide,” he adds.