Gerald “Jerry” Aquilina knows what separates a great pasta sauce from other brands. “It’s not a secret – it’s the ingredients,” he says without hesitation. “We only use fresh ingredients in our sauces.” Jerry, grandson of the founder of Victoria Fine Foods, took over the role of CEO in early 2011. Also leading the company in an invigorated new direction is food industry veteran Brian Dean, serving as the company’s president.
The fact is, when you go down the list of ingredients of any of Victoria’s pasta sauces, the first ingredient is Italian tomatoes, not tomato paste. The sauces’ compositions differ from the competition in their freshness – fresh onions, fresh garlic, fresh basil and pure olive oil. No dehydrated ingredients, fillers, hydrogenated oils or corn syrup are ever added to any of their sauces.
Victoria Fine Foods was built on a platform of excellence and has not deviated from its mission since its founder, Pellegrino Aquilina, sold his wife’s home-cooked products from the back of a truck in 1923. “We are a quality driven company,” Aquilina says. “When people think of Victoria, that’s what comes to mind.”
Maintaining that quality is important to the company and it begins with procuring the freshest and highest grade ingredients available. “I travel to many different countries to personally inspect the fields and factories and to taste the products before we commit,” Aquilina says. “We buy tomatoes from Italy, artichokes and olives from Spain, calamata olives and pepperoncini from Greece.”
The sauces are cooked in what Denise Aquilina, the firm’s creative consultant, calls a “new old-fashioned way. If you come in the factory you’ll see giant stainless steel kettles, like very large versions of a kitchen pot, where we cook the sauces for about two hours, depending on the type of sauce,” she explains. “This gives our sauces incredible flavor.”
The brand’s expertise at sauce making has earned it recognition from several publications. The February 2012 issue of Cooks Illustrated rated Victoria as “the best marinara sauce in a jar.” Consumer Reports also acknowledged the brand in August of this year. “We received an ‘Excellent’ rating,” Denise notes. “There were only two other companies out of 20 that achieved that rating.”
Adapt to Evolve
A company does not stay in the market for more than 80 years without shaking things up once in a while. “You have to stay on top of market changes,” Aquilina explains. “You have to adapt to changing eating patterns, to what people want to eat and different trends in food.” Victoria has certainly done that, and today the company offers traditional red sauces alongside pesto, alfredo, low-sodium and vegan options.
The condiment side of the business also has a loyal following. It offers a large selection of high-quality artichokes, olives and pepperoncini, along with a wide variety of roasted peppers, mushrooms and other marinated specialties.
Although Aquilina admits Victoria’s products are not inexpensive, he points out that their quality is significantly higher than the competition. “We might cost a little bit more, but you’re getting your money’s worth.”
Victoria Fine Foods has a state of the art packing facility that not only takes care of all the company’s needs, but also offers co-packing and private label options to outside companies.
The company’s fully automated, 150,000-square-foot facility has 200 employees and a production speed of up to 300 jars per minute, per production line. The manufacturing facility can do anything from vacuum pack glass jars to flame roasting and pasteurization, among many other options.
“We are always reinvesting in our facilities, striving to achieve the most efficient and safest way to manufacture our products,” Aquilina explains.
“We look to have the latest and best in machinery, with the most current technology and the newest automation available to continuously increase the company’s throughput,” he adds.
Victoria’s dedication to safety is evident in all the certifications they have achieved over the years. The factory is Safety Quality Food-Certified (SQF) Level II, as well as a USDA Meat Facility and USDA Organic facility. In addition, it is certified kosher and certified vegan for its new vegan line.
SQF is recognized by the food service industry worldwide and implements rigorous food safety control systems to ensure food safety and quality control. “Safety is number one,” Jerry Aquilina says.
When talking about what’s ahead for the company, Jerry Aquilina sees many opportunities for growth and expansion in what he considers a dynamic field.
“Victoria’s future plans are very exciting; we’re working toward continued expansion of our current lines, as well as toward the possibility of adding new lines and manufacturing space through acquisitions,” Jerry Aquilina says. In the meantime, it’s off to Italy to buy fresh tomatoes to put in the sauces.