In our interview with Pastene president Mark Tosi, learn about the changes that this small Italian foods business made during the pandemic that allowed it to experience record growth.
Pastene started as a produce pushcart in 1848, selling fresh vegetables and Italian specialties to residents of Boston's North End. The Canton, Massachusetts-based company has since grown to become a national brand, selling fresh Italian foods and ingredients to customers and retailers across the country.
The company is now run by Mark Tosi, president, and his brother Chris, CEO, who represent the sixth generation of the 172-year-old family business. They sell everything from tomatoes, tuna, breadcrumbs, pasta, and peppers to hard-to-find varieties of olives and artichokes – both directly to customers as well as to neighborhood markets, supermarket chains, and e-commerce giants like Amazon and Walmart.
Like many business owners across the country, the Tosi brothers found their business affected by the COVID-19 pandemic – but theirs was a positive change. The company has experienced 25% growth since the pandemic began, as well as 40% growth in online sales.
"With more families cooking at home, Pastene has seen an influx of new customers," said Mark Tosi. "[We've been] offering high-quality, affordable, shelf-stable products that people tend to seek out in times of economic challenge."
Pastene's excellent products weren't all that Tosi credited for its success during the pandemic. Much of it was due to the business's carefully cultivated relationships with affiliates and retail partners that allowed it to grow through economic strife.
"Over the years, we have cultivated strong relationships with longtime affiliates and retail partners, which has enabled us to keep product flowing when other brands struggled," Tosi said.
This meant that Pastene was able to keep its products moving across the country, even as the pandemic had serious effects on supply chains and shipping. Tosi said that he and his team cultivated their relationships by staying true to the brand's routes and what they saw as their responsibility to provide quality, affordable food supply to people who needed it.
One of the ways Pastene cares for its retail partners is through direct-to-store delivery (DSD), which means that goods travel directly from the supplier to the retailer, allowing the retailer to avoid the costs of a distribution center. Additionally, DSD reduces both the potential for damaged products and the amount of time products spend in the supply chain, which gives them longer shelf life and makes them available fresh to customers.
"We work with some great grocery chain operators and are fortunate that they give us valuable shelf space, and that they recognize the quality of our products and the value we bring to their customers," Tosi said. "We've tried to honor that relationship by working hard to keep our products on their store shelves throughout the pandemic."
Quick response to change
Tosi also attributes much of Pastene's online growth to its quick response to its customers' changing needs during the pandemic. He noted, however, that they were fortunate in not having to overhaul the business to survive.
"On a positive note, we haven't had to change much," Tosi said. "Our prices have remained the same, and fortunately, our affiliate business partners have been able to continue delivering the Pastene products our customers and retailers depend on."
But because a significant portion of Pastene's customer base was now shopping online, the Tosi brothers realized that its current website wasn't best serving its customers. They jumped into redesigning their website, adding a full e-commerce store where customers could shop for all their favorite Pastene products, find recipes and read articles on its blog.
"Given the current climate, customers enjoy the convenience and peace of mind of ordering from the safety of their homes," Tosi said. "More and more people are looking for home delivery of their favorite products, and we wanted to make that as easy as possible."
The website offers the full breadth of Pastene products, alongside tried-and-true Italian family recipes for everything from brisket to pizza.
The Tosis have worked hard to honor Pastene's legacy while propelling the brand forward, with a focus on respecting and maintaining the key relationships that have gotten the company where it is today. They plan to continue their growth by expanding their network of retail partners across the United States and Canada, which will help grow their customer base and make Pastene products available to as many people as possible.
"We are positioning Pastene for the future while staying true to our legacy, by expanding our product offerings, better communicating our brand values, and improving our customers' online and in-store shopping experiences," Tosi said.
Read about more small businesses that made changes that allowed them to succeed despite the pandemic in our article "What We Learned in 2020: Businesses That Did Well and Why."