As it celebrates its 50th anniversary, Lipari Foods hosted a bigger-than-ever show on April 24 in Novi, Mich.
Jim Lipari started the business in 1963 selling barbecue sauce out of the back of his station wagon. Today, Lipari Foods is a $500 million company.
“This is a milestone,” Thom Lipari, president and CEO, told The Shelby Report’s Geoff Welch at the show. “We really are proud to have been able to survive that long and are planning on what we’re going to do the next 50 years.”
The show brings vendors and customers together to save money, get good deals and see a lot of new products, Lipari said. In one day, vendors get to see 4,000-5,000 customers.
“There are about 800 different vendors here. There are 90 brokerages representing those vendors and then some of them are all on their own,” said Don Symonds, director of events and trade relations for Lipari Foods.
This year’s show has 130 more booths than last year’s.
“It’s amazing how this thing has grown,” Symonds said. “We’re at about 420 booths on the floor.”
Buyers came looking for products to sell during the eight weeks of summer, from the week before Memorial Day to the week after the 4th of July.
“We’re offering deals at this show for the hottest selling period of the year for (bakeries) and delis in the area,” Symonds said. “You show up here you are going to save at least $2 a case on average on anything available in the show, so there’s substantial savings for some of these big supermarkets, and then we allow our vendors to do something we call ‘Bonus Bucks.’ At the booth, they’ll negotiate with some of the largest volume purchases and offer them even greater allowances just for buying more product.”
Lipari said it’s a win-win for the customer and the vendor.
“We’re kind of in the middle and we benefit from it because our customers get good deals. It helps them out,” Lipari said. “We sell some more cases. Our vendors grow their business, so it works for all three parties that are part of this and everybody benefits from it. It’s really turned out to be a great event.”
The majority of its business comes from the independent sector, but Lipari Foods also has been doing some business with national accounts like CVS and Walgreens. It now stocks more than 12,000 items, and Symonds estimated that a couple thousand of those are new products.
“In the food industry, it’s always changing. The business is changing. The products are changing, so you’re always bringing in new vendors,” Lipari said. “It’s a really dynamic industry, so what you sold five, 10 years ago is not necessarily what you’re selling today.”
The show boasted new features as Lipari Foods’ I&K Distributors acquisition has gelled. The acquisition occurred the day before the company’s 2012 show.
“We announced it, but we weren’t able to showcase anything, so is the first year we’re able to showcase all those products in that dairy case category, besides our bakery and traditional lines,” Lipari said. “We’ve really moved into the whole c-store arena and have the prepared foods and the foodservice part of the c-store business, so we’ve got a big showing here around those types of products and catering to that industry. We’re kind of spreading out our customer base from the traditional supermarket to some of these other venues.”
Lipari Foods also is spreading its distribution footprint, which stretches across 12 Midwest states and recently has included a customer in Florida.
“We’re constantly looking for opportunities to expand out of this area, and possibly have another distribution center somewhere a little further south so we can spread out and cover some of that southern business,” Lipari said.
The plan is to go nationwide one day. Lipari joked that he hopes it doesn’t take another 50 years to get there.
In the feature photo at top: Seated, from left, Joyce Saranathan, Karen Franchi, Alyssa Franch and Jacqueline Manci; standing, from left, Laura Liras, Spiro Liras, Connie Lipari, Thom Lipari, Kim Robertson and Bob Palmateer.