Show largest in company’s history
Warren, Michigan-based Lipari Foods hosted its annual food show March 22, with more than 7,000 people attending. The Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, Michigan, was filled with 752 booths and more than 800 brands. It was the largest show in the company’s history.
The theme of the show, “Roll Out the Red Carpet of Savings,” was observed throughout the venue. Movie-themed displays, including a giant Oscar statue, a Rolls Royce and giant film reels, along with posters of famous movies and movie stars, helped convey the desire to celebrate Lipari Foods’ vendors and retailers for their “role” in the company’s history.
Lipari Foods CEO Thom Lipari and President and COO John Pawlowski took a moment to speak with The Shelby Report of the Midwest on the show floor.
The company, which was started by Thom Lipari’s father, the late Vincent “Jim” Lipari, is celebrating its 60th anniversary. Lipari Foods is an independent “perimeter of the store” distributor, delivering a wide range of quality bakery, deli, packaging, seafood, meat, specialty grocery, international specialty, foodservice, confectionary and convenience food and beverage products to more than 11,000 customers in 28 states.
The business was founded in 1963. Thom Lipari became the fourth employee when he joined the company in 1971, helping his grandfather make sauce.
“The company has grown tremendously…we’ve had a lot of great people over the years who have supported us and worked with us, both on the employee side and the customer side,” he said. “They’re what makes today what it is.”
Lipari said employees have been key to the success of the business. “I’ve had so many good people that had been with me for many years, and many new people now have joined the company. That’s what makes the difference. We all sell groceries…it’s the people that make the difference – how you take care of the customer and how you go to market.”
The business remains family-oriented, with Thom Lipari’s three sons involved in different departments. Jimmy Lipari is SVP in charge of category management; Chris Lipari, VP of sales, is based in the Chicago area; and Matt Lipari is VP of financial planning and analysis. Thom Lipari’s sister, Lori, joined the company in 1974 and serves as an EVP.
“We’ve all worked together. And if a family can get along in a business, it’s a really great thing,” Thom Lipari said. “And we’ve been real fortunate that the business never interfered with family.”
The company just acquired Swiss-American, a St. Louis, Missouri-based specialty cheese solutions provider focused on retail deli. It is the latest in several Lipari acquisitions.
“Probably 50 percent of our growth comes from organic growth, just growing within our existing customer base,” Thom Lipari said. “The other 50 percent comes from acquisitions, M&A that we’ve done.”
He said acquisitions allow the company to get into new markets and categories. “Today, with so many stores struggling with labor, we’ve got a solution that can help them supplement some of that labor at store level, where we can deliver them product that’s already case-ready.”
Lipari added the company is always looking to grow. “We’re always looking for the next opportunity and how we can service more customers.”
After the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic – including two years of virtual food shows – Lipari said everyone is excited to be back at live shows. Last year was the first live show post-pandemic, and attendance was good.
“This year, it’s like the pandemic is over and everybody’s back. They want to see new items. They want to see new opportunities. And so the attendance, the excitement about the show this year, is just off the charts.”
While the show is an opportunity to get good deals on products that retailers buy every day, Lipari said it’s also an opportunity to highlight what’s new.
“You’re not selling the same thing today that you sold five years ago. It’s constantly changing. This is a great vehicle for our customers to see what’s out there, what’s available and to help them grow.”
Pawlowski, who joined the company in October 2021, said the show allows Lipari Foods’ customers and vendors to connect, “getting to know each other in a way that’s deeper than a traditional food show.”
He said the show allows the company to provide “an incredible amount of value” between the Memorial and Labor Day holidays “to really drive opportunities to engage consumers to do things that are new and innovative in their categories.”
He said it is a company tradition to host a dinner for out-of-town customers and vendors the night before the show. It is a time for them and the Lipari family to spend time with each other “in a way that has nothing to do with selling, nothing to do with what’s going to happen in the store.”
Pawlowski said it is “an enormously wonderful, high-charged event with people that are just excited to see each other again and to catch up.”
He added that the show helps people move product through their stores, but it does so “in a way that excites consumers, engages their customer base and does it in a way that they can’t do anywhere else.”
For more information, visit liparifoods.com.
To view the photo gallery from the show by The Shelby Report, click here.