The DeBartolos love making sausages. For over a hundred years, the Chicago-area Italian-American family passed down a recipe for soppressata, an Italian dry sausage, which dates back to when their forefathers still lived in their ancestral land.
“My dad would slice it up and bring it to work, and people would want to buy it,” Nick DeBartolo, co-founder of DiMario Foods, told FoodNavigator-USA. His father, Mario DeBartolo, is the family patriarch and namesake of the small company.
With the know-how in meat processing, the family decided to start their own business around 2010, shortly after the Great Recession. “You know, two years ago, the job market wasn’t very good, so [my family] kind of thought ‘what can we do to reinvent ourselves?’ That’s what led us to the meat snack world,” he said.
Beating tough meat in a tough category
There has been an influx of new meat-snack products coming to market, with everyone claiming to make something different. But as DeBartolo observed, the stick category has been stagnant, dominated by the gas station-staple Slim Jim.
“We weren’t chasing trends, this is what we’ve been making—our soppressata was always seasonal, artisanal, and we wanted to put that into meat snack sticks,” he said.
But how do you translate a sausage made in small-batches, crafted with a family recipe and passed-down skills, to something produced in higher volume for the masses? “My parents were the ones searching for co-packers and facility, they basically reached out to anybody and everybody under the sun,” DeBartolo recalled.
His father’s savoir-faire from his time as a butcher definitely made weeding out the potentially bad partners an easier process. They found a facility in Illinois that was able to craft a product that won the DeBartolo family approval.
Their product is tender and softer to the bite than a lot of jerkies, and they come in four flavors: original, garlic and fennel, hot, and rosemary herb.
More rec-room than rugged
While developing the product, DeBartolo pitched it to a University of Chicago Booth School of Business professor while interning for a start-up in Chicago tech-cooperative 1871. The professor liked the concept, and chose DeBartolo’s product for a case study project for his MBA students.
“These are top-of-the-class MBAs from one of the best programs in the nation,” DeBartolo said. “They really liked the product, and they told us to market it as something rugged, masculine, outdoorsy.”
But the DeBartolos weren’t feeling it. It’s a family effort using a family recipe, and they wanted to attract consumers more likely to pack their children’s lunchboxes than a trekking daypack. “We wanted people to see it as more approachable,” DeBartolo added.
A box sells for $32.99 online for 20 sticks, while they retail for around $1.79-$1.99 each, which DeBartolo said was the perfect price-point for an affordable, premium product. The family-run company makes 200 cases a month, distributed to Chicago-area stores such as Sunset Foods as well as convenient stores. It's also available on the online grocery delivery service Peapod.
“We’re still small, but sales are indeed moving up incrementally,” he said.