Food Network host and cookbook author Jeff Mauro is working with grocers to expand distribution of his Mauro Provisions product line.
You may be a popular Food Network chef and cookbook author, but there’s a new kind of thrill in seeing your own products on the shelf at your neighborhood grocery store. That’s what Jeff Mauro, a.k.a the “Sandwich King,” has found after working with grocers in his native Chicagoland and other parts of the country to carry foods from his Mauro Provisions line.
Mauro recently spoke with Progressive Grocer about his high standards for the branded food company and how, despite a busy-if-not-grueling schedule as a food professional and a family man, he dives right in almost all aspects of the business that he runs with his sister, Emily Mauro, and chief operating officer Lisa Krych.
Progressive Grocer:Did you ever think or hope growing up — or even in the early years of your restaurant/catering work and Food Network career — that you could find products under your name at the grocery store?
Jeff Mauro: Some part of me always believed it was a possibility, but the only stipulation was I refused to put my family name on a product until I 100% had faith that the label deserved the “Mauro” name. When I had the epiphany that the world was in dire need of a better, brighter, tastier giardiniera, that is when the stars aligned and Mauro Provisions was born.
PG: Mauro Provisions seems to have grown quickly — how many new items have you added to your product line that are available to grocers?
JM: What I am most proud of, is how organically and responsibly Mauro Provisions has grown in the two and a half years we’ve been in business. My intention from day one was to do this right, the old-fashioned way, starting with addictively delicious products, unparalleled customer service and boots-on-the-ground marketing. Now with our ever-expanding line of craft giardiniera, craft seasonings, Prime Italian beef, and now our line of Massa x Mauro Provisions Frozen Sicilian Pizzas, we are definitely growing.
PG: How has your work at the Food Network and as a chef, business owner and entrepreneur helped you build relationships with retailers and to quickly determine what would work on store shelves?
JM: My name and television presence definitely gets me more return calls than not! However, I am extremely active and present in all the day-to-day operations of Mauro Provisions, so when I show up for a sampling, cutting, or demo in person, and passionately preach about our products to these potential customers, and then they taste our giardiniera, beef, pizza, nine out of 10 times, a quality relationship is quickly forged.
Furthermore, unlike most celebrity-chef-driven food brands, I’m not above unloading pallets of product at Pete’s distribution center on Pulaski (Road), or answering customer service calls. I sign checks, print shipping labels, tape boxes. Not because I think it's Instagrammable, I do it because I am not skittish of hustle and I am well aware of what needs to be done to expand this brand.
PG:How many of these products are old family recipes and what ones are newer?
JM: It’s a very well-balanced mix of old and new. I honor the traditional recipes, like our giardiniera, while putting a contemporary spin on it with more color, smarter cuts, zestier flavor and more peppers like orange habanero, red jalapenos, and yellow banana peppers .
PG:As a family business, what are some of your respective strengths in building your brand?
JM: Luckily, my COO and founding partner Lisa Krych keeps the family part in check! Seriously, the brilliant systems Lisa has put in place from day one have kept us a well-oiled and hyper-organized machine, handling direct-to-consumer, retail and wholesale verticals simultaneously. These company philosophies are the perfect counterpoint to the often whimsical, improvisational and creative brains the Mauro family possesses — mainly myself, my social media director/little sister Emily and sometimes box-packers, my mom and Aunt Fran. It’s all about balance!
PG: Finally, what's your long-term goal for distribution at the grocery level?
JM: We have been adding stores at a fairly comfortable pace while continuing to handle all of our own distribution in my custom-wrapped Mauro Provisions G-Wagon — a.k.a. my giardiniera-toting 2019 Ford Transit Connect. We are currently looking for the right national distributor to help guide us to that inevitable next level.
My goal from day one was to be the face and voice of giardiniera and the first brand to expand this Chicago “table-staple” nationally. We already ship hundreds of three- and six-packs a week to all lower 48. Our customers only reorder and we have now proven that we have a bona-fide hit on our hands, it's time to begin getting it into grocery chains nationally. I always say that I am the man for the job, I have a national audience, I am constantly on national and international TV using our products, and I truly love giardiniera. It helps still living in the neighborhood I grew up in and having such immense pride for Chicago and all the wonderful foods that have originated here.
The Chicago-based Mauro Provisions currently produces craft giardiniera in mild, medium and hot varieties, along with ranch and cheese sauces and craft seasonings such as a black powder rub and BBQ chip dust. The company recently teamed up with Massa Pizza Co. to roll out a new beef and sausage combo pizza and has a robust online business selling sandwich kits and premium meats. As he expands Mauro Provisions, Mauro continues to host the series “Sandwich King” and co-hosts “The Kitchen” show on Food Network.