In the year since Len Caric became president of Pittsburgh-based Uncle Charley’s Sausage, the company has increased sales in the double-digits and generated nearly 20 percent more local jobs. Now, with a newly acquired Safe Quality Food (SQF) certification by the Global Food Safety Initiative, Caric’s efforts to bring founder Charles Armitage’s "fresh, never frozen" sausage to more customers is well within reach.
The SQF certification goes beyond standard USDA certifications providing global accreditation that certifies the efficacy of robust food safety control systems and continuous food quality monitoring procedures. In recent years, most large grocery chains require that food producers obtain this certification in order to sell in their stores, resulting in many local brands being positioned out of major markets.
“Our company philosophy to embrace all of the positive attributes of this local, fresh, honest-to-goodness sausage maker, while proactively seeking out the right kind of change is proving a true recipe for growth,” said Caric. “Many outside investors would have shuttered the plant, but we saw a real opportunity in providing more families with this higher protein, fresh, never frozen sausage product. We not only invested in the local plant, we added five new positions and have immediate job openings today.”
The company proactively sought out the certification, receiving higher than average ratings, to fill what it sees as a major gap in the retail market between national brands that sell frozen, preservative-filled sausage and have the SFQ certification and local, fresh-never-frozen sausages who are not certified.
“We know that we have the highest quality sausage product, and now this has been validated by the most trusted source for food safety and quality in the world,” said Caric. “We are proud to be the only locally-produced, preservative-free sausage brand to have earned this premier certification. Our strategic efforts to expand this fresh, local, preservative-free sausage to more families has already resulted in 10 percent growth in the first half of 2014. We project double digit growth as this important certification opens the door for Uncle Charley’s Sausage in new markets.”
New Packaging, Labeling Reflect What’s ‘Truly Inside’
Uncle Charley’s will launch new packaging and labeling in January that will complement the SFQ certification and communicate to customers the healthier sausage that’s truly inside. Further, to stay on par with heightened demand for ingredient and nutrition labeling transparency, the sausage maker will change its nutritional labels in 2015 to reflect a more realistic serving size “by link” or “by patty."
Upon rollout, the new label will more accurately convey the quality that goes into the sausage including:
- Premium cuts of pork in natural or collagen casings, resulting in leaner meat, higher protein and richer taste
- No added preservatives
- Gluten-free with no corn syrup, nitrates, nitrites, BHT or BHA
- A careful blend of spices, perfected for nearly three decades by the company’s founder
“We want to give consumers the same choice they have with fresh, locally grown produce," notes Caric. "Moms and dads should be able to shop at their local grocery store and find truly fresh sausage….That’s what we bring to consumers – healthy sausage from farm to fork in three to six days."
With the SFQ in hand and new packaging and labeling soon to roll out, Caric’s goal is to distribute Uncle Charley's sausage products to stores within 350 miles in any direction from the company’s production facilities in Vandergrift, Pa. In 2015, expansion plans will also include moving into Eastern Pennsylvania, Virginia and other Mid-Atlantic states.