BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — Family-owned DiLuigi Foods is about more than sausage these days.
And that is the recipe for the Danvers meat wholesaler’s success, company President Dean Souza says. It’s not a giant meat processor, but DiLuigi Foods is nimble and can offer a broad product line of flavored burgers, sausages, franks, marinades, skewers, steaks and chops. Offerings include everything from chicken teriyaki tips to pork broccoli rabe sausage.
DiLuigi is even offering a natural and organic line, called Aria, with no artificial ingredients, colors, chemical preservatives, antibiotics or growth hormones, said Souza, a childhood friend of the company’s owner and CEO, Louis DiLuigi Jr.
In fact, while its Italian and Chinese-style flavored sausages were once the company’s staple — the Chinese-style sausages made a name for the company in 1995 — sausages now represent just a quarter of DiLuigi’s business, Souza said.
Three years ago, the company, located at 41 Popes Lane along Route 1 north, changed its name to DiLuigi Foods, with the name, “DiLuigi Sausage Company” now part of a line of products. There are also oven-ready foods that appear in the meat departments of major supermarkets up and down the Eastern Seaboard and as far west as New York.
The company’s name change was “just so we didn’t give retailers the idea we were doing only sausage,” Souza said. “We also do a lot of steaks, as well.”
The business has grown 50 percent in the past five years, Souza said, despite the worst recession since the Great Depression.
“The growth has been there all along,” Souza said, “but to do 50 percent during the recession is a good thing.” He declined to give revenue figures, as the company is privately owned.
Since becoming president four years ago, Souza has had to make some tough calls to expand.
In 2010, Souza closed the retail outlet along Route 1 that the company had opened just two years earlier. The company had even petitioned the state Legislature for a beer and wine license for the store and got it, but wound up never using it.
The store was popular, Souza said, but turned out to be more work than expected and needed more planning to grow.
“The property is worth so much more for us in manufacturing than it is in retail,” he said.
Six months ago, the company won permission from the town to take down the former retail store to make way for a new, larger facility.
“The town of Danvers is excellent to work with,” Souza said. “They are understanding that we have a business and we have to run it.”
Since 2001, DiLuigi Foods has processed its sausages and meat products from a facility on Popes Lane in Danvers, after relocating from East Boston, where it outgrew a facility the company had expanded three times.
The company’s roots lie in a neighborhood butcher shop on Chelsea Street in East Boston started by “Papa” Louis DiLuigi Sr. in 1950. In the 1960s, the butcher shop became a wholesale operation employing about seven people.
Today, more than 200 people work for the company, many of them from Danvers and surrounding communities on the North Shore.
Souza has known DiLuigi Jr. since both were 7; they grew up together in Revere. In high school, Lou DiLuigi, now a Boxford resident, asked Souza to go to work for the family company, and Souza learned the food business.
They stayed friends over the years. Souza eventually got a Master of Business Administration from Babson College and went into banking, working for Chase and then for State Street for 20 years before accepting a buyout, he said. He came back to the food business and has been with DiLuigi Foods for four years.
Since moving to Danvers, the company has been expanding.
In 2007, the Route 1 plant was expanded by 7,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet, Souza said. Later, the company acquired a former marine dealership next door. It consisted of two buildings, a front building and a back building, both of which were 5,000 square feet.
It’s the front building that DiLuigi Foods used as the former retail store and which it plans to demolish, to be replaced with a 7,000-square-foot building set in closer proximity to the main manufacturing plant, Souza said.
The company in recent years also purchased a mobile home park adjacent to its property and converted the land to employee parking.
Souza said the North Shore has been a good place to do business because of the quality of the workforce.
“There’s definitely a good labor pool up on the North Shore here,” Souza said.
The company draws its employees from the North Shore, management lives nearby and the location is a good one in which to do business without having to go into Boston, he said.
DiLuigi occupies a niche, Souza said. While it’s not a large meat processor, the giant companies do not like to offer a wide variety of flavor offerings, preferring to do a lot of one item.
Souza said DiLuigi can offer a broad assortment and is able to “do it in a big way.”
The company can do a lot of different items in small quantities, something supermarkets like. The idea is to “pull” a customer to a product because it is so good.
It’s also a company that has the ability to turn an order quickly and create meat products for various regions, like the South, where people eat more pork. It came up with combination pork and beef products for that market, Souza said. The company is constantly looking for new flavor trends, Souza said, and develops products on-site.
“We have something for everyone, if you will,” he said.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.