Nationwide quarantine and state-mandated social distancing guidelines have rocked the food service industry, creating challenges for restaurants, and their suppliers. Many of these companies are being forced to innovate in order to maintain revenue streams, and Milano’s Cheese has done just that.
“We’ve been working with existing foodservice and now retail/grocery distributors and retailers to help supply them with creative menu solutions,” said Justin Tomasino, Executive Director of Milano’s Cheese. “The foodservice distributors are extremely intelligent and resilient people. Many of our customers came to us and allowed us the opportunity to provide them with products that would be traditionally distributed in the retail outlets. You’d be surprised at the amount of restaurants that are selling retail items with their takeout items to build a new revenue stream.”
Tomasino, taking to heart the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention,” implemented a new retail initiative into the business, which has traditionally supplied product primarily to customers in the food service industry. This pivot has not only allowed Milano’s to offset the challenges of the Pandemic as the Tomasino led Milano’s Cheese has actually seen an increase in overall sales for the first quarter of 2020.
That unmatched growth has come as a result of Tomasino’s ability to create and launch products that respond quickly to the supermarket patron and professional chef’s needs. At the top of the list of those new entries are Milano’s Theos Feta & Que Gusto! Hispanic Cheeses.
“You have to understand the history to get a feel for how authentic feta cheese needs to be produced,” Tomasino explained. “Among Greek Mythology, Polyphemus, the Giant Cyclops Son of Poseidon and Thoosa, was the first to discover feta cheese. According to legend, Polyphemus would transport the milk of his sheep in leather sacks. One day, he realized the milk had curdled and taken solid form. Thus, forming the first feta known in history. So our Feta is made the traditional way. Milk, Salt, Cultures and Enzymes. No additives or fillers. Simply Feta. We understand exactly what our retail and foodservice customers are looking for. So we source from ethical farms with Happy Cows and their nutritious milk. We only use All Natural, Gluten Free, Non-GMO & rBST/rBGH Free Ingredients! Our feta cheese stands aside from the rest and that’s why we named it Theos after the Greek Gods!”
Milano’s has created its Que Gusto! Hispanic Cheeses line with a goal of providing the absolute highest quality products. Tomasino explained: “Our vision is to allow you to provide your family and friends a wholesome traditional cheese for any dish.” Once again, Tomasino looked to the history books to produce the authentic line.
Fresco is a fresh semi-soft cheese that is best known as America’s favorite Hispanic cheese. It is slightly salted and creamy with a mild smooth flavor. It is a traditional Mexican farmer’s cheese that’s lightly pressed and salted which has become the most popular Mexican cheese in the US. In the mid 1800’s when the Queso Fresco cheese making tradition started there was no refrigeration so the cheese was made fresh by farmers for consumption the same day it was made, thus the name Queso (Fresco/Fresh Cheese).
Mexico’s parmesan known as Cotija is a dry grating cheese similar to Parmesan. It is an aged cheese, packed with flavor and zest that gets better with time. It is named after the town of Cotija in the Mexican state of Michoacán. When the cheese is made, it is white, fresh and salty resembling feta cheese. However, with aging, it becomes hard and crumbly like Parmigiano-Reggiano. Its similarity with Parmesan has earned it the nickname “Parmesan of Mexico”. It is usually saltier than the typical Mexican Cheese, strongly flavored, firm and it does not melt.
Northeast supermarket retailers were looking for a new twist on string cheese over the past four months as students who were learning at home looking for a high quality fun snack. They have found it with Que Gusto’s Oaxaca (Wa-ha-ka) cheese. It is Mexico’s most popular cheese because it melts and strings like no other when heated, forming delicious long strings when pulled. Oaxaca is a semi soft cheese like un-aged Monterey Jack, but a mozzarella-like string cheese texture. It is named after the state of Oaxaca in Southern Mexico, where it was first made.
Milano’s Que Gusto line also features Blanco, a very popular Caribbean cheese. It is mild, firm yet smooth in texture and softens without melting. This culinary wonder doesn’t separate into solids and oils when heated or grilled. It becomes soft on the inside. “When you bite into it, it squeaks like a fresh cheese curd and rewards you with a buttery creaminess found in only the best mild cheeses,” Tomasino explained.
Although initial questions of production lines and slotting allowances were new and challenging the Garden State manufacturer has found its stride. With a brand new, retail-dedicated facility for jars and cups, as well as cutting-edge automated packaging lines, Milano’s production lines output over 200 jars and cups per minute, and the company is now private labeling products for many of the most popular brands on supermarket shelves today. When it comes to slotting, Mr. Tomasino has a very specific approach: “Your customers are your partners in the business of making money. If you have the funds available and you believe in your product, you have to take the shot. At the same time, your customers understand that risk you have to take and that it may be more beneficial to both to give a really great everyday price.” As Tomasino puts it: “It’s all a partnership, a discussion, not a negotiation.”
This isn’t the first time Milano’s has put the customer first. Ever since Tomasino took over sales and marketing, he has made it a point to be in tune with the customer’s needs. “My first goal jumping into sales and marketing, was understanding each and every customer, basically what made their worlds turn. When I sit with a customer, I want to know everything that’s on their mind. If they have a freight issue, I’ll help solve it. If they have to meet a deadline, our office is at their disposal. We truly focused on building a real partnership with our customers. An environment where I help you, you help me, and we all succeed together.” The innovative executive’s ideology has been instrumental in helping Milano’s Cheese grow from its humble Brooklyn origins into one of the leading suppliers in the Northeast and a household name in the industry.
Even though Milano’s has already seen success with this new retail initiative, Tomasino doesn’t intend to let it stop there, because as he puts it: “There are plenty of suppliers wanting to take your place and ready to do what it takes to get there.” This means that constant experimentation and innovation is required to maintain its status. Fortunately, Tomasino knows his customer base.
“I like to think of Northeasterners as birds of the same feather, people always willing to try something new and exciting,” Tomasino said. “I love to create new brands and products and try bringing them to the market. I frequently stay with my staff during in-store demos to gauge responses. Sometimes they’re not what you want to see but they’re always a great learning tool.”
Milano’s already has several new retail items designed to service takeout, including Grated Parmesan, Garlic, Oregano, and Crushed Red Pepper Packets. For over 35 years, Milano’s has simultaneously managed to put the customer first, as well as leave a personal touch on every product that leaves its door, and it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“A mother that is grocery shopping, week after week, to cook dinner for her family, is just as much of a professional as a Michelin star chef,” Tomasino concluded. “People know quality. If you provide the best product on the shelf, the consumer isn’t afraid of paying that little extra to make their meals so much better.”
Tomasino and his team’s unwavering commitment to listening to the needs of the changing retail and foodservice marketplaces have enabled Milano’s to ascend to a position of market leadership in the Northeast, in a very short period of time.
To learn more about Milano’s Cheese, visit their website.