How a mysterious pot luck at a Connecticut pasta company led to an impossible partnership

“Not too complicated” is how Impossible Foods categorizes a recipe on its website for lasagna bolognese with ravioli using its Impossible Burger and over 20 other ingredients.

For those with no more than two hours to succeed, Impossible Foods offers a “super easy” alternative: Buitoni ravioli stuffed with Impossible’s burger and plant-based sausage that can be cooked in minutes.

Stamford-based Buitoni became the first mass-market pasta brand to partner with Impossible Foods, which debuted in July 2016 with its Impossible Burger and quickly dominated the alternative meat space with its rival. Beyond Meat.

Buitoni is one of Connecticut’s oldest companies, dating back to 1827 – but as an immigrant, after private equity firm Brynwood Partners acquired Buitoni’s North American operations from Nestlé USA in June 2020 for $ 115 million, establishing the headquarters of the pasta maker in Stamford.

On Wednesday, Buitoni installed Graham Corneck as CEO, replacing Peter Wilson Jr., who will remain chairman and CEO of Greenwich-based Brynwood. Corneck previously worked for Pepperidge Farm in Norwalk and the Cambell Snacks division of parent company Campbell Soup.

The Impossible Foods product line is Buitoni’s first new foray since the acquisition, according to Wilson, who has led the company as president since the 2020 purchase.

Buitoni’s Impossible Ravioli is initially sold in Publix supermarkets, with Sam’s Club on deck for early next year. Wilson said the company is planning additional distribution that will land the product in Connecticut stores soon, with most major chains stocking Buitoni pasta, including Big Y, ShopRite, Stop & Shop, and Whole Foods Market.

In addition to fresh ravioli, fettuccine, linguine, spaghetti, and tortellini, Buitoni sells meat sauces, marinara, Alfredo, and pesto – a variety of spicy red peppers are coming soon – and grated Parmesan.

Buitoni is one of the few Connecticut-based fresh and frozen pasta makers with mass distribution, along with Newman’s Own in Westport and Carla’s Pasta, a South Windsor maker, which filed for bankruptcy in February and was then acquired for $ 26 million in April from Madison, Wisconsin-based Tribe 9 Foods. A number of companies make shelf-stable products, from importer Norwalk Sclafani and New Canaan Bonta Della sauce startup.

In the first few weeks of the pandemic, pasta was high on many families’ shopping lists as a budget-conscious meal option. Unlike canned and bagged pasta brands like Barilla, De Cecco, Ronzoni and Sclafani, Buitoni products are sold in refrigerated cases in supermarkets, at a higher price.

Wilson said the idea for Impossible Foods came from a monthly potluck lunch at Stamford, where around 20 head office employees take turns serving variations of Italian cuisine using Buitoni products. In turn, Wilson decided to concoct a sauce with the mysterious ingredient of Impossible Foods meat.

“Halfway through lunch I revealed it was impossible, and people were blown away including a guy from the office here who is second generation Italian – on Sundays with his grandmother eating meatballs every weekend, ”Wilson recalls. “That was the start of phoning up and calling a couple of these companies and saying, ‘Hey, is anyone interested? “”

Impossible was interested and a handshake deal was in place within months. Over the past few years, Impossible Foods has rapidly expanded its range of food products as well as places to buy, most notably through Burger King and other restaurant chains.

In November, Impossible Foods announced $ 500 million in new funding, highlighting the Buitoni partnership among a handful of important new developments. Despite the surge of interest and investment, Impossible Foods only generated half of Buitoni’s Facebook followers, with 259,000 or more people.

Impossible Foods CEO Patrick Brown started the company with an aim to save the environment and frequently speaks about the waste of natural resources associated with raising cattle for slaughter, especially last July. at an online forum hosted by the University of California at Berkeley.

“It’s too hard for people to give up the food they love,” Brown said in July. “We can understand what the underlying molecular mechanisms of meaty delight are. “

Buitoni has its main production facility in Danville, Va., On the North Carolina line, which employed around 525 people at last report. As part of the deal with Nestlé, Buitoni also took over the production of one of the United States’ most beloved brands, Nestlé Toll House cookie dough, which Buitoni continued to make in Danville in the United States. part of an outsourcing agreement.

Wilson said that with the rising cost of ingredients, labor and freight, Buitoni enacted price increases last September across all of its product lines. He said Impossible Foods ravioli products debuted at $ 6.49 to $ 6.99 for a nine-ounce package, which he says is enough for two people with leftovers. A 20-ounce package will follow.

Whether it’s Impossible Stuffed Ravioli or established Buitoni products, for Wilson the math is very simple when it comes to assessing Buitoni’s line on the grocery receipt.

“For $ 10 you can put a family of four around the table with our dinner,” Wilson said. “Everyone will leave full and you will have a restaurant quality meal with all the amenities.”

Includes previous reports by Paul Schott.

[email protected]; 203-842-2545; @casoulman

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