Company Reports - Devault Foods
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A long tradition
Written by Sarah Wolfe; Produced by Joe Buslow
Hearing the words "Philly steak" is enough to make the mouth water. Mention more than 20 different cuts with sumptuous marinades and the craving will kick into high gear.
Devault Foods, located in the Philly steak's home state, has specialized in the national deli favorite since the 1950's, longer than most. In addition, it's known for its Italian-style meatballs, both spicy and mild. The Mrs. DiFillippo name associated with the meatballs is a reflection of the privately-owned company's strong family roots.
"The meatball recipes are from my mother's kitchen and are very popular. Our reputation for hamburgers is also outstanding," says President and CEO Tom Fillippo. (His generation dropped the "Di" from the name.) "Whenever someone asks me what I do, I always say I'm involved in the family business. There are fewer and fewer family companies like Devault and I take pride in it."
Devault Foods, a supplier of portion-controlled meat products for the foodservice industry, was founded by Tom's father, Tom DiFillippo, in 1949. After careers as a farmer and cattle dealer, DiFillippo started a small slaughterhouse and one-room butcher shop. When Burger King opened its 113th location nearby in 1964, DiFillippo's good reputation and Burger King's need for a fresh meat supplier created a long-term relationship. Devault Foods closed its slaughterhouse in 1969 to focus on processing. In the mid-1970s Wendy's came to Pennsylvania and requested the company's services.
"Little did we know how rapidly they'd grow. While we had that, we also sold our own branded hamburgers, Philly steaks and cooked meatballs," Fillippo says. "In the early 1990s it seemed fast foods were maturing, however, and were really taking a toll on our available assets as a small company. We decided to exit the fast food business, which was 52 percent of our volume at that time, and spread our sales base out so our eggs weren't all in one basket."
Fillippo himself started working for his father at a young age. He played sports in college and then taught and coached for five years before returning to Devault in 1970. His son, Tom III, worked with him before recently joining the US Army. Joelle, Fillippo's daughter, is working alongside him in the Customer Service department, helping to move the family company forward.
Devault has grown into one of the largest portion-controlled meat processors in the country, increasing an average 5-7 percent each year. Its client demand for ground meat, Philly steak and meatball products continues to rise.
"We have three categories of customers," says Bill Irwin, Vice President of Sales and Marketing. "There's street business - mainly independent operators who are serviced through a range of distributors including broad liners and independents; multi-unit chains (10-200 stores); and a private-label business."
The military also receives Devault's products through its network of distributors.
"Despite the fact we're now mid-sized and have $75 million in sales, we've never veered away from the high-end quality side of our products or from maintaining our family personality," Fillippo adds. "We operate in an old-fashioned way where everything is hands on. We also have enough variety in our customer base to weather economic storms like this one. Our street and multi-chain sides have seen a slight drop in sales, but the customer-label side has done well. I think all these things are what have sustained us through the years."
PROCESS, SAFETY AND SUPPLY
Devault operates from a 30-acre campus with two production facility plants and a corporate office. Its meat comes from US slaughterhouses and mainly arrives boneless and frozen in 60-pound boxes. Fresh meat is also shipped in combo bins weighing 2,000 pounds.
The facility's highly-efficient equipment allows more than 2 million pounds of beef to be processed each week. Last year it invested in two new pieces that can test the meats' fat content.
With all the raw meat being handled, the processing environment is extremely sanitary under HACCP regulations.
"The E-coli breakout with Jack in the Box in 1993 was a wake-up call to our industry for even stricter regulations. Our internal quality assurance manager is tougher than anyone outside the government. We have layer upon layer of tasks, guidelines and requirements that just continually improve each year; it's a non-stop evolution," Fillippo says.
Devault also uses a sophisticated bar coding system to track every shipment that leaves its plant if ever it needs to be recalled. Once Devault processes and packages the meat, it uses its own fleet of trucks and works with common carriers to make shipments throughout the country.
GREEN UPGRADES AND EXPANSION
Devault is continually investing in efficiency and environmentally-friendly practices. It has a water-cleaning system and all of its cardboard is recycled as well as cooking oil.
"There are certain systems that we're exploring right now that would allow us to shed power - alternating equipment at different times so there isn't an overload during peak hours. We're also looking at our individual quick frozen system. Most people use nitrogen, but we're considering an ammonia system that would reduce energy costs as well."
Looking towards the future, Fillippo says there's a chance Devault could be partnering with one of its major accounts. It would play into the company's overall plans to expand the business in a profitable way where all employees could reap the benefits, whom are considered family.
"We've got a great team of people that makes things happen," Fillippo says, "so our growth is based on what's best for them and the company."