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Since 2005, Miami-based Lucini Italia, a family owned gourmet and natural foods company known primarily for its award-winning extra virgin olive oil, single estate vinegars and hand made tomato sauces, has doubled its product offerings. Tremendous support from the professional chef community translated to numerous television placements for Lucini on the Food Network, Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres and Cooking with Emeril.
David Neuman, president of Lucini Italia
In June this year, Lucini entered the highly competitive soup and tomato sauce categories, and management felt it was time to match this growth in sales with the appointment of specialty and natural/organic foods executive David Neuman as president. His new challenge: to guide both U.S. and international sales of new products and implement effective, creative marketing strategies to further build existing product lines.
That’s par for the course for Neuman. For nearly 10 years, he served as vice president of global sales and marketing with Richmond, British Columbia-based Nature’s Path Foods. Originally a relatively small Canadian brand run by a husband and wife team, Nature’s Path’s U.S. market especially was vastly expanded by Neuman. He helped grow the company’s annual sales in excess of $100 million, built a highly effective sales and marketing team, grew Nature’s path organic cereal line to No. 1 in the category in both the U.S. and Canada and was the architect of an international sales business through exclusive importers to 32 countries.
Before that, he held managerial positions with Sutton Place Gourmet, Fresh Fields Markets and Whole Foods Markets, where he was responsible for grocery operations in 23 stores from Pennsylvania to Virginia.
Food Processing caught up with Neuman over a pasta dinner topped with Lucini Rustic Tomato Vodka Sauce, and asked him for a taste of his plans on the path ahead to increase brand awareness.
“I am exited to start my next journey with such a classy brand and working with such inspiring founders as CEO Renee (Frigo) and Vice-Chairman Daniel (Graeff),” says Neuman. “This position will allow for professional growth and utilize the valuable experiences and relationships I have developed through my career. I am certain I can take Lucini Italia to a new level of success, building on the base they have established since their inception. I couldn’t think of a better fit.”
FP: Could you tell us about your successes at Nature’s Path?
DN: It was a great nine-and-a-half years, and I learned so much. Helping Nature’s Path make a serious entry into the U.S. market before the organic boom hit, creating the Optimum platform of functional organic foods, and opening up the world (37 countries) to the brand were my most memorable accomplishments.
FP: What enticed you to join Lucini Italia, and what are your hopes for the future of the company?
DN: When approached, I was intrigued by the elegance of the brand — first the packaging then the quality and taste. I cannot represent a brand, which I do not feel is top of the market. After meeting the founders, I was sold. They are the best of the best, like the products they have built. I wanted to join them on their journey. This company/brand will be a huge success. Mark my words. Staying close to the edge of consumer trends, passion for quality and brand differentiation, Lucini will be the go-to brand for the choosy consumer seeking the most for their money in terms of quality, taste and nutrition.
FP: Speaking of nutrition, are consumers today more concerned about it?
DN: Of course, consumers today are interested in health. Aging boomers are expecting a higher quality of life as life expectancy extends due in part to better foods, more information and better medical advancements. That said, even the most savvy consumer needs to be aware of traps. Even the seemingly most nutritious of organic foods can be riddled with un-necessary and un-healthy ingredients. An organic donut is still a donut! That said, Lucini’s products are some of the healthiest products on the shelves today. This is due to the freshness of our production of the products — hand picked, small batches, all made in Italy by artisans.
We are in exciting categories, both large in size of center-store share and growth. We have numerous opportunities for line extensions and innovation. Look to Lucini over the next few years to change the face of specialty foods, as we know it today!
FP: What is your management style, and how do you build a successful team?
DN: Whether I inherit a team or build one, I look for leaders — self-starters who have a passion for their work. Their work isn’t just a job; it is part of how they define themselves. I lead by example, and challenge them to create business and relationships everyday. I try not to micro manage, but am available for them as they need, and know as much about their business as they do. I respect them as a peer, not just as an employee.
FP: How do you market new products?
DN: I am not prepared to share our secrets about our go-to-market strategy. But, clearly, we identify a consumer need, build the best product and program we can and then confidently market it first to trade then to the consumer.
FP: Please describe your experiences marketing a new product that failed vs. one that was a huge success?
DN: In general terms, and only referring to my former company, as Lucini has not had any failures, a failure can result when a product is rushed to market. It is as simple as that. A failure is never immediate. Typically there is excitement about a new product, since we all love new things. But to attract consumers in today’s crowded marketplace, you have to do your homework. Big success can come from an inspiration, but those must be tested and thoroughly vetted out before coming to market.
FP: What are some of the challenges to overcome when bringing new products to the mass market (particularly for a smaller company)?
DN: To invest in ranging a new line in mass, a company, large or small, must be prepared for the long haul. Build the right product, support it to the trade, prepare an intelligent marketing plan, hit the streets selling, and promote with chains to ensure consumer trial. Challenges arise when chains are not focused on supporting the listing, and a new item can slip into obscurity. This does not absolve the brand from reaching out to the consumers. A winning combination requires true partnership between the retailer and the manufacturer.
FP: Do you enjoy cooking?
DN: I do love to cook, so most nights I prepare a lovely meal.
FP: What are some of your favorite foods?
DN: Fresh seafood tops the list, and grilled veggies. Pasta with Lucini Tomato sauce (I love our new Tuscan Marinara). Frittatas for brunch. Big green salads with Lucini Extra Virgin Olive oil and Balsamico vinegar. For a treat, a big sub sandwich.
FP: What is your personal formula, vision on food and lifestyle?
DN: Eat smart, ensure your meals are balanced (ph and fat/carbs/protein) exercise aerobically three to fours times per week, work hard but enjoy what you are doing. And laugh a lot.
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