Marconi Foods has been a successful family business for more than a century. The company specializes in authentic Chicago-style giardiniera. By Kate Burrows
Many family run businesses find it difficult to transition to their younger generations, but Marconi Foods
has not faced the same challenges. In fact, founder Vincent Formusa’s family members were never pressured to join the company, but instead, each generation readily jumped on board to be a part of its success. Today, the company is well into its fourth generation, and continues to thrive as it celebrates its 110-year anniversary.
General Manager Joey Johnson, great-granddaughter of the founder, attended the University of Illinois without any intention of joining the family business. “After I graduated, I spent a few years in corporate America, and started wondering why I wasn’t spending my blood, sweat and tears in the family company,” she recounts. “I realized how lucky we are to have a 110-year old company in the family.”
Today, two out of four siblings are involved with the company. “The ultimate goal is to have all four siblings involved at some point,” Johnson explains. “What it does for your rapport and culture of the company is endless.”Strong Roots
Formusa, an Italian immigrant, had a vision to import products from the old country into the United States. “When he first settled here, his Italian friends would say that they needed certain things from the old country,” Johnson explains. “So, in the beginning, he started importing products for friends, and would sell them for a small profit.”
One of Formusa’s first Italian imports was cheese, but the list quickly grew to include meat and oils. He soon became famous for Marconi oil.
“Some time later he started packing giardiniera in oil, which is what we’re still famous for today,” she says.
This mixture of pickled vegetables and peppers is a spicy Italian favorite. The most-common varieties feature hot or mild peppers, red and green peppers, carrots, cauliflower and pickles.
According to Johnson, Marconi’s giardiniera sets itself apart from the average variety.
“We like to make our giardiniera hot,” she declares. “That’s a big trend that we’ve noticed in the marketplace – people like their food hotter and hotter.”
Although Marconi’s recipe is spicy, the company strives to find the ideal balance. “We make it for the average person, so it’s not so fiery that people can’t eat it,” Johnson explains. “We want everyone to be able to enjoy the taste.”
The market has become much larger since Formusa founded the company, and giardiniera has become more of a staple than a specialty product, Johnson says.
“Years ago, giardiniera was only found in specialty stores and in Italian delis, but it has definitely changed direction now,” she explains. “People can go into the local grocery stores and everyday markets to find it. This product is now a staple in many American’s refrigerators.”
Marconi claims to be the original manufacturer of giardiniera. “Through the years, there have been many copycats, but we don’t see that as a bad thing, we take it as a compliment,” Johnson asserts.
“No company can have the market to itself, but we know that we’re very quality-conscious and take our work very seriously. We think you can taste that in our products. We make sure our suppliers are reputable, and our reputation has been great, as a result.”
Its production lines feature efficient machinery, with a metal detection system in place to ensure a quality product every time. After over 100 years of being in the business, Marconi has the production process down to a science.
“As manufacturers, we are always looking to develop new ideas, because creativity is one of the best parts of being a manufacturer,” Johnson says.
Its latest product is a muffaletta spread, which is similar to the pepper mixture, but with the addition of olives. Expanding its Reach
Although the Midwest is the company’s primary market, Marconi constantly reaches out to potential customers on both coasts. “Once we get people to try the product, they’re hooked,” Johnson says. “We’re always attending trade shows and talking to as many key people on the East and West Coast as we can. Soon enough, our product will be coast to coast.”
Networking has never been difficult for Marconi Foods. In fact, Johnson herself makes regular sales calls to ensure customers enjoy face time with the people behind the brand.
“This way, customers see that I’m part owner and salesperson at the same time,” she says. “The fact that we’re a 110-year-old company also helps – it sells itself.”
Over the years, Marconi has also become an active member of the community.
In fact, the company has remained in the same facility and Chicago neighborhood since its inception. “At the time, it was a very Italian community, which has changed since then,” Johnson says. “Now, we are lucky to be centrally located in the heart of downtown Chicago.”
Marconi supports the community by donating both product and money to local charities. “This is a great way to get our product out there in the public eye,” Johnson adds.