The News-Times

How mystery pot-luck at CT pasta company led to Impossible deal

- By Alexander Soule Includes prior reporting by Paul Schott. Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman

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

For those lacking the two-plus hours to pull it off, Impossible Foods offers a “super easy” alternativ­e — Buitoni ravioli stuffed with Impossible’s plant-based burger and sausage that can be cooked up in a matter of minutes.

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

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

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

Wilson said the Impossible Foods idea stemmed from a monthly pot-luck lunch in Stamford, where some two-dozen headquarte­rs staff members take turns serving up variations of Italian food using Buitoni products. When his turn rolled around, Wilson decided to concoct a sauce with the mystery ingredient of Impossible Foods meat.

“Halfway through the lunch, I revealed this was Impossible, and people were blown away, including a fellow in the office here who is second-generation Italian — Sundays with his grandmothe­r eating meatballs every weekend,” Wilson recalled. “That was the beginning of getting on the phone and calling around to two or three of these companies and saying, ‘hey, is anybody interested?’”

Impossible was interested, and a handshake agreement was in place within a few months. Over the past few years, Impossible Foods has has been expanding its food lineup rapidly as well as where to buy, including through Burger King and other restaurant chains.

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

Buitoni’s Impossible Ravioli is being sold initially 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 meat, marinara, Alfredo and pesto sauces — a spicy red pepper variety is coming soon — and grated Parmesan cheese.

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

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

In November, Impossible Foods reported $500 million in new financing, highlighti­ng the Buitoni partnershi­p among a handful of important new developmen­ts. Despite the stampede of interest and investment, Impossible Foods has generated only half the Facebook following of Buitoni, at 259,000 people and counting.

Impossible Foods CEO Patrick Brown started the company with the goal of environmen­tal conservase­lls tion, and speaks frequently on the waste of natural resources that comes with raising livestock for slaughter, including last July during an online forum hosted by the University of California Berkeley.

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

Buitoni has its main production plant in Danville, Va. on the North Carolina line, which employed about 525 people at last report. As part of the deal with Nestle, Buitoni also took stewardshi­p of production for one of America’s more beloved brands — Nestle Toll House cookie dough, which Buitoni has continued making in Danville under an outsourcin­g agreement.

Wilson said with the cost of ingredient­s, labor and freight increasing, Buitoni enacted price increases across its product lines in September. He said the Impossible Foods ravioli products are debuting at $6.49 to $6.99 for a nineounce package, which he said is enough for two people with leftovers. A 20ounce package will follow.

Whether for the Impossible-stuffed ravioli or establishe­d Buitoni products, for Wilson the math is super easy when it comes to assessing 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’ll have a restaurant-quality meal with all the convenienc­es.”

 ?? Impossible Foods / Contribute­d photo ?? A case of Impossible Foods’ ground-beef alternativ­e at a Wegman’s supermarke­t. Supermarke­ts will soon be stocking a new way to cook with Impossible Foods — stuffed into fresh ravioli sold by Stamford-based Buitoni.
Impossible Foods / Contribute­d photo A case of Impossible Foods’ ground-beef alternativ­e at a Wegman’s supermarke­t. Supermarke­ts will soon be stocking a new way to cook with Impossible Foods — stuffed into fresh ravioli sold by Stamford-based Buitoni.

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