Pompeian plans 'slew of products' By: Ross Hetrick

FROM OLIVE OIL TO ARTICHOKES

January 19, 1993|By Staff Writer

Naming food products after memorable disasters would see to be a bad marketing move. Consider: Chernobyl hot sauce or Titanic iceberg lettuce.

But for Pompeian Inc., the strategy has worked out famously for its olive oil. Now it hopes to have the same success with artichokes, white asparagus and other yet-to-be-determined products.

Nationally known for the extra-virgin olive oil that flows through its Baltimore bottling operation, the Spanish-owned company is planning a move into other markets and has recently completed a $3 million expansion of its plant.

"We will be looking at a slew of products," said Roy J. Quinn, president of Pompeian. "We don't know what items we will select. But we will definitely broaden our product line."

The company's decision to move into new products was inspired by the success of its red wine vinegar, introduced in the mid-1980s. Starting without the aid of advertising, the vinegar has moved into the No. 20 spot among 800 brands of red wine vinegar.

"The success of the vinegar has been phenomenal," Mr. Quinn said. "Our reasoning, I guess, is we would have success with other products." The company was already selling stuffed olives when it added marinated artichokes to its product line last year. This year,white asparagus is scheduled to join the line-up.

Olive oil, however, is still king, accounting for 90 percent of the more than $30 million in annual sales.

The plant expansion includes 36,000 square feet of warehouse space and 8,000 square feet of office area.

The company has also bought new filling equipment and new tanks with a capacity of 200,000 gallons to supplement 86-year-old tanks that hold 1 million gallons.

The improvements will increase the company's annual bottling capability from about 3 million gallons of olive oil to about 4.5 million gallons, according to Jaan Sulg, vice president of operations for the company.

The expansion, which is scheduled to be formally dedicated today, does not immediately translate into more jobs for the company's 45-person work force, Mr. Quinn said. "Hopefully, the future will force us to add some people," he said. "I can't say how many or what functions will be involved."

L Since 1975, the work force has grown from 24 to 45, he said.

While the work force has been inching up gradually, sales have risen dramatically in recent years as olive oil gained popularity. Revenues rose 70.3 percent from 1986 to 1991, going from $18.5 million to $31.5 million. Figures for 1992 are not yet available.

Pompeian is the country's third-largest olive oil importer, after Bertolli USA Inc. and Filippo Berio, both Italian-owned companies, Mr. Quinn said.

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