MASSILLON: From cooking up spaghetti sauce in a garage to now jarring more than 4 million containers of sauce a year, Mid’s has come a long way.
And the local business that still stands on a slow-cooked sauce tradition has plans to go even farther.
Scott Chovan, director of sales at Mid’s, told a group of business leaders at the Massillon WestStark Chamber of Commerce’s Business Connection LIVE lunch on Monday, the company is poised to extend its reach.
In the coming year, the Navarre-based business hopes to move into more supermarkets on the East Coast from Boston to Washington, D.C., and reach more customers through social media.
The story of Mid’s begins with the Octavio family, who came to the United States from Italy in the early 1900s. Along with the family came a recipe for sauce.
Born in Massillon in 1908, Mideo Octavio loved to cook, and followed his grandmother’s recipe that came straight from Sicily.
Octavio opened a few restaurants in the area. The sauce became the centerpiece, Chovan said.
There are stories, he said, that people would show up at the back door of the restaurant with buckets and pails asking for the sauce.
“They loved it so much,” Chovan said. “It’s a common tale. Many big national brands grew out of these kinds of stories.”
For years, the sauce was made and packaged by hand, Chovan said.
The family-recipe is now produced in a 20,000 square-foot building. Earlier this year, the process became fully automated.
The multi-million dollar upgrades increased the cooking capacity from 1,300 gallons to 3,000 gallons, and hiked production from 70 jars a minute to 220 jars per minute.
Since the Octavio family sold the business in 1998 to Scott Ricketts and Steve Cross, the company has relied on the quality of the product to attract customers.
There are three things that set Mid’s apart from its competition, Chovan said. The sauce is homemade — it is simmered in open kettles for hours unlike their competitors.
“You talk to those bigger brands and it takes a minute and half to bring [the sauce] up to temperature. You can taste the difference. The freshness,” he said.
Second, the company uses fresh beef and sausage and each 32-ounce jar contains 12 ounces of meat.
“We are the only company legally allowed to be called meat sauce. Others have meat-flavored sauces,” he explained.
Finally, the sauce is convenient. It doesn’t require the user to add anything to it, Chovan said.
Grocers that carry the product, including Kroger and Giant Eagle, say customers are loyal to Mid’s.
“That doesn’t mean we sell more, but [Mid’s] is all some will buy,” he said.
Mid’s sauce is shipped to various grocery stores mostly in the Midwest and down to Florida, including Kroger, Walmart and Publix. However, the sauce is only in 17 percent of supermarkets, Chovan explained.
He said the company hopes to expand distribution to new grocers such as Safeway, Stop and Shop, Giant, Harris Teeter and Weis in the coming year.
Chovan, who joined the team in 1999 after a stint with Campbell’s, said the company also is embracing social media and digital platforms.
This is the first time Mid’s has had a marketing budget and is working with Stark County’s Innis Maggiore advertising agency.
In the past, Mid’s had relied on a customer trying the product, liking it and continuing to buy it, he said. Now they have a marketing campaign that capitalizes on what customers have told them.
“The search is over. You have found the best tasting Sicilian pasta sauce,” Chovan said.