John Ventre Jr., founder and chief executive of Ventre Packing Co., which manufactures Enrico's pasta sauces and salsas, died Aug. 1 at age 92.
Ventre introduced all-natural, and later, organic pasta sauces and salsas. "His main thing," said his son Martin, "was that he was the first guy who put pasta sauce into a glass jar." Now the industry standard, the "hot fill" process was radical in the late 1940s, when sauces were cooked in a can to prevent botulism.
Ventre started his company in the basement of his Syracuse, N.Y., home in 1938, with his sisters and immigrant Italian women helping to ladle the hot sauce into jars that Ventre would deliver to local grocers. Ventre opened his first plant in the 1950s, and in the '60s, area supermarkets began selling his sauces. Because Ventre never sought a patent for his bottling method, companies such as Rag? and Prego began to offer stiff competition.
But in 1973, Martin discovered natural foods while living in California. He urged his father to get involved in the movement, and returned to Syracuse to help. "We actually wanted to do organic in '73 but we couldn't find the raw materials," Martin said. In 1988 the company introduced organic sauces, long before the rest of the nation caught on.
Though Ventre was a visionary, "he was a humble guy with humble beginnings, and he believed in hard work and had tremendous drive," Martin said.
Ventre didn't go completely without recognition, however. "He worked on [President] Kennedy's campaign and they wanted him to run for some office here, but he didn't want to take away from his business," Martin said. So Kennedy sent Ventre on a trade mission to Greece, "to teach the Greek businessman how to do things the American way."
And if anybody knew how to do things, it was Ventre. His code, Martin said, was: "Make yourself irreplaceable, make yourself motivated and make it happen."
Ventre is survived by his brother, Frank Ventre Sr.; his sons, Martin and John Ventre III; his daughter, Joan Davoli; seven grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 10/p. 24