Throughout his 40 years in the meat business, Phil Gatto has witnessed immense change. From the ways in which animals are raised and processed to the types of finished products now available, he hasn’t been too thrilled about many of these shifts. So Gatto, who’d served as president of his family’s company, Columbus Craft Meats, for 20 years, decided to do something about it. In 2011, he partnered with fellow meat industry veteran Robert Engelhart to launch a new company, True Story Foods, centered around traditional farming methods and natural meat production.
The San Francisco, California–based brand offers certified-organic, Non-GMO Project Verified and all-natural deli meats, along with organic sausages and hot dogs, all sourced from artisan family farmers. True Story’s newest line, the scrumptious Berkshire Non-GMO Fresh Pork, snagged the NEXTY Award for Best New Meat, Dairy or Animal-Based Product at Natural Products Expo East 2018. We chatted with Gatto about his company’s mission.
What prompted you to start True Story Foods?
Phil Gatto: My partner and I both grew up in the meat industry. He was in the sausage business, and I went from sweeping the floors as a little kid to president of my family’s company. We saw a lot of consolidation in the industry over the last 40 or so years, and because of that, meat was changing. Americans wanted cheaper meat and the industry was growing animals faster. From our background, we felt that some of the artisan skills were being lost. So we looked back at where we came from, looked at where we are now and looked to where we’d like to be, and asked what constitutes great raw materials to make the best products.
What do you believe constitutes great meat products?
PG: Number one, they need to taste great. We got into natural and organic because that is where you find people who want to keep the traditional ways of raising animals. When you do that, you end up with better quality meat and, when you process it, a better eating experience. When you go back down the supply chain and interact with farmers raising animals and farmers raising crops to feed the animals, you discover a whole community full of skills and craftsmanship. We think we are kind of the hub, bringing that community together to provide high-quality products to the marketplace.
How does True Story differentiate itself from the competition?
PG: Our brand has gone back to minimally processed products and is very selective about our raw materials. But what really makes us different is the taste of our products. We have a great new line of fresh Berkshire pork, an heirloom breed that grows a bit slower and has more flavor, a redder color and more marbling in the meat. This is a bit like the wine business—you have to go back to the soil and make sure everything is in alignment. Once that gets your attention, you drill down on why the products taste better.
Why secure Non-GMO Project verification for your deli meats?
PG: When we first started out, there was a limited amount of organic meat out there. We discovered that Non-GMO Project verification was a step up toward organic, so we worked with farmers to get that accomplished. Ours was the first line of deli meats to be Non-GMO Project Verified.
What has launching a brand been like for you?
PG: We were a startup, with experienced, skilled people from the farm all the way through marketing. The challenge was to set the vision, start on our path and bring a team together. Success is getting to market with great products. As we’ve gone along, consumers have become more engaged with us and are asking for our products, which makes this very exciting.
How was your experience breaking into retail?
PG: When we started out with organic meats several years ago, ours weren’t mainline products so it was a bit of a struggle at first. But as we started to interact with customers, and when retailers tasted and liked our products and saw that natural and organic was growing, things started to happen. We’ve always been persistent and believed in our story, and the fact that Robert and I have been in the meat business for a long time was very convincing. Right now, are well represented in independents on the West Coast and in the club channel, and we are starting to gain more awareness.
What was it like winning the NEXTY Award?
PG: We were very excited about the NEXTY Award; it reinforced what we are doing. It’s wonderful when you work hard and the trade accepts your products and consumers believe in them.
What’s next for your company?
PG: We are moving East as we make an effort to be national. We are continuing to work on our taste and utilization of all cuts of the animal to make a variety of products. We want to keep making great food that provides a connection to where it comes from and brings enjoyment to those who eat it. At the end of the day, if we can bring people together for a nice meal and great conversation, then we’ve done our job.
Expo West booth: 2784