Elite Sweets Brands Inc.: Unique Treats Done Naturally

Alfonzo Criminisi and Alberto Tari founded Elite Sweets Brands Inc. (ESB) in 1990 as a small, basement-mentality cake and pastry business. “We both came from the meat industry,” says Criminisi, president of ESB, who still operates the business in partnership with Tari. “We were co-workers at a large meat processor and we began to sell some pastry items made by Alberto’s Italian relatives on the side. We imported pastries and canolis, keeping them in freezers in the garage. Soon we started finding more customers. One thing led to another and we moved into the pastry business.”

Criminisi is proud to note that the pastry business worked out well. “When we started to grow, we both wanted to create products using the same philosophy, championing food safety, quality and innovation of new products,” he says. “We have a basis in tradition, using our own fillings and methods without using preservatives.”

Today ESB operates out of one main facility in Brampton, Ontario, with production and storage, as well as three warehouses in the United States for distribution to customers there. “This is our third year in our new facility,” Criminisi notes. “We have 35,000 square feet of operations with 12 loading bays and approximately 8,000 square feet of freezer space. All of our processing is state-of-the-art. We’ve built with proper sloping and drainage as well as insulated panels and temperature controlled processing areas. For sanitation, the entire facility gets a complete wash-down each day.”

Building a Product Line with Purpose

Criminisi and his team built a business out of making tasty dessert products for retail sale out of real food. “Our freezer is our preservative,” Criminisi explains. “When it comes to the quality of products, we base our business on never using artificial ingredients. Real cream and real chocolate make the best desserts possible. We do cakes, pastries and boxed retail products from dessert cups to scoop-and-serve desserts. We’re also a large co-packer.”

The company’s preference for fresh, whole ingredients comes partially from Criminisi and Tari’s experience in the meat industry. “Our products are BRC-certified, which is the new standard,” says Criminisi. “That is very important, to give the consumer a safer way to eat. As a manufacturer, it weeds out the bad operators that cannot guarantee the quality of their products.”

It is evident that Criminisi expects much more from ESB. “The example I use is how a person can feel like a million bucks today, but you finish a meal and a few days later you don’t feel quite right,” he continues. “Coming out of the meat industry into the dessert industry, it was a bit of a rude awakening, I know in meat there were inspectors all over, but in the baked goods industry not many people have an in-house lab testing products for any contaminants. The lab is a peaceful way for us all to go home and sleep at night.”

A Recipe for Growth

In 2015, the company will celebrate 25 years in business. Criminisi and Tari do not expect to slow down, as ESB continues to grow and evolve with markets, making adjustments to maintain a leading position in the industry. “Economically, our region is pretty consistent,” Criminisi explains. “For Europe they’re falling into a deep recession, so it’s shaky. The United States is slowly holding their own and recovering. Canada is fairly consistent, people are buying more and compared to the rest of the world, we’re doing fine. If you based it on the attitude of our biggest customers, all the talk was about lower cost, but not much happened here because we weren’t part of it. All the big players are in massive expansion mode, so we’re optimistic. We will be fine and we will grow.”

The business has faced its own internal challenges, as well, working diligently to streamline and increase margins. “Before we moved into our new location, we had two other facilities that we were working out of,” says Criminisi. “They were too small for our needs. We realized that to be more profitable, having double the overhead was not cost effective. Now everything is under one roof. We were able to renovate this building and be as creative as we wanted.”

The move was not completely smooth, and ESB incurred costs for moving and upgrading the new location. “The bills we accumulated from the new facility were a big challenge,” Criminisi elaborates. “Digging out concrete from under the building for drainage and sanitation blew the budget out of the water, so we’re in a recovery period. But, our strength is increasing every day and every year, just as fast as we want it, if not faster. We have an influx of requests out of the United States. Corporate chains want to expand their product lines. We have only dealt with retail over the years, and now we have the opportunity to expand more product lines to play in the foodservice industry.”

As the business grows, Criminisi and his team are starting new initiatives. “We’ve started a gluten-free program,” he says. “We’re making the move properly, with all the right certifications. We’re revamping our cake line this year. We also continue our 10 years as the licensed, trademarked Cadbury dessert manufacturer for Canada.” The ESB team has embraced diversification, a quality that will help Elite Sweets Brands Inc. continue to grow as a market leader in a sweet, sweet business.