Good times flow at Rome olive oil company

Published Oct 13, 2018 at 4:10pm

Fresh off the best quarter in its history for selling lines of olive oil and related products, Rome-based Sovena USA Inc. is looking to boost employment by about 9 percent and continue its business growth at Griffiss park.

The 1 Olive Grove St. company aims to hire about 15 employees to join its 170-person workforce, about 95 percent of whom are at its 300,000-square-foot facility where it receives, tests, and packages products sold to foodservice, retail and industrial markets. Its other employees are sales representatives in the U.S.

It is “certainly, exciting moments to join the Sovena team,” Sovena USA Inc. Managing Director Jorge Pena said Thursday. He cited “putting enormous focus and resources not only to ensure we keep fueling the growth that we are seeing today but to accelerate it significantly....”

The company, whose roots date back to 1991, for the first time sold more than 8 million gallons of oil in one quarter for the three months that ended on Sept. 30. It surpassed the previous record of 7.5 million gallons for the same quarter in 2017, said Vice President of Operations Frank J. Talarico, Jr. In addition, the company is on track for 2018 full-year record sales surpassing more than 30 million gallons for the first time.

Founded in 1991 as the East Coast Olive Oil Corporation in Utica, 80 percent of the company was acquired by the Portugal-based Sovena Group in 2005. In 2007 it was renamed Sovena USA and moved to Griffiss in a larger facility, while in 2009 Sovena Group acquired the other 20 percent that was still held by East Coast Olive Oil.

Regarding why sales have surpassed budgeted estimates and demand is up for Sovena USA product lines, Pena said the “most decisive factor” is “our people.” Its diverse workforce, including from various countries, includes a number of employees from the company’s earliest years. Pena said employees’ overall commitment and continuous seeking of “excellence to serve our clients in everything we do is what explains the results we are achieving.”

This is reflected in industry awards received by Sovena USA, said Pena. For example, the company’s olive oil recently was recognized with the highest distinction, a gold medal, in the Mario Solinas competition organized by the International Olive Council (IOC); Pena likened it to the “Oscars of olive oil.” In addition, he said the Sysco food service distribution company last year named Sovena USA its Gold Award winner for its Grocery & Commodities Supplier Excellence Awards ahead of such companies as Pepsico and General Mills.

In addition to olive oil, among other Sovena USA lines are vegetable, canola, avocado and sunflower oils plus others. Olive oil comes to the Rome facility from sources including Sovena Group groves overseas such as in Portugal, plus other oils come from various suppliers.

The company’s largest sales volume is in the food service business, including selling to distributors that supply restaurants. Next is its retail segment, including several private-label names for various large retail chains. In addition, its own brands include Olivari, sold in such stores as Walmart, Hannaford, Sam’s and BJ’s, plus Gem which also is sold in Walmart. Its smallest sales segment, industrial, involves food manufacturer clients who use the oil as ingredients.

Sovena USA is “looking to hire staff in all areas,” said Director of Human Resources David Winberg. Among new employees sought are positions for line operators, oil operators, warehouse, quality control, maintenance, and in the office for finance or sales, said Pena.

At its Griffiss park site, Sovena USA has nine production lines that enable it to pack various formats. The purity and integrity of the oils it receives are tested in an on-site IOC-certified lab, said Pena; he said of the testing, “we take it very, very seriously.” The bottles containing the oils also are made at the facility, through a third-party agreement.

Sovena USA has about 12 percent of the total U.S. olive oil market, Pena said. He noted company efforts to add to that share plus encourage more U.S. consumption of olive oil, emphasizing its healthy aspects including as an anti-oxidant and non-saturated fat.

The company is planning more local outreach efforts, including contacting the Rome school district regarding potential part-time employment opportunities for students. Also, Pena said Rome students could be invited to see the on-site test lab in terms of its science applications, or Sovena USA representatives could come to school regarding that topic.

Another outreach effort involves discussions with some local doctors about “why olive oil is good for you,” Pena commented.

Overall, Pena said “it has always been exciting to be part of the Sovena USA project, but now it is definitely more than ever.”