A focus on top-shelf quality and specialty produce with an Italian flair makes Russo’s worth the journey.
Originally printed in the September 2022 issue of Produce Business.
For over 15 years, Russo Gourmet Foods & Market in Wyomissing, PA, has been providing superb Italian gourmet food and high quality perishables to its surrounding area in southeast Pennsylvania. The market, located just northwest of Philadelphia, has become a staple for the immediate community, but also a destination for those farther away.
“Our store philosophy is to bring a little piece of Italy to the middle of nowhere,” says Michael Cirandine, general manager. “We’ve become a specialty destination since we import a vast line of specialty grocery products direct from Italy. The store provides a nice outlet for people from across the Northeast to come visit us, even as far as Boston and Washington, D.C.”
The store derives its roots from a wholesale business. “Previous to the Grande family ownership, the store was actually a cash and carry business run from the front of the wholesale building,” says Cirandine. “In 2007, we decided to revamp the little retail store that was here. Since then we’ve remodeled to really cater to imported Italian specialties as well as high quality produce.”
The company still operates a wholesale division that supplies other small businesses and restaurants.
The retail store is about 10,000 square feet with a dedicated produce section of 1,000 square feet. “Produce accounts for about 15% of sales,” says Cirandine. “We have a couple thousand items on the shelves in the market and we probably have close to 90 to 100 items in produce.”
The store is known for quality produce, with a bar set very high by demanding consumers. “We are located in Wyomissing Township, which is one of the nicest townships in our area,” says Cirandine. “We have a lot of hard-working people who like good food. Our quality standards are top shelf. We don’t take any seconds for our market.”
To ensure the best customer experience, the produce manager inspects the produce on-site every morning. “We maintain the highest standards of quality control,” says Cirandine. “We test the fruit, we cut it open and we taste it. It has to be worth the money. We’re not the cheapest, but our customers know when they buy from us, it’s good.”
The market’s goal is to provide a high-end, specialty experience for customers. “We want to give them something they can’t get somewhere else,” says Cirandine. “We have some produce just for convenience, but our goal is to bring in specialty produce items as well. For example, we always have a Sicilian-style eggplant and have Italian zucchini on the shelf.”
Marketing is done principally via word-of-mouth and social media. Cirandine’s wife, Sabrina, handles the store’s social media accounts. “During COVID, our social media was especially important because people were depending on our posts to see what was available that day,” says Cirandine.
On entering the market, the shopper travels a path leading into produce. “The first thing you see when you come in the front door are various imported Italian products we’re highlighting,” says Cirandine. “As you walk into the store, you pass an area with hand-painted porcelain items from the Amalfi coast especially made for Russo Foods and Market and selected every year by Sabrina.”
After you pass a bakery items corner, then you enter the produce area.
The objective of the department is to showcase the quality of the product. Three refrigerated cases, each approximately 8 feet long, line the side of the department, and there is a dry table to display non-refrigerated produce items.
The store also promotes via stand-alone displays at the market entrance. The prominent spot in the foyer of the entrance is used to call out items such as local tomatoes, Italian radicchio, persimmons or cactus pears, says Cirandine.
The department keeps the same locations for most products to make shopping easier, however, it makes adjustments for efficiency or seasonality, says Cirandine. “For example, we recently changed the slotting of where we keep the melons and bananas.”
PARTNERING FOR THE BEST
The store sources from regional wholesalers and also the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market. “Some of our top suppliers include Primo Produce, Four Seasons and John Vena,” says Cirandine. “We source from John Vena because we really want the unique items — we especially love the specialty melons. We also source from local growers around Lancaster for items such as tomatoes, zucchini, peaches and corn.”
Taste and quality are the main criteria for Russo’s produce. “It has to be the highest quality and flavor,” says Cirandine. “We don’t change due to price, we change due to quality. Price for me is my third criteria when sourcing. Quality, delivery time and price is how I classify. Service is also important because that’s what I give my customers as a wholesaler.”
Cirandine says the store’s market share has grown because of its focus on quality product. “We like to partner with quality sources and brands who give us the best product,” he says. “That is our success.”
Russo Gourmet Foods & Market Inc.
1150 Bern Road, Wyomissing, PA 19610
Tel: (610) 898-1918
Monday through Friday: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sat: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.