Ontario firm enjoys Angels link
04:32 PM PDT on Friday, July 2, 2010
By TIFFANY RAY
The Dodgers have their dogs. Now, the Angels have their sausages. Over the past dozen years, the Anaheim team has built considerable cachet with a renovated stadium, a Rally Monkey, a World Series title and, most recently, a string of winning seasons. Now, it is lending its big-league name to a line of Angels-branded sausages that have hit grocery stores just in time for the summer grilling season. The sausages, which are being distributed in partnership with the Ontario-based Villa Roma Sausage Co., already are available in Southern California Albertsons and Costco stores, and more chains are likely to follow.
“We’re hoping this could take off and rival the blue dog up north,” said Richard McClemmy, vice president of corporate sales for Angels Baseball LP. He said the sausages are the first Angels grocery store item, though they’re not likely to be the last. “You can keep your eyes open for other products down the line,” he said.
For longtime sausage-maker Edward Lopes, founder of Villa Roma, the Angels deal is a new, high-profile line of business, and a lot of fun. “Most red-blooded American boys are baseball fans,” Lopes said, and he is no exception. “It’s like a gene; it’s just there.”
A Bay Area native, Lopes grew up following the Giants in the days of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal, his boyhood idols. He got his start in the meat industry at age 16, unloading boxes and sweeping floors part time for a San Francisco company. He worked his way into an apprentice meat-cutter program and was a journeyman meat cutter by the time he was 20.
After several years in the Air Force in the early 1970s, Lopes relocated to Vernon, where he became vice president and general manager for the McCoy Meat Co.
Lopes founded Villa Roma in 1987 in Monterey Park and later moved the business to Ontario, where each week, the company’s 30 employees produce 50 tons of sausage — that’s 100,000 pounds — for the likes of Trader Joe’s, Albertsons and other major chains in California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii.
Last year, Lopes struck a deal with the Angels to provide hot Italian Halo Grillers, Rally Brats and other sausage sandwiches loaded with fixings through Villa Roma food carts and other locations around Angel Stadium of Anaheim. McClemmy said in-stadium sausage sales are “way up” since Villa Roma came in.
Co-branded links featuring the Villa Roma name and the Angels “A” began appearing in stores in May in the hope of extending that success beyond the ballpark. To get the word out to shoppers, they plan to enlist Angels catcher Mike Napoli to record a string of radio ads for the sausages.
John Eaton, clinical associate professor of marketing for Arizona State University, said people have an emotional connection to sports, so branding a product with the name of a team or a player is a way to tap into that emotion. “I think that there’s some powerful momentum for doing that for both the sausage brand and for the Angels,” he said.
Such branding efforts are typically local, Eaton said, and they are more likely to be successful if there is a credible connection between the product and the team. Sausage might seem like a stretch at first glance, but they are sold in the stadium, so that “connects people to an experience they’ve had.”
Already, Lopes said grocery sales are greater than he’d anticipated. He recently delivered the first check for the Angels’ royalties.
Partnering with the Angels has other perks, too. Lopes and his general manager, John Brown, grilled 600 sausages for fans during a Father’s Day event at the stadium and got a chance to toss a ball around on the field. Lopes said he jumped to make a catch against the right-field wall while Brown snapped his picture. The Villa Roma logo was behind him.
“It’s right field, it’s Angels Stadium, it’s the Villa Roma logo … It doesn’t get any better than that,” he said.
Most people have heard the old saying about the murky making of laws and sausages, but Lopes insists — at least where sausages are concerned — it’s just not true. To prove it, he has put a video on the Villa Roma website where visitors can watch the production process. “I’m proud of the plant,” he said.
Riverside resident Michelle Grotness and her husband, Tim, munched on a Halo Griller while they took in the final game of the recent Angels-Dodgers rivalry. “It’s nice to have something a little bit different,” she said.
But Grotness said she’s not a die-hard Angels fan, so the team name alone isn’t enough to persuade her to buy something. “I buy it because I like it,” Grotness said. “That it has the Angels on it, that’s just a perk.”