Flight Of Fancy
A family tradition quickly takes flight with a little help from its packaging friends
Featuring upscale, authentic Italian dishes, white-glove service, and a setting that includes Grottescostyle painted ceilings and live piano during most meals, Il Capriccio Ristorante in Whippany, N.J. has been a local fine-dining favorite for more than 35 years.
On any given evening at Il Capriccio, second-generation owner and executive chef Natale Grande warmly greets his patrons with a smile and handshake, calling them by name as he stops at the tables just as his father did—and sometimes still does—so that every guest feels like family.
Naturally then, when the enterprising chef Grande started looking at ways to expand the business, he was struck by the idea of offering some of his family’s recipes in settings outside of the flagship restaurant.
When his mother asked him what dishes he thought would be popular to sell at retail or online, Grande answered with one of his own childhood favorites: the meatballs.
Handed down by generations and perfected in his kitchens at the restaurant and at home, this was the recipe he knew by heart. The challenge became how to package those meatballs in sauce so that in addition to tasting like they were fresh off of the stove, they were easy to ship, store, and heat in a home kitchen.
At first, Grande cooked and packaged meatballs in small quantities at the restaurant, which he started selling in one location, his family’s gourmet shop, La Famiglia Gourmet in East Hanover, a few miles away from Il Capriccio.
In only a matter of weeks, however, he couldn’t keep them in stock as they were literally “flying off the shelves,” at which point The Flying Meatballs brand and its signature logo was born.
After visiting a restaurant trade show and making an investment in some packaging equipment, the company’s equipment supplier suggested for Natale Grande to reach out to Sealed Air Corporation for help with package design and access to the company’s CRYOVAC brand food packaging materials.
New business development manager Steve Daca and Account Manager Sherri Schall soon met with Grande one afternoon at the restaurant, carefully listening to his vision for The Flying Meatballs brand.Daca and Schall immediately started homing in on package performance needs like thermalization, durability, filling, transit, storage, and retail impact.
They offered Grande access to resources like Sealed Air’s creative and design teams and training courses at the company’s Packforum research facilities, so he could learn more about package thermalization.
They also visited The Flying Meatballs packaging plant to understand more about the floor layout and equipment Natale had purchased. Together they came up with a plan that allowed The Flying Meatballs to really start gaining momentum, with resources most small businesses simply can’t afford at start-up.
Over the past several years, The Flying Meatballs package has changed a few times, making modifications along the way to account for growing demand and a larger, more diverse supply chain.
Current packaging features a sous-vide flexible pouch placed into a pre-made ovenable tray, all surrounded by a printed, recyclable paperboard sleeve featuring the company’s iconic logo of a meatball with wings.
Now available in five different flavors, The Flying Meatballs product line continues to grow, with distribution expanding from the family store to local specialty retailers, then to regional retailers and now to national grocery chains, several sell-out appearances on the QVC shopping channel, and their new online direct-to-consumer store.
Using the knowledge gained as part of the process, the company now has secured more new business and invested in more packaging equipment to serve as a co-packer for several well-known brands of hot dogs and gourmet ready-meals for one of the most prominent DTC (direct-to-consumer) meat brands in the U.S.