A growing staple of unique, fresh sausages allows this local processor to grow his business while satisfying traditional die-hard customers and consumers.
Uncle Charley’s Sausage Co., Vandergrift. PA
Plant size: 18,000 square feet
Employees: Approximately 40
Regional distribution: Western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, northern West Virginia, and parts of Maryland.
Uncle Charley’s Sausage Co., founded in 1988, started operations by producing about 2,000 pounds a week of fresh sausage, and it has since grown about 20 percent annually. The company brought linked sausage (called “grillers”) into the region, and they became a hit for the summer grilling season.
How did you develop name recognition for your company?
Charles Armitage, president: We just started to make very good product. I tried to make product like most other people, which is made out of trimmings or whatever. It was very cutthroat; you couldn’t grow, and it was difficult to make any money. So I thought I would go over to the other side, where there was less competition, and I started making the best product I could make. The next thing you know, we got a local chain and started making their private label for them. That really gave us a boost in volume.
Of the products you make, what do you consider your specialty?
CA: When I first started, everything we made was either ropes or bulk, and it was all packaged in 10-pound boxes. Then I was in Milwaukee, and I saw these links that are about 5-1/2 inches long, and I brought those back to the Pittsburgh market. We make these grillers, and that’s probably our biggest-selling item. We have around 10 or 12 flavors, including a hot Italian, a sweet Italian, a hot with pepper and onions, a sweet with pepper and onions, a Mexican with jalapeños, and we have a fresh kolbassi. We also make 4-ounce sandwich patties now, and that’s a big thing for us.
Any flavor that people want, you can make. It’s not that difficult. The problem is making a new flavor and then getting it to sell. It’s very expensive to bring a new product on.
How do you introduce and promote a new product?
CA: We mostly do DSD (direct store delivery). We have people that we get along with, and they’ve been customers for years.
We say, “We’ve got this [new product], and we want you to try it. How about taking a box or two and giving it a whirl?” They do it, and it starts moving, and we start running ads when we see there’s some demand for it.
What I like about this business is that you can grow the business by running these ads and by getting these people to sell the items. This helps the retailer, and it helps Uncle Charley’s Co.
What makes your sausages stand out from the competition?
CA: Most of the companies that try to ship very far sell frozen [sausages], and it’s understandable. Fresh sausage is something that has a time limit on it. We happen to get a very good and long shelf life. We don’t use preservatives, but we keep it super clean. We buy a very clean meat to begin with, and we keep it very clean and very cold.
We sell ours all-fresh refrigerated, never frozen. We try to make a really great-looking product.
We make a very pretty product that’s got good color. The packaging and labeling is very good. The whole thing is very attractive, and it’s priced fairly. It’s not cheap, and it’s not expensive — it’s just fairly priced.
And, the taste is very good. We went for the good looks and the good taste. The good looks will get you to try it, and the good taste will bring you back.