Alfonzo Criminisi – Elite Sweets Brands Inc.
There’s no faking the taste and texture of an authentic Italian dessert. That, at least, is the opinion of Elite Sweets Inc., which says it brings the flavor and quality of grandma’s delicious chocolate almond tortetufo, white raspberry cheesecake and other classic treats to the freezer aisle.
The Brampton, Ontario, Canada-based company makes and distributes frozen and fresh desserts, including cakes, cheesecakes, cookies, fruit tarts and an award-winning tiramisu. Elite Sweets also provides ingredients and dessert items for many private labels and is the trademarked Cadbury dessert manufacturer for Canada.
President Alfonzo Criminisi, who founded Elite Sweets Inc. with Alberto Tari in 1990, says the company’s goal has always been to provide customers with additive-free desserts. This means that synthetic additives such as hydrogenated oils and inferior fillers—like nitrates and gelatin—never make it into their products.
Criminisi and Tari say they are honoring their Italian heritage by using real cream, chocolate and sugar in all of their products. Their company also employs European-style baking and preparation techniques.
This commitment to authenticity is why Elite Sweets desserts are sold in restaurants, grocery stores and cafes across Canada and the United States. The company’s semi-finished products, such as unfilled cannoli, tart shells and cream puffs are also popular with banquet halls and customers looking to create their own dessert masterpieces. More recently, the company launched a health and wellness line that includes raw cocoa and coconut products and breakfast bars.
“We understand what this industry is looking for, and we always judge our success on the result of our products and not just the bottom line,” Criminisi says.
A secret ingredient: safety
Criminisi and Tari learned this “recipe for success,” as they call it, after spending 15 years in the meat industry. While most people might not see any similarities between a well-cut flank steak and triple chocolate mousse cake, Criminisi explains that both foods rely on the same three components.
“Food safety, quality and value never change, no matter what people are selling,” he says.
So when the pair began selling pastries as a side business in the late ‘80s, they were careful to source from the highest quality vendors in Italy.
Today, that same commitment to quality can be found in the company’s 35,000-square-foot operating facility in Brampton, which maintains some of the highest food safety standards in the industry.
Elite Sweets was one of the first dessert manufacturers in Canada to receive a British Retail Consortium (BRC) Global Standard for Food Safety Certification. As the leading brand and consumer protection organization, BRC is as close to a guarantee of quality and consumer safety as can be achieved in the food industry, and was the first to be recognized by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), the harmonizing force behind global food safety standards.
On top of this tight safety net, Elite Sweets uses internationally recognized Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) to identify potential safety concerns and control them at every stage of the process.
Criminisi says HACCP gives the company traceability on every single cake and pastry that leaves its state-of-the-art processing plant, ensuring customer safety and satisfaction.
Desserts around the world
These certifications have put Elite Sweets in a prime position for expansion.
The company’s research and development team is constantly working directly with family restaurants, cafes and hotels to help craft seasonal dessert menus. In the past year, Elite Sweets launched a brand new line of red velvet and carrot cakes.
By introducing more desserts, Criminisi hopes to accommodate more food service businesses, including those in new markets in Asia and the Middle East.
“Every day is a challenge to find new ways to grow, and the only way we are able to do that is having a great team that comes together and works as one,” he says.
In Criminisi’s mind, this is the only way the company is able to provide the best product. He, Tari and the rest of the management staff have worked hard to cultivate a team atmosphere among the company’s 75 employees.
But this buy-in has never been too difficult because the company’s products are truly delicious, Criminisi says. They appreciate the fact that Elite Sweets never cuts corners when it comes to ingredients, and “it’s what makes our desserts the best in town.”
However, Criminisi’s commitment to quality is also driven by a more personal goal. “If my kids ever wanted to run a food processing plant and carry on the family tradition, then I want to build something that they can be proud of,” he says.
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