Piccola Cucina, the Winnipeg traditional Italian macaroon cookie company, is on a roll.

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This article was published 3/6/2015 (2334 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Piccola Cucina, the Winnipeg traditional Italian macaroon cookie company, is on a roll.

This week, it was named by Food in Canada magazine as one of the 10 Canadian food companies to watch.

On Tuesday, Pina Romolo, the daughter half of the mother-and-daughter team who own the business, was on her way to the St. Vital Red River Co-op grocery store to set up an in-store demonstration.

She was also carrying product to resupply the store with more almond, almond-chocolate, pistachio-almond and lemon-lavender macaroons after solid sales in its first month on the shelves of the four Red River Co-operative stores in Winnipeg.

"It is a super recognition," she said referring to the Food in Canada nod. "It is humbling. But we have to stay focused. We are still a long way from our goals."

Piccola Cucina has been in business since 2009, when Romolo's mother, Anita, decided to start a biscotti business after she was laid off from a job.

Pina Romolo was living in Calgary at the time, managing a business-development team for a voice-over IP telecommunications company.

Then she, too, was laid off and moved back to Winnipeg to work with her mother.

They soon realized there was a lot of competition for biscotti, but they had their own family recipe for macaroons and gave that a shot.

With help from the Food Development Centre in Portage la Prairie, they also have the only almond-flour, gluten-free pie crust on the market.

Romolo said company sales tripled last year. New packaging and pricing were launched in the fall, and now it's being featured by a national trade publication as well as being given in-store space for demonstrations and shelf space in large, well-positioned grocery stores.

"It's one thing to get on the shelf; it's another thing to get into the customers' basket," Romolo said.

"If you are a brand that's not recognized, or if people don't know or have never tried your product, the experts say they have to see it five to eight times before they remember it. That's why in-store demonstrations are really important to build awareness."

Piccola Cucina -- which means small kitchen in Italian -- as well as about 19 other local food manufacturers had their path onto the Red River Co-op shelves smoothed with the help of the Manitoba Food Processors Association (MFPA) and its Buy Manitoba program.

The Buy Manitoba program was pioneered about four years ago with product and special signage in Canada Safeway stores.

Red River Co-op launched the initiative as part of its first anniversary in the Manitoba grocery business with valuable end-cap shelf space and distinct Buy Manitoba signage.

Todd McNaughton, the food-division manager at Red River Co-operative Ltd., said, "It's a good program. It fits with us perfectly. It's going very well. We're hearing lots of good comments and reactions from the vendors and customers and even our employees. Everyone's talking about it."

Dave Shambrock of the MFPA said Red River has been great to work with.

"They're really pushing local product," he said.

"They want to be known as the store of choice for local product, and so far things are really working out, not just with Piccola Cucina but the others as well."

John Graham, a spokesman for Safeway and Sobeys in Manitoba, said they have done research that shows Manitobans want to buy local, especially when it is of comparable price and quality and identifiable it is locally produced.

Shambrock said growing companies have to get the right orders from the right stores so they can grow in an orderly way.

Romolo sees her artisanal product as a bit of a specialty and knows it's not the cheapest treat on the shelves, but she's thrilled to have the chance to let more people in on her family's macaroon recipes.

She's already in some specialty stores such as DeLuca's and has distribution with DeLuca Brothers. And she said Piccola Cucina's production capacity has plenty of room for growth, so she has no problem taking on more orders.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Martin Cash

Martin Cash
Reporter

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

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