By Staff Writer
Brothers Mark and Chris Tosi’s 140-year-old business, Pastene Co. of Canton, a fifth generation business, sells high-quality Italian food products that generations of families have used in their kitchens
QUINCY – Brothers Mark and Chris Tosi don’t always see eye to eye. “Mark might not agree with me on this, but I’m most proud of the fact that our company came out of a very difficult, deep period of debt,” said Chris Tosi, a resident of Milton, who references financial baggage he and his brother had to deal with when they acquired their business, Pastene Co., from their siblings in 1987.
“For me, I’m most proud that we have a consumer that’s been following us for generations,” said Mark, a Boston-based restaurateur and Cohasset resident.
Despite their differing perspectives, both brothers agree that the quality of their business’s products matter most.
Pastene Co., recognized by its vibrant yellow and red product labeling, offers a premium packaged food line found in grocery stores and restaurants.
“Most of our competition is going after the private label business. They’re not trying to get the real quality tomato, like us. Other tomatoes are watery, acidic and just not good,” said Mark.
Pastene’s 200 products also include beans, bread crumbs, condiments, fish products, gourmet vegetables, cheese, oil and vinegar, olives, pasta, peppers and sauces, but the tomatoes remain its most recognized product.
The business, which celebrates its 140th anniversary this year, is headquartered in a 50,000-square-foot office and warehouse distribution center in Canton. There is also a similarly structured center in Montreal.
One hundred people are employed in the Canton and Montreal locations, which include administration, sales, warehouse and distribution, and trucking staff.
As fifth-generation owners, Mark and Chris pride their privately-held business on providing authentic Italian products, including the business’s most popular Kitchen Ready Tomatoes, to generations of families – primarily in the Northeast.
Pastene obtains its Kitchen Ready Tomatoes from northern California farms and imports most of its other products, including San Marzano tomatoes, from Italy.
All of the items, including the tomatoes, are produced and packaged by external vendors.
The bulk of the company’s products are sold in major chain and independent supermarkets. They range in price from around $1 to $6.
Large chain supermarkets, like Stop & Shop and Hannaford, display Pastene products in either their pasta or ethnic specialty food aisles.
Like many other “born in New England” products, like Prince spaghetti, Marshmallow Fluff and Necco Wafers, Pastene is more than just a food line. The products are integral parts of many families’ histories. Generations of families have used Pastene tomatoes to make “sauce” or “gravy,” — depending on what part of Italy ancestors emigrated from – recipes shared include the brand of tomatoes ‘nonna’ used.
“Pastene pulls people together,” said Mark, whose two restaurants located in Boston’s Leather District, Les Zygomates and Bel Ari, showcase Pastene products in their menus.
Pastene Co. history began when Luigi Pastene, an Italian immigrant, started selling produce from a pushcart in Boston’s North End in 1848. Twenty five years later, Luigi’s son, Pietro, helped him establish Pastene as a company, which sold groceries and produce to small stores throughout the Northeast.
In the early 1900s, Pastene Co. established distribution and packing facilities throughout the Northeast, Havana and Italy.
Then in 1936, the Tosis, Pastene family’s cousins, acquired the business.
Not much has changed over the years, said both Chris and Mark. The products’ labeling and recipes have stayed the same because they’ve proved to be successful in the marketplace.
“We’ve maintained market share over time primarily because of the quality of our products, which has created consumer loyalty,” said Chris.
There’s competition, though. Bertolli, De Cecco and Mancini stand out as the market’s prominent players, said Mark.
“We don’t worry about our competition. I encourage our customers to try our competition, but they’ll come back to us,” said Mark.
“Virtually all of our competitors don’t even try to be in our quality category because it’s not cost-effective for them,” said Chris.
Pastene’s and its competitors tomatoes, sauces and pastas are generally equally priced at local supermarkets. A 28 oz. can of Pastene Kitchen Ready Tomatoes costs $1.99 in most supermarkets. Cans of Redpack and Tuttorosso tomatoes cost the same.
Despite the longevity and consistency of sales, Pastene Co. is not a national company. Mark and Chris believe that’s been a major factor in the business’s success.
“We probably wouldn’t be able to produce the quality we have if we were supplying the whole United States and Canada. It would be too much volume and we wouldn’t be able to source the tomatoes from farmers,” said Mark.
In addition to the business’s direct-shipping-to-supermarkets model, it has about 12 distributors in the U.S and 12 in Canada.
Pastene continues to receive buyout offers, yet Mark and Chris remain committed to keeping it in the family.
“We don’t want to let it go. We’re fifth generation. Chris has three children, I have three children. Hopefully one of them will follow in our footsteps.”