Baldo Dattolo, president and chief executive officer, Anthony & Sons Bakery, Denville, NJ, believes the company’s passion for innovation is its greatest strength. The R&D and quality assurance team is a dedicated group of people that specialize in new product development. Baldo Dattolo doesn’t want to keep customers waiting for their prototypes or for quality to slip. 

For every new product, Anthony & Sons starts by doing its homework, relying on market research to confirm that demand is there, but the instincts for good food are strong in this family. Vinny Di Bella, Baldo’s brother-in-law, serves as vice president of manufacturing, with Baldo’s cousins Phil Dattolo as general manager and Anthony Dattolo serving as director of production, making this truly a family endeavor.

“A customer can give us a product and ask us to replicate it, and within a day, Vinny typically can deliver a prototype,” Baldo Dattolo said. “We also rely on our Italian heritage a lot. Our family is really into food. We love the creativity part, and that runs through everything we do.” 

New products start upstairs in the R&D lab, and when they’re ready for a test run in the store, the company’s corporate chef will work with the product to see what he can do. The bakery café serves as a proving ground for new products.

The avocado bread was the brainchild of both Ben Rizzitello II, vice president, sales and marketing, and Baldo Dattolo. Avocado toast has been consistently on the rise since it was likely introduced in the 1990s. The highly customizable dish can be served at any daypart, as a meal or as a snack, lending to its staying power. Even today, Rizzitello saw that market research showed avocado on multigrain bread was continuing to grow 5% to 10%, and he saw an opportunity. Rizzitello thought, “Why not add the avocado directly into the bread?”

At first, Baldo Dattolo was hesitant. The bakery already had so much going on, but when he noticed his wife enjoyed avocado toast every morning for breakfast, he agreed. 

“I knew it had to stand out though from our regular lineup, so I created the brand, The Avocado Bread Co.,” he said. 

Formulating the bread for the right amount of avocado, texture, flavor and color took about three months, which Baldo Dattolo said was a bit long for the R&D team. The bread provided the team with several challenges. 

“The trick to formulating the bread was keying in on the right amount of avocado because the healthy fats in the avocado make the bread’s texture soft,” Baldo Dattolo said. “And then to make it different, Ben thought it would be a good idea to add the guacamole spice, so our product development team created a custom mix of the right spices.” 

Rizzitello noted that as the first avocado bread to market, the signature flavor has set the standard for future copycats. 

“The flavor makes the product unique, and because we’re the first company to come out with it, we’ve established the flavor profile,” he said. 

The first product to launch was a 24-oz loaf of sliced bread that contains 21 grams of whole grains per slice. It’s vegan, kosher, clean label and was formulated to be certified with the Plant-Based Project. 

Inventing something unlike anything else on the shelf invigorated Anthony & Sons. 

“We’ve been baking for 40 years, and we developed something completely new,” Baldo Dattolo said. “It brought new energy into our company. And it’s created traffic in the plant. We had five tractor trailers leave in one day. We’ve gotten into 5,000 retail stores in one-and-a-half years.” 

With that kind of reception, Anthony & Sons is expanding The Avocado Bread Co. to include bagels and ciabatta sandwich rolls. The products join the current lineup of sliced bread, dinner rolls and a take-and-bake baguette. 

“We developed the avocado line extensions by thinking about what would go well with avocados,” Baldo Dattolo said. “Sliced bread and bagels were obvious, and then we developed the ciabatta bun to be a natural fit for burgers with our foodservice customers, which that side of the business we’re hoping to grow.” 

Rizzitello pointed out that they also looked to different eating occasions and customer needs when extending the avocado bread line. 

“When we came out with the sliced breads, we were gearing toward the avocado toast for breakfast, but then we were marketing toward how many dayparts could the sliced bread be used in,” he explained. “Then for a bread basket, we thought the dinner rolls would work, and then our retail customers started using them for sliders. Once we started developing our take-and-bake program, we thought it would be nice to include an avocado bread for the fall season. And now we’re rolling out the bagel and ciabatta bun not just for retail but foodservice as well.”

After years of focusing on the in-store bakery customer, Anthony & Sons is ready to turn its attention back to growing its foodservice business but with a focus on frozen rather than fresh delivery. The bakery will be bringing The Avocado Bread Co. to the National Restaurant Association show for the first time. 

“Chefs love the creativity of the avocado bread,” Rizzitello said. 

In addition to the 5,000 retail stores and recent international expansion into Mexico and Turks and Caicos Islands, The Avocado Bread Co. has been picked up by four major foodservice distributors. Chefs interested in incorporating the new products into their menus will have a supply waiting for them.  

While The Avocado Bread Co. may be Anthony & Sons’ current crown jewel, it’s not the only new product line the baking company has up its sleeve. It saw consumer demand for artisan Italian-style take-and-bake bread and decided to bring its frozen bread expertise to the consumer level. The company developed the Italian Classic line, which will also make its debut at IDDBA. The bread is baked about 85% before being frozen and packaged for consumers to take home and bake in the oven for 5 to 8 minutes. 

“Users just have to crisp up the crust with our product,” Rizzitello said. “Most take-and-bake products can feel heavy, but ours feels a lot lighter due to the open-cell structure.”

This open-cell structure is thanks to the high-hydration dough and the fact that it is fermented for 2 hours on the production floor, Baldo Dattolo explained. 

The Italian Classic line features the standbys like Italian bread as well as statement varieties like Italian Bread with Everything Seasoning, Rosemary Olive Oil, Sourdough Filoni, Sesame Semolina and a four-pack Focaccia. 

The demand seen in the sales data, both actual and projected, led Anthony & Sons to invest in production so the capacity will be there to support sales.