by Kathie Canning
For Sweet Street Desserts, growth and accolades are fitting rewards for innovation and a commitment to quality.
A two-bay rented garage in Reading, Pa., might seem an unlikely birthplace for a gourmet dessert company. But it was in that very setting that former photojournalist Sandy Solmon launched Sweet Street Desserts in 1979, whipping up giant chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cake and carrot cake for convenience stores and specialty food shops.
Since those humble beginnings, Solmon has transformed Sweet Street Desserts into the largest producer of frozen gourmet desserts in the nation. As the company’s president and chief executive officer, she now oversees more than 600 employees in a modern manufacturing facility situated in Reading. These employees support a product line that boasts 400-plus varieties of decadent cakes, pies, brownies, cheesecakes, individual American and European desserts and more. The factory turns out 60,000 desserts a day. More than 750 foodservice distributors across the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia carry the company’s desserts — which sweeten countless restaurants, cafes, hotels, cruise ships and other outlets across the globe.
Solmon attributes her company’s impressive growth, in part, to accurately “predicting consumer satisfaction,” as well as to the growing tendency on the part of consumers to indulge any time of day and/or on the go. In addition, she says, as a mealtime event, dessert is all about “great taste and imagination,” so it is not as price-point sensitive as other meal elements.
But those factors comprise only the frosting in Sweet Street’s road to success — product quality and innovation make up the cake.
The company was the recipient of a Research Chefs Association’s Culinary Innovation Award in 2004 for its Chocolate Pyramid Anglaise — an elegant dessert with a soft white chocolate center surrounded by a dark chocolate mousse “pyramid” and finished with dark and white chocolate splatters. One of Sweet Street’s European-inspired offerings, the dessert is shipped frozen and individually wrapped.
Sweet Street’s Cheesecake Xangos, which feature rich, smooth “slightly tangy” cheesecake rolled in a flaky pastry tortilla, captured Cognito’s Best Foodservice New Product Award for Cheesecake in 2003.
Other recent company awards speak to stellar management. Sweet Street was named Diverse Supplier of the Year by Sodexho USA in 2003, and was selected as the Berks County, Pa., Large Manufacturer of the Year in 2004.
The uniqueness of many of the company’s products prompted Solmon to take steps to protect certain desserts from duplication by the competition.
“One of the most pivotal moments in Sweet Street’s history was the awarding of the first copyright for the design of a food product from the U.S. Copyright office,” says Solmon. “To date, Sweet Street has received more than 15 product design copyrights. No other food company has this distinction. It acknowledges us as the leader and innovator in the food industry.”
And the company continues to introduce creative new products, as well as extend its reach. In 2005, Sweet Street launched an impressive 29 products, including six new product lines. Among the new offerings are Artisan Scones — billed as “buttery, flaky and rich in tradition.” They come in blueberry, cinnamon and chocolate chip varieties. Offered in bake-off preformed pucks, the scones are shipped frozen and ready for the oven.
Also new are Artisan Cookies. Weighing in at more than 4 ounces each, these bake-off cookie pucks are shipped frozen and bake up into 5-in. gourmet delights. Varieties include Chocolate Chunk — which delivers the triple-chocolate experience of bittersweet, semisweet and Hershey’s Kisses — chewy and spicy Oatmeal Raisin Stacks, and Peanut Butter made with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
Rounding out the new product lines are Stacks, Half Dessert Bars, Half Pullman Coffee Cake Loaves, and American Individuals.
Sweet Street’s products also were introduced to France, Switzerland, Austria and Mexico this year. And Solmon, who was recently welcomed to the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation’s board of trustees, is gearing up for even more growth.
“In 2005, Sweet Street completed a 110,000-square-foot addition to its plant in Reading,” says Solmon, “as well as purchased a 50,000-square-foot contiguous property, allowing the company to better integrate its equipment and manufacturing processes and offer even faster turnaround to its customers.”
To continue to grow the business, says Solmon, Sweet Street also will be working to more fully understand its customers’ needs so the company can present them with “unanticipated” or “unimagined” opportunities.
To casual observers, Sweet Street’s journey to the top might seem like it’s been a sweet ride. But rest assured that the company’s earnings, growth and accolades are just desserts for a job very well done.
“It’s actually more of a personal challenge to our company to constantly astound the marketplace with extraordinary innovative product lines,” Solmon stresses. “Sweet Street [is committed] to creating a constantly evolving and extraordinary line of great-tasting, high-quality, cutting-edge desserts that are second to none using only the finest ingredients, including farm-fresh whole eggs, pure chocolates, fresh fruit, choice nuts and real whipping cream.”
Solmon also credits the “knowledge, commitment and longevity” of her team, which enables Sweet Street to move products at the R&D stage into production and then into distribution “seamlessly” — while efficiently managing significant growth at the same time.
“We are innovators to the core,” Solmon stresses. SF&WB