Angelo Caputo’s Fresh Markets knows offering customers fresh choices at great prices satisfies the sweet tooth, and the bottom line.

Angelo Caputo's Fresh Markets knows offering customers fresh choices at great prices satisfies the sweet tooth, and the bottom line.

By Crystal Lindell

Associate Editor

From the outside, the Naperville, Ill.-based Angelo Caputo’s Fresh Market could almost be mistaken for just another big box grocer. But any customer, who steps through the automatic doors, realizes immediately that this store is different.

Consumers are greeted with produce right in the entry way, and after they get past the incredible selection of fruits and vegetables that includes things like pummelo, kumato tomatoes and persimmons they likely start to realize exactly how much choice the store has to offer.

At Caputo’s you’ll find more than 200 different types of olive oils, as many as 50 types and shapes of pasta, hundreds of cheeses, and of course, enough candy to fill a room - literally. With about 300 private label SKUs alone, the confectionery offerings do not disappoint.

At the Naperville store, an entire room is filled with rows and rows of the private-label confections, while piles of nuts overflow through the center section. There’s English toffee, chocolate stars, sponge candy, coconut hay stacks, chocolate rocks, pecans, Brazil nuts and walnuts.

Meanwhile, the store also offers an extensive selection of brand name treats. For example, at the front end, there’s the traditional Snicker’s bars and Nestle Crunch, but there’s also Ferrero, Lindt, and La Florentine on display.

“We just want to take care of that customer and make sure that we offer what they traditionally or nontraditionally look for in a normal supermarket, that’s not available to them,” explains Sam Fantauzzo, director of operations. “We go out of our way to find that product for them, whatever it may be.”

The philosophy stands in contrast to many of the national retailers, which have been focusing on reducing product offerings.

“Where the major chains are scaling back and not offering different selections or different sizes or different products, we go out of our way to listen to our customers and make sure they have what they’re looking for,” he says.

The chain was founded by Angelo Caputo, who opened his first store in 1958 in Elmwood Park, Ill., at the corner of Harlem and Wrightwood. Known as “Caputo’s New Farm Produce and Italian Specialties,” Fantauzzo says it was a very small, fresh market concept that specialized in fresh produce, with meat and deli sections soon following.

While Angelo remains involved in the business, his daughter and son-in-law took over a few years ago. Antonella Caputo Presta, serves as president, while her husband Robertino Presta, is ceo.

The two oversee six Chicago area stores - ranging from 30,000 sq. ft., to 65,000 sq. ft. - as well as a warehouse in Addison, Ill.

The company still specializes in perishable items, which includes daily deliveries to each store with their own fleet of trucks. In fact, the grocer even still relies on some of the same family farms Angelo first reached out to when he started the company.

And, while the confections aren’t made from scratch, the grocer does offer a wide selection of fresh bakery items. The store’s glass displays show off monachine, cheese cake slices topped with strawberries, pizza de ricotta and three types of cannolis.

Of course, nobody would come do their major shopping at a store like Caputo’s if the prices weren’t right. Fantauzzo says. Hence, offering inexpensive items is always a top priority.

“Angelo’s philosophy has always been to buy in greater volume. And the focus is, we don’t want to sell just 10 cases of something, we want to sell 100 or 1,000,” he explains. “We work very closely with lower margins and the idea is to purchase greater volume and offer that to the consumer for a significant savings.”

It’s that kind of dedication that has helped Caputo’s thrive during the recession.

“People have genuinely become more informed shoppers,” Fantauzzo says. “And here, when a shopper has done their homework, and shopped the organic and some of the high-end items, food for instance, and is able to come here and shop the exact items at a huge savings, they easily make some good decisions on what their purchases are going to be.”

Another tool Caputo’s turns to for offering competitive prices is its private label line, La Bella Romana. The brand, named for Angelo’s late wife Romana who passed away in 2004, offers spices, nuts, pastas, sauces, and, of course, confections.

“The main goal with the private label and offering that bulk pack is the huge savings from the traditional offerings. It’s pretty significant,” Fantauzzo says. “You’re able to [offer what] normally would probably cost you double or triple.”

This is especially true with the private label candies - sourced through both domestic and international manufacturers, they’re packaged in clear containers and sealed with La Bella Romana labels. Success has come naturally to that category, and over the last four years, the company has gone from offering about 80 private label confections to more than 300.

“I’m always looking for new items, old traditional items and nostalgic items,” says Nat Caputo, director of special projects. “And if I see it’s something that people are asking for, I’ll bring it back.”

Fantauzzo says the success of the private label candy is partly because of the recent recession.

“It’s a perceived value, and it is an actual value,” he says. “The shopper comes in, does their normal shopping and this is an addition to that, where they can bring home a treat or several treats for their family and save some money doing it.”

The grocer also offers grab-and-go containers of the private label confections, to spur more impulse purchases. However, Nat Caputo says he doesn’t usually stock seasonal bulk candies.

“As far as bringing in the red, white and greens for Christmas and the blues and the pinks for Easter, I kind of try to stay away from that only because it only sells for that one month,” he explains.

Of course, brand name items also entice customers throughout the store’s many aisles – especially the international products.

“We [dedicate] pretty much an aisle to each, be it Middle Eastern, be it Polish, be it German,” explains Fantauzzo. “We like to consider ourselves a one-stop shop for just about everybody, whatever part of the world they come from.”

While most of the candy is near the front end, or carefully scattered around the store, the Polish aisle has its own special selection of confectionery treats. Mamba, Milka, Napolitanke and Jezyki line the shelves, offering a taste of Poland in the Chicago suburbs.

The company’s staff, including Angelo Caputo, work with suppliers in Europe to source some of the offerings.

“He likes to find unique items that we can bring into this market place,” Fantauzzo says.

It’s a constant balance though to find the right product offerings, at the right price points, especially when it comes to the wide selection of perishables. Fantauzzo says managers at the store level and buyers constantly work to find the inventory sweet spot.

As for the future, the company is looking to expand into a new warehouse, and also to open a new store location. And, as long as Caputo’s continues to be able to cater to customer’s needs without raising prices, there’s no doubt the store will not only continue to thrive, but also satisfy.

“Obviously we can’t be everything for everybody, but certainly, we try to be,” Fantauzzo says.

That they do.

At a Glance

Angelo Caputo’s Fresh Markets
Founder: Angelo Caputo, who in 1958 opened “Caputo’s New Farm Produce and Italian Specialties,” in Elmwood Park, Ill.
Current leadership: Antonella Caputo Presta, president, and husband Robertino Presta, ceo
Private-Label Confections: 300
Locations: Caputos has six stores near Chicago, including: Addison, Bloomingdale, Elmwood Park, Hanover Park, Naperville-Plainfield and South Elgin.