Vol. 127 - NO. 39

Blog Startup CPG

SINCE 2019

Founder Friday Feature:
Francesca Pittaluga of Ciao Pappy

This Women’s History Month, Startup CPG is proud to partner with Settle for a month of Female Founder Fridays! Settle is thrilled to continue their partnership with Startup CPG to elevate female founders. With a mission to power the CPG economy with financial tools, Settle levels the financing gap for female-founded brands with Settle Working Capital. Settle aims to empower women founders scaling their businesses in order to influx more women perspectives, inclusive brands and goods into the consumer ecosystem.

How Francesca Pittaluga is introducing the world to “Italifornia™” with Ciao Pappy and her line of modern pantry staples

Ciao Pappy founder Francesca Pittaluga was taught from a young age to appreciate good, fresh food by her Dad (aka Pappy). She says, “I’m a first-generation Italian-American. My dad moved from Genova, Italy, to the United States in his 30s, and he was the head chef in our household.” Over the years, Francesca’s Dad has been compiling his almost 250 recipes, which Francesca started turning into a family cookbook during COVID. Around the same time, Francesca explains, “My husband, Matt, and I decided to give my childhood marinara sauce — our secret family recipe — as gifts to friends and family for the holidays.” With their friends and family clamoring for more, Francesca realized their ‘secret family recipe’ didn’t need to be quite so secret. She and and her husband decided it was time to bring their marinara sauce to the masses, and set about creating their modern pantry staple brand, Ciao Pappy.

Ciao Pappy incorporates both Francesca’s Italian heritage and her life in California, drawing inspiration from the California coastline and the Italian Riviera in their recipes, packaging, and brand aesthetic. “If you’re on the West Coast, there isn’t a ton of Italian culture, but they share very similar landscapes and a slower-paced life, so we wanted to draw parallels between these two beautiful and special places.”

In bringing these places together, they’ve created an entirely new concept, “Italifornia™,” with each label proudly stating, “Welcome to Italifornia™.”  She explains, “I’ve spent a lot of my life between Italy and the United States. It’s a big part of who I am, and [Ciao Pappy] represents that.”

From homemade recipes to package-able products

With a background in the luxury fashion industry, Francesca came in blind to CPG. She says, “I did not know where to start. I watched YouTube videos, went to workshops, and asked anyone I could if they knew someone who had a friend of a friend in the industry.” Before starting Ciao Pappy, Francesca had been accepted to an MBA program at UCLA, but she decided to dive head-first into her brand instead. “I thought, ‘I may as well go straight into business boot camp.’ I’m resourceful and scrappy, so we’ve been bootstrapped since day one. We’ve grown the brand independently, sourced our own partners, collaborators, co-packers, and have hand-sold jars, one by one. There is no playbook or instruction manual for launching a CPG product, so we found our way forward, step by step.”

Ciao Pappy officially launched in 2022 with two of Francesca’s family recipes: The Marinara Classico, a traditional tomato basil garlic, and The Marinara Alla Pappy, their secret family recipe, which includes the unique addition of sour cream. Adding to their portfolio of sauces, Ciao Pappy also launched their Creamy Calabrian last fall, a first-to-market flavor. Francesca says, “Calabrian chilies are a big food trend for 2024 and 2025, so we’re ahead of the game there. And we’re working on launching our fourth flavor this summer, which will be completely brand new to the space. It’s going to have a bit more California than Italian influence.”

Focusing on their own backyard first

In their first year of business, Ciao Pappy focused on distribution in California and the West Coast. “We’ve always believed in nurturing our backyard first. We are fortunate to be in Los Angeles where there is an active food scene, well-respected gourmet retail marketplaces, and a discerning customer who values taste and clean labels. As a result, we’ve been very active in the community. Last year alone, we did around 100 events, including in-store sampling, pop-ups, brand partnerships, and events at the Hollywood Farmers Market.”

“We spent our first year learning about our customers: hand-selling jars, getting feedback, building customer loyalty, and growing relationships with our retail partners. A huge part of our success has been showing our investment in the community. The early start-up learnings have allowed us to be more strategic, and we can now confidently use investor money efficiently as we start fundraising this year. We’re on the slow and steady growth path, but we believe it will create lasting brand longevity. California is also the third largest economy in the whole world, so there is so much potential at our fingertips. We want to carve out a strong presence in our home state, and we’re doing that bit by bit and jar by jar.”

In Los Angeles, Ciao Pappy is carried in stores such as Goop, Farmshop, and Gjusta Grocer, but their reach has already expanded beyond Los Angeles alone. Francesca says, “We’ve opened 150 stockists nationwide and about 80 locations in California. They’re mostly specialty and independent grocers, which have been our biggest advocates with the most discerning customers. We are told by sales associates that they tell customers, ‘This is not your typical jarred sauce. Just try it.’ And we’ve found that, once [someone] tries the sauce, we create a loyal customer.”

Why their customers love Ciao Pappy

Francesca has been consistently blown away by the reactions she hears from customers. She says, “If the response were iffy, we probably wouldn’t be doing this, but out of every ten in-store samples we pass out, we probably sell seven or eight jars — that’s a pretty good conversion! We have less than six core ingredients, so we let the quality of the ingredients speak for themselves. We don’t use any paste, concentrates, tomato blends, or added sugar, which is rare in the category. People always say they’re impressed with how home-cooked [Ciao Pappy] tastes.”  Francesca explains that the home-cooked taste of Ciao Pappy also helps justify their higher price point. She says, “You can simply open, heat it, and add to your dish, whereas, with some brands, you need to doctor the sauce just for the taste to be palatable. Today’s consumer wants convenience but still expects great taste and prioritizes a clean label. We saw an opportunity to elevate a dated category in flavor and quality while introducing a fresh story.”

What’s more, Francesca says, “We are manufactured in California and use California-sourced ingredients. We know our farms use sustainable practices, and we have a lower carbon footprint by sourcing locally. [Ciao Pappy] is truly a small-batch, artisanal, and local product. Our customers love that about us.”

Making her Dad a part of Ciao Pappy’s mission

On a more personal level, Ciao Pappy has also become a way for Francesca to stay connected to her Father, who moved back to Italy 14 years ago. She explains, “Food has been, first and foremost, a way for us to stay connected. He has been involved in helping us formulate the [Ciao Pappy] recipes, and it has been a great way for us to have a family endeavor together. Now 76, it’s given my father a new purpose and an exciting project to be a part of.”

“We also make an annual donation toward ageism, a cause rarely supported within CPG. I saw my Dad get laid off at 61 and aged out of the workforce, forcing him into early retirement. So as [Ciao Pappy] grows our team, we aim to employ 25% of our company over the age of 55. We want to create opportunities for [aging people], highlighting their value and relevance to the workplace.”

What does the future look like for Ciao Pappy?

“We had a very successful start in our first year, which was exciting and also very lucky,” Francesca explains. “With that said, it takes longer than you think to truly have a strong and viable business.’ Matt and I have accepted that long-term growth takes time and we have to be patient.”

Francesca also admits it can be hard to avoid the comparison trap in CPG. She says, “There’s so much noise and smoke and mirrors in this industry, and it’s often hard to distinguish between real success and what appears like success. You have to keep your head down and focus on your vision. I believe in what we’re doing, and I know ultimately the product will speak for itself.”

Francesca, Matt, and Pappy have their sights set on becoming the best-selling premium marinara sauce on the West Coast in the next one to two years. “Our goal is to own this marketplace and make a mark with the unique story we’re trying to tell. Our hope is to inspire people to experience California and Italy, and the beautiful qualities both places have to offer. And, of course, we want to be shared on as many dinner tables as possible.”

About Settle:

Settle gives you the best way to handle your cash flow—one designed for consumer brands that are ready to grow. With a modern AP platform designed for automating all things payments, pay vendors, and manage purchase orders and invoices – and stop paying with checks. And you can Settle now, pay later with Settle Working Capital’s founder-friendly financing, for qualifying businesses. So instead of letting your cash flow hold you back, join brands like Deux, Truvani and Olipop to confidently scale for what’s next.

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