Issue Spring 12
Virtually everybody in America knows about the Philly steak, but the legends of the genre don’t always get their due. One such company is Astra Foods, which has grown up in the heart of Philly steak country and today resides in a 100,000-square-foot facility on five acres in Upper Darby, Pa. The company manufactures high-quality Philly-style beef and chicken steaks and distributes its products to international, regional and local food chains and distributors.
Founded in 1978 by Greek-born immigrants Demos Vasiliou and Spiros Poulimenos, the success of Astra Foods is an illustration of the American Dream. Vasiliou and Poulimenos came to the United States as students and still own and operate the company today. They grew Astra Foods from a small startup family company into one of the top meat manufacturing facilities in the United States after putting their business and engineering educational backgrounds to good use.
“The core of our people have been working for us for a long time,” Poulimenos says.
Known for Quality
Throughout its existence, Astra Foods has earned a reputation that spreads far beyond Philadelphia. It is considered among the leading names within its niche. Part of this is because of its first-class facility, which is outfitted to meet all sanitation requirements and USDA regulations, which ensures the quality, safety and consistency of its food.
Indeed, quality control is one of its top concerns. The Astra Foods facility is equipped with state-of-the-art hand print scanners at facility entrances and high-tech security cameras, both of which are a key part of controlling security risks. Inspection stations and metal detection technology on its production line help to ensure that hazardous non-food particles are kept out of its products.
Today, the company manufactures pre-portioned, ready-to-cook and fully cooked beef and chicken products. Sales come through foodservice distributors who then sell the products to retail operators and through chain businesses. The customer base for the company’s foodservice and distributor sales includes everything from pizzerias, schools, restaurants, universities and diners to stadiums, cafeterias, military bases and healthcare facilities.
“We’ve always done foodservice, and we specialize in fast-food chains,” Vasiliou says. “We also cater to private-label and special-formula customers where we tailor our products to customer needs as far as flavor profiles go. We also do special products for retail customers like supermarket chains.”
Understanding customer needs and providing exceptional quality, service and affordability are defining characteristics for Astra Foods. It is how the company has established so many successful relationships with distributors and why its products are seen by many as the gold standard for Philly-style beef and chicken steaks.
“Day in and day out, we strive to provide the customer with the best product and the best service at the best price,” Vasiliou says. “That approach has worked for us, and unlike others, we won’t downgrade our product quality just because of the economy. We are known for consistent quality.”
In its manufacturing process, Astra Foods utilizes fresh, lean steer beef and 100 percent all-white chicken breast. Its raw beef and chicken products are available in an array of marinated or non-marinated options. The company’s product lines include raw beef steaks, pre-cooked beef steaks, raw chicken steaks and pre-cooked chicken steaks.
“When it comes to fully cooked products, I think we can safely say that we produce more than any other Philly steak facility in the country,” Poulimenos says. “We are the only one as of now that has introduced the high-pressure processing equipment into our process.”
Investing in high-pressure processing, or HPP, equipment is incredibly important to ensuring quality and safety of its products. This is especially important in an era when high-profile food scares and recalls have threatened industries and toppled companies.
The HPP equipment uses pressure to kill food-borne pathogens and other harmful microorganisms without introducing heat or chemicals in the process. Similar pieces of equipment are used by organizations such as Hormel and Cargill for lunchmeats.
For about the last three years, the company has been working with Avure Technologies, the company that sold and services Astra’s HPP machines. Avure has been a global leader in applying high-pressure technology to industrial and consumer goods manufacturing for half a century.
“No other Philly steak manufacturer has this equipment,” Vasiliou says. “We invested in this because it helps us and our customers sleep better at night knowing that it is ensuring the quality and safety of our products.”
Astra Foods is proud of the fact that it is a pioneer within its niche because it invested in the HPP equipment, which Vasiliou says is the most significant investment the company has ever made. He says it is a revolutionary piece of equipment that is responsive to an environment in today’s marketplace where safety and quality of food is of paramount importance.
In 2012, the company plans to take steps to go green. It is introducing new energy-efficient machinery and a fat recovery system that will help the environment. This will help improve the energy efficiency of its manufacturing process on the front-end while also reducing or reusing waste on the back-end.
The company has already seen its fair share of success, but more opportunities for growth await it in the future. Astra Foods sees opportunity to expand in the retail space and by keeping current customers happy by living up to its “best product and best service at the best price” mantra.
There can also be no denying the cheesesteak’s popularity. “The product has the potential to be as popular as the hamburger,” Poulimenos says. “The potential for growth and demand for the product is great.”
“We use only domestic, fresh product, and we do not import beef from any other part of the world,” Vasiliou adds. “We only use the best ingredients, and we believe we have the best quality Philly steak in the entire country.”