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After a year, Brandon is panning out for Olivia’s Croutons

BRANDON — The sweet aroma of fresh bread sprinkled with garlic and Italian spices surrounds the area around Olivia’s Crouton factory like a comfortable blanket. Inside, three industrial-size ovens are hot and ready while hundreds of pounds of croutons are being seasoned, packaged and readied for shipping.
Francie Williams Caccavo, founder and CEO of Olivia’s Croutons, says most people around Brandon probably know the story of Olivia’s Croutons; after all, it’s written on every box she ships out to stores.
But in case a few don’t know, here’s the skinny: She named the company after her daughter when she started making croutons in her kitchen in 1991 at their home in Bristol. The croutons were so popular that she expanded — first into a barn in New Haven, then into manufacturing space in Middlebury. And expand again, last year, into a 45,000-square-foot facility in Brandon next door to the Neshobe Elementary School on Route 73. It is their fourth location since the first loaf of bread was baked.
Olivia’s makes between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds of conventional bread a day and 800 to 1,200 pounds of gluten-free bread. They package and ship large bags of croutons to fast-casual restaurants, single-serve packages used in school cafeterias, and boxes for sale in grocery stores across the country.
Caccavo admits that Vermont is not the most centrally located place for shipping croutons all over the country, but Vermont’s brand is helpful in many other ways. Plus, the Caccavos have long lived in the New Haven area, and they are committed to being here and making it work. As for distribution, Olivia’s has deals with distributors in Texas and California to help reach those parts of the country.
In the Brandon location, Caccavo wanted a space that would give her company future options to grow, at a price it could afford. The goal, she said, is simple: “Just make a lot more croutons.”
With the new Brandon facility, Caccavo says she has been able to bring research and development on new products and recipes under one roof, and she also works with other companies to help them create food products if it is a good match with what Olivia’s does. They produce some croutons for other private labels and are currently considering working with a company that does food products with seeds.
“We’ve had things that we’ve had to say no to, because it just wasn’t right for us,” Caccavo said.
Cookies, is one example of a partnership she has turned down, but other foods that require large kitchens with roasters, drying and packaging could find a good match at Olivia’s Brandon facility.
“What we’ve found is that there aren’t that many of us making croutons around the country,” Caccavo explained. “There are a couple really big companies, and a bunch of small, boutique operations making croutons in their kitchens, but there aren’t many operations in that mid-level niche” with all the permitting and requirements needed for a spotless kitchen facility.
“That’s created an opening for us,” she said, adding it’s “partly how we hope to expand the business.”
MAKING A CROUTON
Olivia’s employs about 15 area residents who work 8-hour-shifts except during stuffing season, which is a very busy time for them, when the employees work about 12 hours a day. They have a separate kitchen for the gluten-free products.
The dough is made from all-natural ingredients right there in the kitchen before it is baked, cut, seasoned and baked again to make a crouton. A final product will lose 30 percent of its original weight between the bread and crouton stage. It is seasoned by hand in a giant mixer. Soon some of the seasoning and baking will become automated.
Caccavo says they will soon open a new production line that will take her products continuously from the bread stage to the finished package without ever coming off the line. They have had the equipment ready to go for several months, but making stuffing for Thanksgiving is always such a busy time for them that they had to delay installation.
OLIVIA’S CROUTONS USES this main kitchen in the 47,000-square-foot former Tucel building off Route 73 in Brandon for baking the bread and toasting the croutons in their namesake product.
Independent photo/Angelo Lynn
In the year since Caccavo moved Olivia’s into the old Tucel building, Brandon Economic Development Officer Bill Moore, who helped bring Olivia’s to town, says that Caccavo and Olivia’s are great community neighbors.
“They are a fantastic success story,” Moore said.
Caccavo took an old, existing building and fixed it up using the town’s revolving loans and tax stabilization plan, Moore said. That plan holds the municipal tax rate steady for a period of years depending on the amount of renovations done, Moore explained. He said Olivia’s is the kind of company every town wants to have.
“They are engaged, involved community members,” Moore said. “They pay their taxes, make wonderful donations to charitable causes around town, and put the Brandon brand out there with their nationwide crouton sales. You couldn’t ask for a better business to have in town.”
Besides, he said, instead of worrying about a business putting pollutants in the air, it “smells delicious” when you drive by.

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