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Thursday, November 4, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Oberto Links With Frito-Lay

Seattle Times Business Reporter

Oh Boy! Oberto beef and turkey jerky, longtime Northwest favorites, are poised to expand into the rest of North America under an agreement Kent-based Oberto Sausage signed today with Frito-Lay, the U.S. snack-food leader.

The agreement makes Frito-Lay the exclusive distributor of the natural-style jerky to more than 400,000 stores across the United States and Canada, beginning soon after the first of the year.

The arrangement will make Oberto the "first national jerky company," said company President Tom Campanile, and will help the private, family-owned company founded in 1918 by Constantino Oberto to stay independent.

The expanded market is expected to generate substantial growth at Oberto, where sales topped $100 million last year.

Sales growth is expected to double in the next 18 months for the products Frito-Lay will distribute, Campanile said.

He also expects employment to expand. Oberto has more than 800 workers, with 500 in the Seattle area. Four production centers - two in South Seattle, one in Kent and another in Albany, Ore. - are large enough to handle the anticipated growth, Campanile said.

His company talked with Frito-Lay for about a year but had been gearing up its factories for expansion for some time, Campanile said. Hiring of about 100 workers already is under way at Kent.

A six-month market test with Frito-Lay conducted earlier this year in the Dallas area produced nearly three times the sales anticipated, leading the company to go ahead with the North American expansion, Campanile said.

The high-protein jerky has the potential to become a big player because it fits many health-conscious diets, he said.

The jerky is made by blending spices with lean cuts of meat. Products to be distributed by Frito-Lay include hickory-smoked, peppered and teriyaki beef jerky, plus teriyaki turkey, original and peppered turkey jerky.

Oberto sees the distribution agreement as a natural fit with the salty snack products of Frito-Lay, a division of PepsiCo based in Plano, Texas.

Oberto already has distribution agreements with Costco, Kmart, Wal-Mart and Sam's Club, but that distribution has been mainly in the West, Campanile said.

Art Oberto, company chairman and son of the founder, said that with Frito-Lay's 15,000 delivery routes to grocery and convenience stores, "Everyone in the country will get a chance to try our jerky."

Oberto's brokers and distributors will continue to distribute the Oberto Classic line of thin-style jerky and sausage products, such as salami, pepperoni and refrigerated lunch meats, as well as Lowrey's, Denver Dan and SmokeCraft brands.

Polly Lane's phone message number is 206-464-2149. Her e-mail address is: plane@seattletimes.com

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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