In March 2020, Joe Formisano, founder of Huddersfield-based DeliVita, was in New Orleans. The time was 4am and he was speaking to his office manager as the world was beginning to shut down.
“All of our orders virtually got cancelled overnight,” he says. “We’d produced a hundred odd ovens already for these clients and they went ‘sorry guys, the country is shutting down, we’re not buying any more stock’.”
Fast forward a couple of weeks and the sun shone in more ways than one on the wood-fired ovens business.
Mr Formisano said: “We managed to turn it around and sell all the stock online within two weeks.
“We sold direct to consumers and the few retailers that were active enough with their websites also really started benefitting from this outdoor living trend. We were blessed with amazing weather. People’s priorities changed during the pandemic with a greater emphasis being put on family time and getting away from screens.
“They’ve recognised that family is important and spending time with friends and family is probably more of a priority than it has ever been,” Mr Formisano says.
The portability of DeliVita’s ovens allows users to place them in the middle of a table and enjoy cooking food with the family.
Attitudes towards cooking have also changed with many now looking to make their own meals and experiment.
DeliVita has developed a recipe book and also created virtual cookery classes that run once a month. Mr Formisano said: “I think they have found a new hobby, which is developing and creating food and having fun with friends and family.”
He added: “The ambition for DeliVita has always been to bring people together. That has always been our philosophy.
“Rather than being stuck in front of a phone and looking at social media, we wanted to bring these old traditions back, which is as a family we sit around a table and talk. I genuinely believe this pandemic has regenerated those old principles again.”
DeliVita has seen its sales double from just below £1m in 2020 to over £2m this year. It has had to up production by 1,200 per cent in the last 24 months. The business is also increasing staff headcount from five to 14.
In addition to selling ovens, DeliVita also has a few subsidiaries. One is a catering business, which has had to be “parked” as a result of the pandemic. The other is Dough to Go.
Mr Formisano said: “We developed the dough to work with our ovens. Dough To Go is vegan and it’s 100 per cent organic.
“ We do six different varieties of dough. We do normal dough, we do sourdough, we do charcoal activated, we do turmeric, we do wholegrain and we do spirulina.
“They can be frozen upto 12 months. They can just beautifully hand stretch these doughs out. Over Covid we sold something like 30,000 dough balls direct to consumers.”
The ovens are made in Yorkshire by a company in Pudsey and a company in Keighley. Mr Formisano says that they are eco-friendly, getting up to temperature efficiently, retaining heat and needing only a few pieces of wood to light.
DeliVita sells into around 17 different countries across the world. It was helped by the “indecisiveness over what to expect” with Brexit.
“Brexit has really helped us, bizarrely enough,” Mr Formisano said. “What it has allowed us to do is focus on other continents than Europe.”
He added: “What’s really interesting is the recognition of ‘made in Yorkshire’. They absolutely love the fact that it is made in the UK.”
The business is now re-engaging with distributors and clients in Europe as well.
Fast forward 18 months from that day in New Orleans, Mr Formisano and DeliVita is back on the road. He recently just came back from a designer show in Paris and has a busy schedule.
Mr Formisano has also recently graduated from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses UK programme.
One of the strengths of the business is the fact that it has broad spectrum of clients. It works with everyone from the likes of department store John Lewis to kitchen companies.
“The spectrum is really wide.” Mr Formisano says. “We’re lucky that it’s quite a versatile segmentation for what you can actually do with it and who you can sell to.”
The ovens have also been snapped up by some Michelin star restaurants, he adds.
While it may not have seemed likely in the initial days of the pandemic, it has helped DeliVita with its aim of bringing friends and family together.
Fired up for an alternative
Prior to establishing DeliVita, Joe Formisano was working as a vice president for Shark Ninja. He spent four years developing the ovens in his shed after his wife had bought him a traditional clay wood-fired oven.
Mr Formisano said that while the oven was “beautiful”, it was not the most efficient and ate through a lot of wood.
Eventually the oven fell apart as it wasn’t used frequently enough. It led to Mr Formisano “having a bit of a bee in my bonnet”.
He launched DeliVita in December 2016 after deciding to quit his job at Shark Ninja.
“I was at Shark Ninja, travelling all the time with no family time,” Mr Formisano says.
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