How frozen pizza giant Palermo’s plans to grow Funky Fresh spring rolls into a national brand.

Funky Fresh Spring Rolls owner, TrueMan McGee (left) and Palermo's director of business development, Jasper Fallucca, with an assortment of McGee’s Funky Fresh Spring Rolls at Palermo's headquarters on West Canal Street in Milwaukee on Wednesday, July 26, 2023.

You might not see a lot of parallels between frozen pepperoni pizza and healthy spring rolls, but it somehow works at Funky Villa.

That’s the name of the unusual partnership between frozen pizza giant Palermo’s and the creator of Funky Fresh Spring rolls.

The catalyst for this combination came in 2017 when Giacomo and Jasper Fallucca of Palermo’s Pizza met TrueMan McGee the owner of Funky Fresh Spring Rolls at a food and beverage event.

Giacomo Falluca recognized himself — and his family’s business roots — in McGee’s approach to growing his small spring roll business which operated from the Sherman Phoenix and was found at various farmers markets and online.

Falluca’s parents were entrepreneurs and started with a bakery in 1964, that became a pizzeria in 1969. A local grocery store owner was impressed by Palermo’s pizza and encouraged the Fallucca family to join the frozen food business.

Today, Palermo’s fills grocery stores frozen food sections with multiple brands and pizza choices, and employs hundreds in the Menomonee River Valley.

Funky Fresh helps diversify Palermo’s product mix

Recently, Palermo’s has been interested in expanding into healthy handheld snacks. The Fallucas determined that Funky Fresh fit the bill – it’s a product with room for growth and a large social media following.

Palermo’s invested in Funky Fresh and is a majority stakeholder in the business, a move that comes with significant marketing and product development muscle.

“As the partnership continues, we are exploring new product lines and areas for growth,” said Jasper Fallucca, director of business development at Palermo.

“Funky Fresh is the brand. But there’s no reason why we can’t do Funky Fresh, this or Funky Fresh that,” he said. “We can do a bowl, we can do a burrito, we can do burgers — you can do anything you really want.”

Rolls started with healthy options in mind

In 2013 McGee was laid off from work in construction, and while he was a wrestling coach he decided to become a healthier version of himself. He created a concoction of sweet potato and black bean nicely rolled up into a traditional spring roll.

“I just always believed that this was the second act of my story, where things are starting to get good,” McGee said.

Usually spring rolls are deep fried, however Funky Fresh products are a healthier alternative that can be cooked in an air fryer, or in a pan with a little olive oil. The wrapping of the rolls has the same texture as a crepe but still achieves the crunchiness of a conventional spring roll.

It is perfect for snacking and eating on the go. They sell for $9.99 for a pack of four. For both Fallucca and McGee it was important that the product remain healthy but also accessible.

McGee started selling his products door to door and participated in farmers markets and festivals throughout the city. In 2018 he opened his own shop at Sherman Phoenix where he offered his products. In May of this year, thanks to the Palermo partnership, McGee had decided to expand to convenience stores and left the Sherman Phoenix.

More:Funky Fresh Spring Rolls is leaving Sherman Phoenix so its founder can focus on making the business a national brand

The rolls are now made at Palermo’s headquarters. The recipe for the spring rolls is the same and the brand is focused on four core flavors: buffalo chicken and kale, chicken and broccoli mushroom and chicken club. There is also a vegetarian option of black bean and sweet potato.

For McGee it was very important that the ingredient quality be the same.

Funky Fresh products can now be found in Milwaukee area stores such as Sendik’s, Outpost Natural Foods, Festival Foods, Woodman’s and Piggly Wiggly.

Funky Fresh also plans to be in school cafeterias and universities. Palermo’s plans expand the brand nationwide.

Palermo’s has been expanding its products with new healthy options like min-calzones, gluten free pizza and the Primo Thin line, a pizza with lower calories and carbs.

An assortment of TrueMan McGee’s Funky Fresh Spring Rolls at Palermo's headquarters on West Canal Street in Milwaukee on Wednesday, July 26, 2023.

Fallucca and McGee believe that frozen foods can be healthy and practical.

“Why can’t we make a breakfast bowl that is clean and healthy and easy? Or why can’t we make a spring roll that, you know, after school, a mom comes home wants to give their kid a quick snack that’s also healthy. Why can’t they just put this in an air fryer? Leave it, come back 10 minutes later and have a product ready?” said Jasper Fallucca.

Funky Fresh is continuously expanding and testing new flavor combinations and products.

“We’re currently doing like 150 store tests where we’re doing demos, getting sales, but also getting feedback and talking directly to customers and seeing exactly what the customer wants,” McGee said.

“We will then continue to build relationships with grocery stores and expand from there.”

Fernanda Galan, Journal Sentinel

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