Helping a specialty food business expand to meet growing demand

Jun 30, 2010

In 2009, Peter Thom, President of Mona Lisa Food Products, Inc., had a problem that most entrepreneurs would welcome. His business, which manufactures dozens of specialty chocolate items used by pastry chefs in high-end restaurants and bakeries, was growing rapidly, partly due to growing demand for his products in Europe. The factory and warehouse in Hendersonville, North Carolina wasn’t large enough to efficiently manage the orders that were coming in from food shows in the U.S. and abroad.

A pastry chef himself, Thom had started Mona Lisa Food Products, Inc. at his kitchen table in Salinas, California, in 1987, based on a single creation—a chocolate cup shaped and striped like a tulip. Since that start over twenty years ago, Thom’s business had seen steady growth as he built out his product lines to include chocolate decorations, such as the chocolate curls, spoons and dessert cups that grace pastry chefs’ more exotic creations. Due to year-over-year growth, the company relocated its headquarters to business-friendly North Carolina and started distribution from three warehouses—in Hendersonville, San Francisco and the Netherlands. And this year, the company is making a foray into a new distribution channel—supermarkets—with products packaged for the consumer market.

“We have worked closely with Mona Lisa Food Products, Inc., since 1994. However, it was in 2008, through our strategic annual relationship review process that I learned about the international growth plans for the company,” said Andy Nadeau, Senior Client Manager, Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “We were able to help connect Mona Lisa Food Products, Inc., to the resources they needed in London to support their expanding overseas and European distribution.” When Thom was faced with the need for expansion, Mr. Nadeau assembled a team to do the analysis and put together the financing options for the Hendersonville factory and warehouse expansion. At that point, Thom says, “It was no longer a want but a need.”

Bank of America is the sole lender on the deal, and Mona Lisa Food Products, Inc., received $1.1 million in construction-to-permanent loans. Today, the new warehouse facility is under construction. When complete, it will double the existing space—adding 18,000 square feet of storage and shipping facilities—and streamline operations.

David Darnell, president of Global Commercial Banking at Bank of America, said, “We are deeply committed to American small and medium-sized businesses. We are working hard to make every good loan we can and to increase our spending with small, medium and diverse suppliers, two ingredients that are necessary for these businesses—and our economy—to sustain their growth trajectory.”

As one of Hendersonville’s fastest-growing businesses, the company’s growth has set opportunities in motion, strengthening the local economy, improving the business climate and creating a more vibrant community. Since the company’s relocation to North Carolina in the 1990s, many local businesses have benefited, including those that were involved in constructing the factory and those that produce shipping materials, such as palettes and custom packaging that cushions chocolates for shipping. As Thom puts it, “As Mona Lisa Food Products has grown, it has created opportunities for many other companies that provide services to us.”

Mona Lisa is just one example of Bank of America’s ongoing commitment to small and medium-sized businesses across the U.S. In the second quarter of this year, we loaned $26 billion to those businesses, bringing the total for the first half of the year to more than $45 billion, nearly $9 billion more than the same period last year.

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