History marks select years with unilateral distinction. Consider 1945 and the conclusion World War II, closing a door on a turbulent time in our global history—and opening a new door to an exciting new time in America, marked by significant growth and prosperity over the ensuing decade.
That momentous year also marked the beginning of Rich Products Corp., based in Buffalo, NY, stemming from a groundbreaking allergen-friendly product innovation, the world’s first commercial nondairy frozen whipped topping, developed by company founder Robert E. Rich, Sr.
Now, in 2020—another pivotal year dominated by extraordinary struggles, this time stemming from a pandemic—Rich’s celebrates its 75th anniversary. This significant milestone provides an ideal opportunity to look back at Rich’s, honoring its pathway of innovation—while also looking ahead to what’s in store for Rich’s as we stand on the cusp of a new age for our global society.
A history of innovation
Rich’s launched in 1945 in tandem with its founder’s groundbreaking nondairy frozen whipped topping invention. Over the ensuing decades, the innovations would keep coming, including a frozen thaw-and-eat chocolate éclair in 1954 and the industry’s first nondairy creamer in 1959.
The 1960s saw Rich’s fully enter the bakery industry, and then revolutionize cake decorating with its Bettercreme icings in the 1970s.
A History of Innovation at Rich Products
Guest: Ray Burke, President & COO, U.S.-Canada Region, Rich Products Corp.
Snapshots through the years with Rich Products, including recent acquisitions, and celebrating Rich’s 75th anniversary.
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Then, in the 1980s, Rich’s brought more innovation to baking through its Freeze Flo technology, a process that keeps products soft at frozen temperatures, making it possible to eat a Rich’s chocolate éclair straight from the freezer—all without added stabilizers or preservatives, making Rich’s an early pioneer in the clean-label movement.
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, a steady stream of acquisitions has kept the company on a path of continual growth, most recently acquiring pizza companies Venice Bakery and Rizzuto Foods, and cookie specialists Christie Cookie Co. and Jacqueline’s Gourmet Cookies.
“The past 75 years hold incredible stories of innovation, advancement, acquisition, growth, and partnership for Rich’s,” says Ray Burke, president and chief operating officer, U.S.-Canada Region. “From ushering in the first frozen dough in the 1960s, to in 1976 acquiring what is now the No. 1 retail brand in the specialty seafood category, SeaPak, there have been many highlights and fond memories.”
Throughout the years, Rich’s has strengthened its retail branded business by adding the Farm Rich, Carvel Ice Cream Cakes, f’real, and other brands, while broadening its product portfolio with expansion in barbecue, meatballs, beverages, and milkshakes, among others, notes Burke. “From new business ventures and new acquisitions to breakthrough innovations, we’ve grown and evolved as a family-owned organization.”
Rich’s is now a $4 billion global company with significant business interests across foodservice and in-store baking, encompassing a product range that spans pizza, breads and rolls, doughnuts, cookies, toppings and icings, and cakes, as well as frozen snacks and appetizers, frozen seafood, and more.
This is a business of relationships—a fact keenly understood at Rich’s. “One thing that has remained constant for 75 years is Rich’s laser focus on our customers and cultivating strong, meaningful relationships,” says Burke. “That’s probably one of the things that sticks out the most since our inception in 1945. These partnerships have created real value for retailers and operators, and that’s incredibly rewarding to all of us at Rich’s. It’s why we do what we do.
“People are the heart of our business,” continues Burke. “We’ve become a trusted partner of so many companies around the world, providing training, ideation, and innovation, helping them to solve real business challenges and yield incredible breakthrough innovations that, in many ways, have transformed the industry. Guided by consistent and strong leadership for 75 years, we’ve helped our customers navigate transformation, industry disruption, and change.”
Our current disruption
The COVID-19 pandemic that hit the U.S. during 2020 has catalyzed unprecedented disruption of American society. “In 75 years, there has never been more-dramatic disruption in the food industry—or any industry, for that matter,” says Burke. “From different state regulations around opening and closing to differing occupancy rates, our customers have all had to pivot due to the impact of the pandemic.”
The pandemic has changed the way we eat. “COVID-19 has created a shift from away-from-home food consumption to at-home consumption,” says Burke. “Five years ago, foodservice sales surpassed retail food and beverage sales in the U.S. Almost overnight, that trend reversed due to the pandemic. With restaurants shut down and ongoing health concerns, consumers are preparing more food at home, which has caused a dramatic change to the foodservice industry.”
We’ve also seen a rapid pace of change over the past decade—with momentum cranking into overdrive over the course of 2020. “From the development of ecommerce and digital technology to IT infrastructure, what would take five years to create, now takes five months,” says Burke. “The food industry has always seen change, but this is change at warp speed.”
Rich’s had already begun traveling along a pathway of change over the past five years, says Burke. “We were already focused on many of these changes and what we needed to do as a business to respond, such as strengthening our digital investment, acquiring new platforms, investing in breakthrough innovation, enhancing ecommerce, pursuing new ventures, and acquiring new companies. This preparative work put us in a good, strong position.”
Poised for growth
Rich’s has a current focus on digital transformation, including guiding and supporting its customers in an omnichannel environment, notes Burke. Expansion will continue, as the company seeks aggressive growth through acquisition, innovation, and investment. “Whether it’s ecommerce or other digital channels, no matter where food is consumed or sold, Rich’s will be there,” he says.
“We’re investing in our associates, training, and company-wide expertise,” says Burke. “That investment empowers us to be well-positioned to prosper in this new environment. And because of the investments we’ve made over the past several years, we are positioned to emerge stronger in a post-COVID-19 world.”
Rich’s is particularly excited about the recent additions to its product portfolio, such as Cottage Bakery, which brings a reputable line of artisan breads and rolls to its customers, notes Burke. “Other recent acquisitions of Christie Cookie Co. and Jacqueline’s Gourmet Cookies have moved Rich’s into a leadership position within the cookie category.”
Strategic growth often requires internal innovation in addition to acquisitions. “We’re excited about the breakthrough innovation we continue to advance at Rich’s,” says Burke. “Whether it’s new food products or innovative digital platforms and solutions, we’re seeing incredible momentum in this space. When it comes to digital innovation, one of the elements we’re most excited about is the rapid advancement of our ecommerce capabilities. Having established new partnerships with companies like Instacart, we’re generating significant momentum with our retail partners on delivery. Ecommerce will continue to be an important area of focus for us as we move forward.”
Two major trends involving packaging and labor are also influencing the baking industry, notes Burke. Driven by COVID, as bakery moves to more takeout, delivery, and ecommerce platforms, the type of packaging used is essential to maintain product integrity and quality. These shifts include:
- Tamper-resistant packaging designs. Driven by COVID-19, consumers want every assurance that nobody has tampered with their food, while on a store shelf or when out for delivery.
- Smaller packaging sizes. As family and social gatherings are smaller due to pandemic-related restrictions, Rich’s has redesigned its packaging accordingly so it better accommodates smaller portions while helping prevent food waste. Cakes, for example, are now available packaged in smaller sizes to address these smaller gatherings.
“Additionally, as the labor shortage continues to impact the food industry, we’re seeing an increase in demand for further-finished products,” says Burke. “Skilled labor is not as widely available as it once was, so “one-step” and retail-ready products are needed to help provide customer-centric solutions.” These types of products can help operators remove labor steps while maintaining the freshness, integrity, and quality of the product.
Innovation is the lifeblood of the Rich’s organization, notes Burke. “It’s what we were founded on back in 1945, and it continues to fuel our business today.” Some recent breakthrough innovations include:
- Rich’s plant-based pizza. According to Nielson research, 51 percent of consumers are trying to eat more plant-based foods. That trend has infiltrated the pizza category. Rich’s has introduced a diverse line of easy-to-prepare plant-based pizza doughs, crusts, and flatbreads, including gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, and keto-friendly options.
- Rich’s oat milk soft serve. Keeping on the plant-based food trend, Rich’s recently introduced a creamy, delicious, plant-based alternative to traditional dairy ice cream. Made with premium oat milk derived from whole-grain oats, sugar, and sunflower oil, the soft serve is a great option for forward-thinking consumers who care about their health and the environment.
- Rich’s dessert whips. Made with high-quality, authentic ingredients, like real cream cheese, Rich’s new dessert whips come ready-to-use in a pastry bag and make it simple for pastry chefs of all skill levels to execute beautiful applications. They’re indulgent, with flavors like chocolate and cheesecake.
“Rich’s is more than just a job,” says Burke. “It’s a place where you can build a purposeful life. Rich’s company purpose is to nourish a world of possibility for generations of associates, customers, and communities. It’s about how we leave a lasting mark to inspire future generations.”
Rich’s also promotes a unique company culture. “Fueled by committed owners who are focused on long-term success and centered on collaboration, we have a shared commitment to working, learning, and celebrating together,” says Burke. “That culture is guided by our shared values—to cherish our culture, innovate, be the trusted first choice, better our communities, and to simply always do what’s right.”
Rich’s demonstrates its purpose and culture through continued investment in its associates. “We give our people the tools to build, grow, and enhance their career,” says Burke. “We’ve had associates start their career on the plant floor and evolve to supply chain leaders. We’ve had associates join Rich’s through our management training program and ascend to vice presidents. There are many opportunities to grow your career at Rich’s, and that has been a key component in the strong retention of our associates.”
Much of this corporate culture stems from its legacy of family ownership. “Being a third-generation family-owned company means consistent core values guide every aspect of our business,” says Burke. “All the Rich family members involved with the organization are focused on the business. The qualities and principles that began in 1945, such as continued focus on long-term success, remain true today. Even though we’re more than double the size of what we once were, the Rich family character is still the DNA of this organization.”
Over the course of the past 75 years, Rich’s has grown from a U.S. and Canadian business to a global food company with a presence in more than 100 countries. Throughout that dramatic level of expansion, Rich’s has retained is heart as a family-owned company, says Burke. “Rich’s has developed a meaningful reputation as a company that truly cares, relentless in our drive to support our customers.”
AT A GLANCE
Company: Rich Products Corp.
Headquarters: Buffalo, NY
Annual revenue: $4 billion
Number of employees: 11,000
In-Store Bakery & Foodservice Products: Pizza, breads, buns, rolls, doughnuts, cookies, toppings, icings, cakes
Consumer Brands: Carvel (ice cream cakes), Jon Donaire (ice cream cakes), Our Specialty (cookies), Farm Rich (frozen snacks and appetizers), Byron’s (barbecue), Casa Di Bertacchi (meatballs), SeaPak (frozen seafood), f’real (milkshakes, smoothies, frappes), Coffee Rich (non-dairy creamer), Rich Whip (non-dairy whipped topping)
Chairman: Bob Rich, Jr.
Vice Chairman: Mindy Rich
Executive Vice Chairman: Bill Gisel
CEO: Richard Ferranti
Executive VP & CFO: Jim Deuschle
Executive VP for Global Growth & Technology: Georgia Dachille
President & COO, U.S.-Canada Region: Ray Burke
President & COO, Global Markets: Jeff Kim
Executive VP, Organizational Excellence: Ted Rich
Executive VP & Chief Human Resources Officer: Ed Moore
Chief Information Officer: Yexi Liu