Sometimes dreams really do come true. At least in the case of Larry Croy and the salad dressing he made for his restaurant.
Croy, of Perrysburg, Ohio, opened a Supper Club restaurant and began making a homemade salad dressing. It just happened that officials with Kroger Corp. ate at the restaurant and loved the dressing. They asked Croy to think about making it to sell. Croy built a plant at the back of the restaurant and within a few years outgrew the plant and built another. He’s since sold the restaurant and is making the dressing, Garlic Expressions, as a full-time business.
“All we do is that one product,” says Barb McLaughlin, director of marketing and sales for LarMar Foods, the parent company. “We make the dressing three days a week. I travel the country doing food shows and women shows, handing out samples coast to coast.”
The dressing recently became a best-seller for Fresh Market stores.
“It tastes, well, unique,” McLaughlin says. “It’s like an Italian dressing only better. Everything is made with fresh, high-quality ingredients. He made up the recipe himself, and he kept working at having just the right mix. For the apple cider vinegar, we use a special variety of mild apples.”
Food processors, like LarMar Foods, are abundant in Ohio.
Family-owned Robert Rothschild Farm, based in Urbana, manufacture award-winning sauces, preserves, spreads, dips and more. The processor operates in a 51,000-square-foot facility, where they maintain the highest quality by producing their products in small batches.
The farm produces products based on the premise of “open and serve,” allowing consumers to enjoy delicious products with minimal effort. Some of their popular creations include spreads such as Caramelized Onion Balsamic Spread, Hot Pepper Raspberry Preserves and Red Pepper Jelly.
“Ohio is a large agricultural state. That’s the reason we have so many food processors,” says Terri Gerhardt, assistant chief of Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Division of Food Safety. “We produce a large range of agricultural raw materials, and we have several major highways, making it easy to get products out of Ohio. We also have a political system that is very supportive of industry.”
In addition, her office is dedicated to helping smaller, startup processors get off the ground, offering one-on-one training and information.
While Ohio grows more than its share of corn and soybeans, it is also home to acres of truck farming, from tomatoes to cucumbers, that are processed in the state.
“Northwest Ohio is home to a lot of truck farmers,” Gerhardt says. “The soil is perfect – it’s flat and conducive to growing vegetables. At one time, Ohio was one of the largest producers of sugar beets. Much of that land is now devoted to vegetables, and we have processors like Campbell’s Soup.”
In Ohio, one in every seven jobs is related to the state’s $105 billion agriculture and food production industry. For some processors, locating to Ohio was simply a family matter. Kaiser Pickles in Cincinnati got its start as a family business in 1920.
“Ohio just happened to be where it all started,” says Kim Speed with Kaiser Pickles. “One of the benefits is that we’re right on Route I 75, and logistically, that’s a good spot. For customers running a route, it’s easy to pick up our product.”
The cucumbers and pepper they use are actually grown locally in several different areas.
“We are quite busy for having only a 10-week season,” Speed says. “Then it depends on the pickle type. As it gets colder, we go further south to get our cucumbers. We end up processing year round. “
It was her grandfather Harry T. Kaiser who started the business in 1920 making sauerkraut and pickles and selling them as a street vendor, Speed says. The company operated as a food distributor until Harry T. Kaiser Jr. took over in 1967. The company is now in its third generation under the direction of David M. Kaiser.
“Eventually we opened up a facility, and in 1990 purchased Farm Pack Pickle Co., moved the facilities to Cincinnati, and began processing ourselves,” Speed says. “We’re a full-fledged manufacturer now. Honestly, I always have some on my shelves at home – my kids love them.”
You can say processing is as much a part of Ohio as its buckeyes, and large or small, it’s here to stay in this agricultural state.