If you are a Buffalonian, you’ve probably heard of Rich Products. If you’re a new Buffalonian, especially around Niagara Street, you might have heard of Rich Products, too. It’s one of the world’s largest privately-owned food companies. Recently, they underwent a huge overhaul and modernization. Their Niagara Street Innovation Center features a drool-inducing contemporary art collection, including a giant Kenny Scharf donut. From the contemporary furniture in the ever-large atrium to the enormous staircase adorned with images of Rich’s staff – the place bursts with imagination.
Kevin Aman, Director of Communications, takes us through the crimson Atrium and sits down with Karibu for an exclusive chat. Richs, while being a global enterprise, still has its eye on Niagara St, where everything began.
How did you start working at Richs? What is your role?
I went to school in New York City, and worked in entertainment public relations at a PR firm for a number of years. When I interviewed here, the process took a long time. That’s indicative of how this company works. They take a lot of time to find the right people for the right role. There is a lot of trust. People are allowed to be their best. That’s not to say we don’t challenge each other. The goal is to continuously improve. You feel it.
Imagine magazine was my idea for something that captures our 70 year history, but is relevant to what we are doing today. History here is important. The reason we have been here for 70 years is that we try to think of new products and how they will affect people’s lifestyles.
With shifts in agriculture and the global economy, what have you seen change here?
We realized what’s important for us as a company and for our customers. People want to know more about their food and where it comes from. A lot of what we do is business to business, such as providing food to a university campus. We provide the food and they prepare it. We are in close communication with them and are concerned with what those university students are craving. On campuses there are big international populations. Since we are a global company, we are seeing some of the same trends in how we are producing food.
We are a global company, but locally rooted. We know what’s going on with each of our customers. We can bring trends from the U.S. to other parts of the world, and vice versa.
What trends are you seeing with food?
People are eating out more and eating on the go. There is more mobility overall, so certainly wraps, pizza in a personal size, and flat breads are popular. People are gravitating toward prepared food with fewer ingredients. People want ease and convenience, but also with a balance of health and wellness. We have a lot of food scientists here that work to perfect different things.
One of our big winners internationally were filled cookies, such as oatmeal cookies with Nutella. They are positioning [Nutella] as not a healthy chocolate, but one with better ingredients. I think people like to combine different tastes in different ways.
Do you have any internship opportunities available to young people?
We work with student populations through our partners in the community, such as Say Yes and WNY United. WNY United was founded by Bob and Mindy Rich. It is a prevention program that gets into schools and gives an education about what to be on the lookout for. It’s a way to foster leadership, as well. There are certain things that lead one to drugs and alcohol, such as lack of positive opportunities. We also support the West Side Bazaar and have many conversations with them.
What are leadership qualities which can lead to a successful career in business, perhaps even as a CEO?
A commitment to shared values, and having an accurate read on what you are good at, and what you are not good at. What are my contributions and when can I learn from other people?
When we partner with customers and organizations such as WEDI, we say, ‘Listen, we are on the West Side and we have been here for 70 years. We have observed a lot. You are relatively new, so what are you observing?’ It is all about staying in conversation with others. One conversation leads to the next. We work on things together, and combine resources. It’s so important to not be isolated in your community. That’s where great connections are, and that’s how we educate the community about food.
Something that you will be seeing from us in the coming years is the broad interpretation of food, not just something that we consume, but also where it comes from. Small businesses who offer food become a path for self-betterment. There are stories in Imagine about all parts of the world. When I was in Vietnam, I met with a family who owns a bakery. We get to know, on a one-to-one level, what people are doing and what customers are craving.
Did you eat with families abroad in different traditional styles?
Yes, I did. I think that to know a culture’s food, you get to know their culture in a lot of ways – how they share it, and just to have conversations over food. It is a natural fit for us to have conversations about food, and it lends to growing their business, and also growing our business at the same time. I traveled throughout Africa, and our CEO, Bill Gisel, just got back.
Some businesses have moved out of Buffalo and Richs has stayed here all 70 years. Would the company ever move?
The Innovation Center was just redone with the purpose of staying in Buffalo. Richs is committed to being a private, family-owned company that is headquartered in Buffalo. So we always want to find the balance of being tied in our community, while also recognizing communities all over the world. Bob Rich says all the time that we can’t thrive as a company if the communities we are working and living in are not succeeding. There are many hometown folks here in Buffalo that love seeing the resurgence that has been going on.