Freeze-Dry sees steady growth, innovation at Albion
Company with Canadian roots is Orleans County Chamber of Commerce ‘Business of the Year’
ALBION – In 1999, soon after the former Ontario Foods left Albion for a bigger plant in Medina, Freeze-Dry Foods moved into the Albion site on East Avenue, a sprawling site that used to be home to Lipton’s.
Ontario Foods (now Associated Brands) was a Freeze-Dry customer and the Canada-based company welcomed the chance to make its products in Albion at a site that has long been used for food processing.
Freeze-Dry has steadily grown in the past 17 years, overhauling the plant, adding new product lines and committing to a long future in Albion.
The Orleans County Chamber of Commerce has recognized Freeze-Dry Foods as the 2016 Business of the Year. The company and other Chamber award winners will be recognized on Sept. 16 at The Village Inn.
Albion has been a good fit for Freeze-Dry, said Karen Richardson, company president and co-owner.
“We like the location,” she said. “We’re only a couple hours away from Canada and we’re close to many customers. We’re in a transportation hub.”
Richardson said she expects more investments in the Albion plant and workforce as the company continues to grow.
Freeze-Dry has benefitted from many dedicated workers, including three current managers who started at entry level positions, Richardson said.
Freeze-Dry has 60 employees and has strived to reward them, plant manager Matt Beadle said. Twice the company has raised pay scales the past two years, and also has employees taking leadership and professional development classes at Genesee Community College in Albion.
The company had an employee picnic and celebration on Friday with nearly everyone wearing T-shirts noting that Freeze-Dry was picked as Business of the Year.
Beadle said the company had a recent job fair and 35 people showed up to fill out applications.
“The word is definitely getting out that we have good substantial jobs,” Beadle said.
The company, based in Oakville, Ontario, is one of the few freeze dry companies in the United States. (The technique dehydrates frozen foods so the moisture content changes directly from a solid to a gaseous form. The product maintains its original size and shape with a minimum of cell rupture. Removing moisture prevents a product from deteriorating at room temperature.)
Freeze-Dry has added new drying chambers because of increased demand. This year it plans to modernize the controls on its refrigeration systems, which follows a recent effort to install LED lights throughout the building. The new lights and refrigeration controls, as well as recirculated water, reduce the company’s energy draw, Beadle said, making the plant more sustainable.
Beadle joined Freeze-Dry two years ago. He says the employees and owners are committed to excellence, and building a stronger company.
“I see a lot of potential here,” he said. “I see a chance to grow a great business.”
Freeze-Dry declined to show how it makes its products, citing proprietary issues. The plant is certified by the United States Department of Agriculture.
The company specializes in freeze-dried meat & seafood to include poultry, beef, ham, sausage crumbles, pork, pizza toppings, flavored beef and pork, and numerous types of fish & seafood, Beadle said.
The products have a shelf life of up to 25 years because Freeze-Dry eliminates moisture and oxygen, while preserving nutrients, flavor, taste, color and aroma.
Beadle said Freeze-Dry food tastes better than competitors in China partly because of the meat and other ingredients used by Freeze-Dry. Beadle said the company strives to use ingredients that are locally sourced in the United States.
Freeze-Dry works with several major food companies, and also has worked to grow its own line of products, including camping/backpacking meals, a line of meals called Piper’s that can be prepared in an office, and emergency food products that are sold as part of survival kits. (Click here to see the Freeze-Dry product line.)
Beadle’s office has a hunting décor, with deer heads mounted on the wall. He has attended outdoor shows, including a recent major event in Utah. The campfire meals come in pouches with 12 different meal options that easy to prepare by adding hot water. The product hit the market last year and was developed in Albion, Beadle said.
“We did all the R & D right here,” Beadle said.
The product, and others made by Freeze-Dry, can be purchased at the Albion plant, 111 West Ave.
Beadle also thinks the company has a winner with the Pipers product, a three-pack of meals that are targeted for time-crunched office workers. The meals – rice & pulled pork, lasagna with meat sauce, rice and chicken tortilla – can be ready in 10 minutes with Keurig coffee machine that adds hot water.
“This is a real meal,” Beadle said. “It’s not astronaut food.”
Freeze-Dry also just started kosher food, and is looking to give back more to the community. It recently donated more than $10,000 of food to the Open Door Mission in Rochester.