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Local company seeks national presence

Urbana’s Rotschild Farm adds jobs as sales increase.

A specialty foods company is adding jobs, boosting sales by millions of dollars and retooling parts of its business as it seeks to progress from a regional firm to a nationally-known brand.

The growth is a strong indication that Robert Rothschild Farm, with nearly 60 employees, can make a successful transition from a well-respected regional company to a nationally known brand, said Jim Gordon, president and CEO of the company, located just outside Urbana. For several years, Gordon said a key question was whether the company could make that transition.

“What we’re finding is yes we can, and there’s probably more room to run,” Gordon said.

The company added seven production jobs in September and will continue hiring through the end of the year, mostly in production and distribution. The company anticipated about $27 million in revenue this year, but recent projections show the company will actually get closer to $35 or $36 million, Gordon said.

Rothschild’s growth is the result of a number of factors, including warehouse club business, the gift business and improving sales within the specialty foods industry overall. Rothschild Farm produces specialty food items including sauces, dipping oil, condiments, marinades and rubs.

Recently, the company took a closer look at its gift business, which includes gift sets that combine a variety of dips, or a combination of pancake mix and syrup, for example. The products are sold at a variety of stores, including Macy’s, Von Maur and Barnes and Noble.

Previously, those sales accounted for only about three percent of the company’s business, Gordon said. But the company set out to improve that side of its sales, which included redesigning and modernizing the packaging, and marketing it to customers. That work took more than 18 months, but has already paid off, as the gift business roughly tripled and now makes up about 10 percent of the company’s sales.

“It was just kind of a forgotten business under the Rothschild’s umbrella,” Gordon said.

The gift business helps in other ways, including helping give the company a national presence and reaching customers who in many cases were unaware of the product before, said Kim Maalouf, marketing director for Robert Rothschild Farm.

The company has also added business in club stores over the last three years, including recent agreements with a handful of large customers. Gordon declined to discuss specific customers, but a search online shows large retailers including Sam’s Club and Costco are selling products from the Urbana company.

“Every channel is strong this year, and the growth we’ve seen at the gift and at the club stores has been significant,” Gordon said.

It’s not clear how many new employees the company will add before the end of the year, Gordon said. But earlier this year the company received a 40 percent, five-year tax credit from the Ohio Tax Credit Authority. As part of that agreement, Rothschild Farm will be required to create as many as 25 new, full-time jobs and agree to remain in Champaign County for at least eight years.

The city of Urbana also reached an agreement this year in which council members agreed to spend $160,00 from the city’s sanitary sewer fund to extend a sanitary sewer line to the business. The Champaign County commissioners also applied for a $160,000 Community Development Block Grant to pay for a portion of the project, while the company picked up the remaining $467,000 cost.

That project could be completed as early as next spring and will help solidify the company’s presence in Champaign County, said Marcia Bailey, economic development coordinator for Urbana.

“The impact obviously for us is the potential for job growth,” Bailey said.

While the company is growing, it would not have been possible in Urbana if that project did not come together, Gordon said.

“It’s really a model for how business and government can work together to grow jobs,” he said.

The specialty food industry as a whole has boomed even during a weak economy, said Louise Kramer, a spokeswoman for the Specialty Food Association. While some customers have cut back on dining out, they’ve instead turned to smaller purchases of specialty snacks and other foods at home, she said.

Sales of specialty foods in the U.S. rose 14.3 percent to $86 billion in 2012, a record for the industry. About 75 percent of U.S. consumers reported buying specialty foods in 2013, compared to 46 percent of consumers in 2009, according to information from the SFA.

Rothschild Farm has a long history in the industry, Kramer said, and it’s not a surprise to see the company growing.

“They’re a long-time member with a great portfolio of products,” Kramer said.

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