September 25, 2018
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Kristine Morabito, (716) 499-1902
AGRIAMERICA PROCESSING EXPANSION
Shuttered Fredonia Processing Facility Being Revitalized
CCIDA Finances New Fruit Processor
FREDONIA, N.Y.: — AgriAmerica’s Eric Huddy has announced they are in the final stage of revitalization efforts for Fredonia’s new AgriAmerica Fruit Products fruit processing facility, with startup operations projected for October 3, 2018. An advertising campaign is already underway to make growers aware of opportunities for additional local contracts.
The building may look familiar, as this facility was originally built by Stanley Star to process grapes for Cliffstar Corporation. After the purchase by Cott Corporation, the facility was eventually shuttered and has remained vacant since.
CCIDA, County, SUNY Fredonia, and NCCF Local Economic Development Committee officials and representatives toured the company’s new fruit processing facility at 200-222 Water Street in the Village of Fredonia over the summer and reviewed company plans with the ownership. The new processing facility will offer grape procurement, processing of Concord, Niagara, and Catawba grape varieties, bulk juice storage, and juice sales. By utilizing specialized processing techniques, all of its juices will be highly kosher certified.
Lifelong Chautauqua County residents Eric Huddy and Richard Jozwiak, grape farmers themselves, identified the issue of surplus concord grapes and the need for additional processing capacity to support area farmers several years ago. A seasonal business with a highly perishable crop, Huddy and Jozwiak looked close to home and embarked on a mission to pursue revitalizing the former Fredonia Cliffstar processing facility. The team reached out to the County of Chautauqua Industrial Development Agency (CCIDA) and Senator Catharine Young for assistance. Together with Doctor Kevin Kearns of SUNY Fredonia’s Department of Engagement and Economic Development and Nate Aldrich of the NCCF LED Committee, assistance and guidance was provided. The CCIDA provided $515,000 in financing toward acquisition, working capital, renovations, retrofitting, and recommissioning via its AL Tech and Chautauqua Revolving Loan Funds.
During the tour, Huddy recounted that after Cliffstar and Red Wing were purchased by out-of-town interests there was eventually a decline of grapes purchased from New York state growers. Cliffstar was purchased by Cott, while Red Wing was purchased by Ralcorp, which sold to Carriage House and was later purchased by ConAgra. After one year of ownership, ConAgra totally closed down its processing facilities in Dunkirk and Fredonia resulting in the loss of several hundred jobs, and a decreased grape market for local growers by approximately 12,000 tons. It is estimated Cott also reduced local intake by as much as 15,000 tons over 5 years. Negatively impacting local farmers, some removed or abandoned their vineyards, or left grapes to rot on vines. Others sold their crops at salvage prices hoping for a new future market development.
Huddy and Jozwiak anticipate the facility opening just in time for this year’s harvest. The new initiative partially replaces the grape market loss created by ConAgra’s closings and Cott’s intake reduction, with future growth anticipated. Huddy explained that AgriAmerica’s new processing facility provides growers with a new viable and stable market for 7,500 tons of grapes initially. As a highly kosher certified facility, the end product doesn’t compete with other conventional juice products produced locally. A broad positive impact is predicted for 100+ family-sized farms that need a market for their grapes.
Chautauqua County has historically had a rich history of fruit packing houses, wineries, and juice processing companies. Located with the Lake Erie Concord Grape Growing Region, the county is part of the oldest and largest concord producing region in the world with greater than 30,000 vineyard acres that produce 160,000 tons of grapes annually. Historically, New York has been one of the leading producers of concord grapes used to make some of the finest wines, juices, jams and jellies.
The owners are experiencing a lot of local “buzz” around the plant revitalization with neighbors and passersby stopping in to take a look and share in the excitement. Many local contractors have made themselves available during and after-hours including A.W. Farrell & Son, Dunkirk Electric, Tri County Restoration, and Sheridan Machine, just to name a few. Contracting locally as much as possible has been a priority for the owners.
Dennis Delcamp was hired as the new Plant Manager and shared that his 30-year career began at that very Water Street facility where he spent 24 years working for Cliffstar and Cott before transferring to what is now Refresco’s Dunkirk facility. Delcamp relayed that he saw a great opportunity with AgriAmerica and wanted to be a part of it. Mark Lancaster, another familiar name in the industry for his Westfield-based Vetter Vineyards Winery, has also been hired to manage grower relations and juice sales. In addition, many former area processing employees are helping with facility and machinery upgrades. One employee commented, “It’s like a Carriage House reunion here.”
CCIDA Administrative Director/CEO Mark Geise said, “We are very excited about this project as it results in the revitalization of a shuttered processing facility, thereby reducing blight; it supports local farmers; it creates jobs; and it supports the agriculture sector of our economy.”
About AgriAmerica – AgriAmerica is a progressive, commercial sized grape growing operation, specialized vineyard service provider, and fruit processor to grape growers in Western New York state. Services include grower relations, vineyard upkeep, grape harvesting, procurement, fresh fruit transportation logistics, processing, and fruit marketing. For more information visit http://www.agriamericallc.com/.
About CCIDA – The CCIDA is an economic development organization authorized and empowered by the State of New York to make Chautauqua County a better place to work, live, and visit. They facilitate development by attracting new businesses, while promoting the retention and expansion of existing businesses. Assistance in the form of incentives – tax abatements, low interest loans, and bond financing – enhances the opportunities for job creation and retention by our businesses. For more information visit www.ccida.com.