Black River Produce joins the long line of Vermont grown companies (Vermont Castings, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, and of course, Ben and Jerry’s) to sell out to much larger, out-of-state businesses.
Owners of the state’s most familiar food distributor announced that Chicago food distributor Reinhart Foodservice will purchase Black River Produce/Earth Brothers, Ltd. of Springfield Vt. Reinhart’s parent company Reyes Holdings (a beverage distribution conglomerate) is owned by M. Jude Reyes and in 2010 was the 20th -largest private company in the United States.
The Rutland Herald/ Time-Argus reports Black River was started in 1978 by two friends who delivered fresh produce from Boston to Vermont restaurants and stores. Black River Produce currently employees 200 people in North Springfield.
The company is one of the standouts in the Vermont economy: Sales have grown 25 percent in the past five years, Black River Produce co-founder Mark Curran said. The company has been recognized by Vermont Business Magazine for its strong growth, he said. The company reported $75.3 million in revenue for 2015.
And to add value to deal the sale will include the four-year-old Black River Meats.
[UPDATE 10/21: When Chicago based Reinhart Food Distributors purchase of Black River Produce is complete it will include Black River Meats label/brand. Black River Meats are processed by Vermont Packinghouse (which operates out of a building owned by Black River Meats-presumably that will now be owned by Reinhart of Chicago)
Since only the profitable label/brand are changing hands the ownership of the plant will not change as result of the sale to the Chicago company.]
This outgrowth is a state-of-the-art slaughterhouse for local Vermont meats that received start-up grants worth $50,000 from State of Vermont Working Lands Grant in 2013 and state funding assistance from the Vermont Economic Development Authority in 2016. It is no small irony that money spent recently by the state of Vermont to grow and support local businesses may have helped to sweeten the sale for the giant Chicago-based conglomerate.
Chicago-based Reinhart Foods has almost 30 distribution locations from Boston to New Orleans — and its clients include Burger King, Subway, and the Defense Logistics Agency. A quick Google search reveals that Reinhart of Chicago has a recent history of OSHA-imposed fines and job-related deaths, and that the business holds the lowest rating from Greenpeace for sustainable practices.
Seven employees were injured and one killed at a Reinhart Food Service facility in Virginia in March when a 200-foot-long, 30-foot-high food shelving unit tipped and collapsed onto workers. Workers had reportedly complained about the safety of the racks prior to the fatal accident.
Also in 2016 a Reinhart facility in Massachusetts was fined over $70,000 when a faulty alarm system failed to detect a leak of anhydrous ammonia from a refrigeration unit that uses 27,500 pounds of the substance. Kenneth Shedden, OSHA’s area director for Boston and Southeastern Massachusetts, said although the amount of the leak was small “An uncontrolled release can be lethal and catastrophic,”
And finally in a recent 2016 report on sustainability Greenpeace gives Reinhart a “worst sustainability” rating of 5 out of 100 total points. Says Greenpeace: “Worst of all, Reinhart sources bluefin tuna: a severely overfished species red-listed by Seafood Watch for every single stock in the world. This suggests Reinhart either does not prioritize sustainable, ethical seafood, or is not concerned with the implications of sourcing threatened species.”
It has long been true that Vermonters tend to admire their “little” home grown local businesses like Black River Produce. We do just love all our aging hippie entrepreneurs, don’t we! But once again, one of those local, homegrown companies has been sold to a very large corporation — some might say a monopoly. This time around it is Black River Produce and Meats, “a key player in Vermont’s local foods movement and one of the brightest economic lights in southern Vermont” that has been swallowed up by what looks like a big ugly fish.