LiDestri to donate $1 million in hand sanitizer

LiDestri Foods Inc. plans to donate $1 million in medical-grade hand sanitizer this summer to camps and school districts to keep staff and campers safe.

Company officials on Monday said LiDestri has donated 6,000 gallons of hand sanitizer so far, with a value of roughly $250,000. In addition to summer camps and schools, the Rochester food and drink manufacturer will donate the sanitizer to first responders, medical facilities, charities and more.

Last weekend, every family entering Seneca Park Zoo was given complimentary hand sanitizer. The YMCA of Greater Rochester Inc., the Harley School, and school districts in Greece, Fairport and Brighton have stocked up for the school year.

This spring, LiDestri pivoted its spirits lines to produce hand sanitizer using the formula recommended by the World Health Organization. The sanitizer can be used on hands and surfaces and is available in four sizes, including 1 gallon.

The family-owned company, headquartered in Fairport, produces locally more than 3 million food and beverage products each day and nationally employs more than 1,300 in the Rochester area, California, and New Jersey. LiDestri dates back 45 years, under the leadership of Giovanni LiDestri.

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LiDestri Foods now offering Recipe 21 hand sanitizer to public

Recipe 21, a division of LiDestri Foods Inc., on Thursday rolled out its hand sanitizer line for the general public in direct response to COVID-19 relief efforts and the nationwide supply shortage.

LiDestri previously had adjusted its spirits production at its Lee Road facility to produce the hand sanitizer and meet the growing needs of essential businesses, health care workers, first responders and consumers. Orders are now being accepted online at and being shipped directly to consumers.

Orders for LiDestri Foods' hand sanitizer are now being accepted online at and being shipped directly to consumers.
Orders for LiDestri Foods’ hand sanitizer are now being accepted online at and being shipped directly to consumers.

Recipe 21 plans to donate a portion of the hand sanitizer proceeds to two charitable partnerships including CORE: Children of Restaurant Employees, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving food and beverage service employees with children, who are faced with a health crisis or a natural disaster and are in need of help, including those who have been medically diagnosed with COVID-19; and the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, a nonprofit that provides a unique healing experience to more than 20,000 seriously ill children and their families annually. Each organization will receive a minimum contribution of $21,000, officials said.

“When the country experienced such a significant shortage in hand sanitizer, we knew we needed to pivot our operations to do what we could to help. This was the perfect opportunity for Recipe 21 to make a real difference,” said Stefani LiDestri, the Rochester company’s co-CEO. “We are proud that this will be produced locally with our manufacturing teams, who work hard every day to get our products out to the market. Supporting families is a cause close to our hearts at LiDestri, so we are thrilled the sales of our hand sanitizer will benefit two charities also committed to helping families during difficult times.”

The hand sanitizer is an alcohol-based liquid featuring a World Health Organization-approved formula. The product launched on April 21 with curbside pickup at the company’s manufacturing facility, but the organization has since pivoted to increase the availability of its product. Recipe 21 is offering consumers two sizes, a pocket-sized 50ml bottle or a larger 375ml bottle, for home delivery nationwide.

For those in Rochester, the Rochester Red Wings and Palmer’s Direct to You Market are also selling Recipe 21 hand sanitizer.

“The Recipe 21 Brand has such a strong following. We feel responsible to step up and help our community and our retail partners, bartenders and customers,” said Ricky Tatar, director of sales & marketing for Recipe 21. “We love our community and our R21 fans. We are proud to work with our great partners to make hand sanitizer available to as many people as we possibly can while benefiting two meaningful charities.”

LiDestri will continue to make its popular Recipe 21 value-based spirits line, sales of which have experienced strong growth in recent weeks. Recipe 21 attributes its success to consumers and Upstate New York liquor stores for their ongoing brand support. As a thank you, many of these liquor stores in partnership with Recipe 21 will also be receiving hand sanitizer to help keep employees safe. The company also donated more than 600 gallons of Recipe 21 hand sanitizer directly to Rochester-area charities, health care facilities and essential businesses.

The Recipe 21 line is a nine-year-old brand that includes Premium Vodka; Orange, Grape and Cherry vodkas; London Dry Gin; Silver Tequila; Blended Whiskey; Cinnamon Whiskey; White Rum; Coconut Rum; Triple Sec; Peach Schnapps; and a Spiced Rum coming this summer.

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LiDestri producing hand sanitizer, donating sauce

LiDestri Foods Inc. has joined the ranks of Rochester area manufacturers who are helping with health care needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company has transferred the production of one of its spirits lines to the creation of liquid hand sanitizer.

The process included the sourcing of the necessary raw materials, as well as packaging, company officials said. LiDestri’s production capabilities enable the company to have a great impact on filling the void and has a current order for 250,000 cases of hand sanitizer. LiDestri plans to produce and sell to the public in the coming weeks hand sanitizer under the brand name of its spirits brand Recipe 21.

All 1,300 LiDestri staffers remain employed, with more than 1,000 employees continuing to work on production lines, officials said. Office staff is working from home through the company’s investment in more than 50 new laptops to ensure each employee had the tools needed to do his or her job.

The local company has established a task force to address communication and procedures to follow state Department of Health and CDC guidelines, and has formed a cleaning task force that cleans surfaces, doors and equipment every four hours, officials said.

In a recent letter to employees, company co-CEOs Stefani LiDestri and John LiDestri thanked their team for adhering to precautions and processes and promised to continue transparency in communication.

Stefani and John LiDestri
Stefani and John LiDestri

“For more than 45 years, LiDestri Food and Drink has lived by a core value established by our chairman and father, Giovanni LiDestri, to ‘do the right thing,’” the CEOs wrote in their letter. “What we do at LiDestri Food and Drink matters — and now more than ever, our communities are counting on us to continue operations.”

In addition to producing hand sanitizer, LiDestri leadership has gifted a case of sauce to each employee during the pandemic and has given gift cards for all employees to patronize a local restaurant in Greece and in Fairport, where the company’s facilities are located.

The gift card investment — which also has helped two restaurants keep their doors open during the crisis — totals more than $50,000. Gift cards for restaurants and groceries also were issued to employees in LiDestri’s California and New Jersey facilities.

The company also has donated cases of sauce to location organizations, including a senior living facility and the Veterans Outreach Center, as well as 800 cases of sauce to Foodlink Inc.

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Food experts discuss what the consumer wants

Consumers want their food choices to be fresh, local, “clean,” healthy, decadent, plant-based, full of taste, packaged in a recycled container, and made by a company that has a social conscience and doesn’t harm the environment.

Those were some of the conclusions of a panel on meeting consumer demands with food innovation at the Grow-NY conference this week at the Floreano Riverside Convention Center.

Representatives of Ag Voice from Georgia, standing, make a pitch for their company to seated judges at the Grow-NY competition.
Representatives of Ag Voice from Georgia, standing, make a pitch for their company to seated judges at the Grow-NY competition.

Nearly 1,000 people, from Georgia to Alberta, Canada, were attending the conference to learn or boast about food and agriculture opportunities in this part of New York and to witness a $3 million competition for food and agriculture startups.

Seventeen startup companies, including two from Ontario County, were vying for prizes ranging from $250,000 to $1 million in the competition due to conclude Thursday. Grow-NY is an economic development initiative trying to lure businesses to or expand businesses in the Finger Lakes region, part of the Southern Tier, and Central New York. The Grow-NY area covers 22 counties, from Broome County in the southeast to Orleans County in the northwest.

Cornell University’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement is managing the competition and event, which is funded by Empire State Development.

The local competitors were The Perfect Granola, of Victor, and RealEats America, of Geneva. Both companies source ingredients locally, eschew additives and exercise their social consciousness by donating their products, whether they’re granola bars or ready-to-reheat meals.

Other competitors included:

  • Dropcopter, a Syracuse company that uses drones to pollinate tree crops;
  • Combplex, an Ithaca company that using small lasers to kill pests that are killing honey bees;
  • AgVoice, a Norcross, Ga., company that uses voice-activated mobile devices to record and compile agricultural data; and
  • Livestock Water Recycling, from Alberta, a company that recycles the waste stream of cows into fertilizer and reusable water.

The competition was due to conclude with the announcement of the winners Thursday evening.

Each company had 20 minutes to make its presentation, with 10 minutes for the pitch and another 10 minutes to field questions from a panel of judges.

Evident in many of the pitches and the symposium discussions were the resources that exist locally for food and agriculture entrepreneurs. Many noted the role that Cornell University, and particularly its research and development arm in Geneva for agriculture and food production, Cornell AgriTech, had played in helping their companies hone their ideas. Similarly, several companies noted that they’re already demonstrating their technologies or products by working with Wegmans Food Markets Inc., such as at its organic farm in Canandaigua.

More established food and agriculture companies also offered their takes on doing business, including Rochester’s LiDestri Food and Drink, Rich Products in Buffalo and Chobani, in Chenango County. In the panel on consumer preferences, they both said they’re always watching for changes in consumer preferences, including environmental concerns.

Niel Sandfort, vice president of new product development at Chobani, said when a company’s carbon footprint is calculated, the nutrients they’re transporting should be part of the equation. He noted that yogurt is one of the most nutrient dense foods made, and trucks carrying that food shouldn’t really be compared to, say, trucks carrying loads of soda pop, which is essentially water and sugar.

Nevertheless, he said, “We’re constantly ‘light-weighting.’ Last year we took out 1 million pounds of resin. How do we (keep making) a better container?”

As for additives, Sandfort said the company is extremely careful about what it introduces to yogurt, joking that “Yogurt is basically a petri dish waiting to be contaminated.”

Jamie McKeon, senior vice president of demand creation at Rich Products, said consumers say they want clean, additive-free food but they’re also unwilling to compromise on taste. Her company, which makes what she described as a celebratory range of products — cakes, cookies, icings, pizzas — actually sees sales drop when it attempts to market products featuring healthy ingredients.

“Indulgence is important to consumers today. How can we make it healthier and ‘cleaner?’” she said.  McKeon said consumer preferences seem to indicate people want to eat healthier during their daily routines, but focus more on taste and experience for non-routine meals or celebrations.

“Consumers are in control and they want to have it all,” she said.

LiDestri is partnering with a controlled environment producer of greens because of consumer preference, said Phil Viruso, chief operating office at LiDestri. “Consumers want fresh, healthy options and they want smaller portions,” so the company is trying to accommodate those preferences.

RBJ’s coverage of the winners of the competition will run online.

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Grow-NY competition will encourage agriculture and food entrepreneurs

Agricultural and food entrepreneurs in the Finger Lakes and two adjoining regions may compete for up to $1 million in a new business stimulation competition announced Friday.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks at the announcement of the new Grow-NY competition. RBJ Photo by Diana Louise Carter
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks at the announcement of the new Grow-NY competition. (RBJ Photo by Diana Louise Carter)

The Grow-NY competition is funded by $21 million in prize money over three years from Empire State Development and will be administered by Cornell University’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement.  The first year will feature a pitch by 20 finalists at a summit held at the Floreano Rochester Riverside Convention Center Nov. 12 and 13.

Businesses from anywhere are eligible to compete, but if they win, they must locate in the “Grow-NY region” for at least a year. That region includes the Finger Lakes, Southern Tier and Central New York, comprising 22 counties.

“Food and Ag-tech is a huge part of our overall economy,” said Tom Schryver, executive director of the Cornell center. In a video at the start of the announcement, he cited Chobani, the billion-dollar yogurt giant that grew from nothing in Chenango County, as an example of food entrepreneurship the award hopes to encourage.

Schryver also noted that 100 million people who need to eat live within 500 miles of the Grow-NY region, providing opportunity to grow more food-related businesses.  The majority of new jobs come from startup companies less than five years old, he said.

The announcement, drawing state legislators, Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo and local food industry captains, was held at LiDestri Foods, a major food manufacturer and innovator.

“There can be countless more LiDestris creating jobs,” said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.

She said farmers are facing major difficulties on several fronts, including U.S. trade policies, changing tariffs, difficulties securing a workforce and effects of climate change. “We have to find ways to help them keep producing.”

Hochul said the three economic development regions were chosen for the Grow NY competition in part because they won $500 million from state in economic development funds, which will pay for the program.

Bill Strassburg, head of strategic planning at Wegmans Food Markets, said, “We have a wonderful ecosystem,” for food and agriculture entrepreneurship. “Grow-NY will help us become even more notable.”

Each year of the program, seven businesses will win prizes, from $250,000 to $1 million. Finalists will be mentored by a business adviser, receive pitch training, be brought to the region for a three-day business development trip and be given introductions and tours with potential partners.

Applications are open until July 15. More information on the competition and how to enter it is available on the Grow-NY website.

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LiDestri to partner on $51 million facility at EBP

LiDestri Foods Inc. is partnering with Crop’s N.V. of Belgium to produce ready-to-eat meals at a new facility at Eastman Business Park. The move is expected to create 123 new full-time jobs in the next five years.

lidestriUp to $4 million for the project is being made available through the Finger Lakes Forward Upstate Revitalization Initiative. Another $4 million also may be provided through the Excelsior Tax Credit Program in exchange for job creation commitments.

The URI capital grant stipulates that $1 million of the $4 million grant is tied to the region’s anti-poverty initiative; the company will have to hire 33 people who meet the eligibility requirements for the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative.

“We are excited because we are bringing an innovative product from our European partners that not only provides jobs for families but an innovative, on-trend healthy choice for families,” LiDestri Co-president John LiDestri said in a statement Tuesday.

Officials did not disclose the name of the new manufacturing company that will be formed as a result of the partnership, nor when construction would begin or end. The project will help retain 900 jobs at LiDestri’s two locations on Lee Road and in Fairport.

“By investing in innovative projects and partnerships we are growing key industries across the state and creating more jobs for New Yorkers,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “This new partnership will continue to highlight the region’s great agricultural assets and build on the efforts of the regionally designed Finger Lakes Forward plan to reinvigorate communities and generate economic growth across the entire region.”

The $51.3 million project will include the construction of a 65,000-square-foot facility at EBP, as well as the addition of manufacturing lines, a railroad extension and utility upgrades.

“New occupants at Eastman Business Park continue to contribute to its growth,” EBP President and Eastman Kodak Co. CFO David Bullwinkle said. “With almost 110 companies operating in the park today and impressive momentum for new users, we are working to bring in several more in 2019. Eastman Business Park resources are a great fit for food and beverage processing, biopharma and roll-to-roll manufacturing.”

LiDestri was founded in 1975 as Cantisano Foods Inc. and is known for its pasta sauces, dips and salsas. Crop’s N.V. manufactures and distributes frozen food in Europe including fruits and vegetables.

“LiDestri Food and Drink has been a catalyst to the transformation of Eastman Business Park and has become one of our region’s fastest growing employers,” Sen. Joe Robach, R-Greece, said. “This exciting partnership will bring even more jobs to the revitalized Eastman Business Park. As a member of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council, I am proud to see the state’s investment in this project and significant tax dollars coming back to our community.”

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LiDestri employees receive tax-break bonus

At least one local company is passing along benefits from the 2017 Tax Cut and Job Act: LiDestri Food and Drink informed its 1,200 employees today that their mid-month paychecks would be twice as large as usual.

The one-time boost was a result of “strong company performance” and the recently enacted federal tax cut, the company said.

“When we learned that the recent tax cuts would provide the company with some unaccounted-for funds, we immediately thought it should be shared with our workforce,” said Co-President Stefani LiDestri. “It just so happened that it came together on Valentine’s Day, the perfect time to let our employees know how much they mean to us.”

Employees at five locations—Fairport; Rochester; Fresno, Calif.; Lansdale, Pa.; and Pennsauken, N.J.—are receiving a note with the bonus check that says, “The LiDestri’s family wants you to know that we appreciate you, each and every day and yes, you are our Valentine!”

A company spokesman said the total bonus payout was more than $1 million.

LiDestri was founded in 1975 and today supplies more than 80 million cases of food, beverages and spirits a year. The company produces a number of national brands as well as an array of private labels, such as some Wegmans store-brand products.

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