Automation helps local companies keep pace with increasing demand for favorite foods, beverages

Whether it’s Riesling, marinara, Kolsch, or root veggies, Rochester area food and beverage manufacturers rely not only on the human touch but automation when manufacturing their products. The Rochester Business Journal talked to four manufacturers of favorite and emerging brands in the region to find out how automation helps them, their employees, and their customers.

The Craft Cannery’s automated production facility in Genesee County. (Photo provided)

The Craft Cannery

Craft Cannery’s roots begin in Paul Guglielmo’s home kitchens where he began making his family’s traditional Italian sauce recipe one pot at a time. In 2014 he started Guglielmo Sauce with 20 cases of marinara sauce. Today, the product is available in over 500 stores, including Wegmans and Tops, and hundreds of small businesses across the Northeast.

In April 2020, Guglielmo purchased Permac Enterprises, Inc., a Genesee-county manufacturing facility started in 2005, and renamed it the Craft Cannery.

The business is one of just six USDA cannery manufacturing plants in New York state and specializes in taking recipes from individuals, restaurants (like Sticky Lips) and well-known brands and adjusting them for large production.

“On day one we had almost zero automation,” Guglielmo said. “Everything was manual – romantic in a way – but not efficient. I knew immediately we had to get automated.”

His first big purchase was a bottling line that could fill four bottles at once, as well as do many other things previously done by hand, like capping and labeling. This automation led to a 100% increase in the Craft Cannery’s production during the first year of operation.

Contrary to what one may initially think, automation does not always equal job loss. Guglielmo has added jobs as automation has increased, taking the facility’s full-time staff from a 3-person team to a 10-person team.

“Automation makes it so you can make more sauce,” Guglielmo said. “Making more sauce means preparation needs to be done faster and on a larger scale. It also means our warehouse is very busy because we have increased production.”

While automation has been a boon for Guglielmo, he also notes that the key to his business success has been maintaining personal connections and continuing to hustle outside of his now-modern manufacturing facility.

On the day he spoke to the Rochester Business Journal he was preparing for a weekend of personally selling his sauce one jar at a time at two local arts festivals, which he does all festival season.

“Our growth has been one person at a time, seventy to a hundred conversations an hour,” Guglielmo said.

Love Beets

If you love beets, you know Love Beets – a company owned by Guy and Katherine Shropshire, who opened its state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in 2016 at the LiDestri Foods manufacturing complex on Lee Road in Rochester.

There, about 85 Love Beets employees process and package fresh, marinated, pickled, organic and other beets and beet products like beet juice and beet powder. About 70% of the beets are grown in western New York, according to Leanne Khoury, who was named managing director of Love Beets in February 2022.


As managing director, Khoury oversees the entire facility, including production, operations, warehousing, quality control, and automation – which has gone through tremendous growth over the past few years.

When the Rochester facility opened six years ago staff hand-packed the cooked/steamed beats into plastic clamshell containers which later moved to hand-erected cartons. In November 2021, Love Beets made a large capital investment when it bought an automatic cartoner, which has been a win-win for all involved.

Plastic clamshells are no longer used, along with the hand-erected cartons, as the automatic cartoner now erects and glues the cartons closed. This new process helps with efficiency, sustainability, better display options for merchandisers, and is healthier for employees as it eliminates the need for some repetitive motions with their hands.

Additionally, the automation boost did not decrease the facility’s number of employees because the output has increased, Khoury said.

Bravery Wines

A relative newcomer to the Finger Lakes wine scene, Bravery Wines is a wine brand that was launched in 2020 by Corey Christman, a veteran who retired as a special agent with the United States Air Force in 2012, and his wife Jennifer.

Christman, like Guglielmo, started making his product in his kitchen for fun, but “caught the bug” and decided to go to “wine school.” In 2014 he completed his enology and commercial winemaking operations course at Washington State University, interned with winemaker Peter Becraft at Anthony Road Wine Company in Penn Yan, and “never left.”

In 2019 Christman approached Anthony Road with the idea to start his small label as a partnership with the winery. Bravery Wines began with 400 cases and now has wine available for sale at Anthony Road, online, and in several restaurants in the Oswego area (where Christman grew up). He’s currently looking to expand to restaurants in the Rochester area.

Automation has been a big help to Christman as he grows his grapes (at Martini Vineyards) and his brand, which donates a portion of every purchase price to the Yellow Ribbon Fund to support injured service members and their caregivers.

Corey and Jennifer Christman. (Photo provided)

“From an automation standpoint every part of the commercial wine-making process includes automation,” Christman said. “Without it, you’d be in a world of hurt. We can do a great deal of winemaking through automation, but we still have to be out there in the vineyards with a visual presence.”

On Christman’s automation wish list is an optical sorter that uses optics and optical sorting advanced algorithms to eject under- and over-ripe berries and foreign material from the harvest via air jets. Currently, that process is done through vineyard management.

“I think the future of winemaking in the Finger Lakes will be more automation as finances allow,” Christman said. “That, along with improving our vineyard practices, is how we get better.”

FIFCO USA/Genesee Brewery

FIFCO USA, the parent company of Rochester-based Genesee Brewing Co., is no stranger to automation.

It’s one of the top 10 beer companies in the country and brews, packages, imports, markets and sells its brands – which also include Magic Hat, Labatt, and Seagram’s Escapes – through an independent network of wholesalers nationwide. Additionally, FIFCO performs contract brewing on behalf of other beverage companies.

Mark Brandl is the electrical engineering manager at the Rochester manufacturing facility, which produces numerous beer and other beverages annually with its flavored malt beverages representing the largest volume coming out of the brewery right now. He was hired twenty years ago to install a new bottling line and never left.

“We had a lot of really old equipment when I started, but our brewing equipment has taken a quantum leap over the past five years,” Brandl said. “We’re always updating and constantly looking at keeping up with the latest packaging equipment and brewing technologies.”

From 2016 to 2018, FIFCO USA spent over $50 million on a major overhaul that modernized the brewery. The update has led to more efficient and sustainable production, as well as increased automation and the ability to manufacture more premium and specialty products, Brandl said. In 2020 a $2 million new keg handling system, which features robotic palletizers and a fully automatic cleaning and filling system for kegs, was installed.

Brandl also noted that since 2016 the increase in automation has not reduced jobs. On the contrary, it has added them due to increased production and other needs associated with the upkeep of high-tech machinery. “The more automatic equipment you add, the more maintenance staff you hire to keep it all running.”

Caurie Putnam is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

Love Beets to add 100 jobs here

Love Beets USA LLC has launched two new products, honey & vinegar golden beets and beet salsa (photo by Gino Finelli)
Love Beets USA LLC has launched two new products, honey & vinegar golden beets and beet salsa
(photo by Gino Finelli)

Love Beets USA LLC plans to add 100 middle-skill and high-tech jobs over the next two years, allowing the company to maximize its crop output and source 100 percent of its products from U.S. growers, company officials said this week.

That expected growth is a result of increased production and two new products: Beet salsa and Golden Beets with honey and vinegar.

“Some of those new jobs will be about how we make the best of agriculture in this area using digital technology,” said Love Beets managing director Daniel Cross at a press gathering Tuesday. “We’re working with Cornell, RIT and pulling some of the expertise that’s in this region to really make this a world-class center for beet growing.”

Love Beets expects to capitalize on exports to South America and elsewhere, Cross said.

“Beets are a healthy, delicious, nutritious product. They have fantastic benefits for heart health, blood flow, circulation, but they are difficult to prepare,” he noted. “And that’s where we come in: cooking them, juicing them, turning them into powder. Because we want to make those beets more accessible. That’s our mission.”

To do so, Love Beets will take advantage of all Western New York has to offer.

Love Beets USA LLC sources 75 percent of its beets from Rochester-area growers. (Photo by Gino Finelli)
Love Beets USA LLC expects to source 75 percent of its beets from Rochester-area growers.
(Photo by Gino Finelli)

“We’ve got great agriculture in Western New York, but how do we build on that agriculture with food manufacturing to make those products more convenient and get them to market,” Cross said. “And we believe there’s an opportunity here, in the Eastman Business Park, to make this one of those food hubs and really be an area of innovation in this region, which will help propel our growth.”

Love Beets—a pairing between LiDestri Foods Inc. and G’s Fresh Ltd. of the United Kingdom—processes and packages fresh, marinated and organic beets and beet products at the LiDestri Foods manufacturing complex at Eastman Business Park.

The local facility grew from 51 staffers in January 2016 to 125 today. All of the company’s products for sale in North America come out of the Rochester manufacturing plant.

Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-Perinton, was instrumental in attracting Love Beets to the region. She met with company representatives in 2014 to entice them to locate here.

“When I think you could have gone anyplace in the United States and you’re here, it not only says a lot about Rochester and our agriculture and what we’re able to produce and the best workforce you’ll ever find anywhere, but we are so proud of what you’ve done in such a short time,” Slaughter said while sampling Love Beets salsa. “And now you’re planning to add 100 more employees? That’s music to our ears.”

Rep. Louise Slaughter samples the new Love Beets salsa (Photo by Gino Finelli)
Rep. Louise Slaughter samples the new Love Beets salsa
(Photo by Gino Finelli)

Love Beets has grown its sales from $15 million in 2015 to $26.3 million in calendar year 2017, Cross noted, and the factory still has capacity, putting the company in a good position to continue to scale up.

“Over the next 26 months we’re very focused on launching more of these new products—nutritious, healthy, delicious—and getting them sold across North America to create the next 100 jobs here in Rochester,” Cross said.

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Cocktail grows from local roots

Roots and Revel cocktail at Lento using Love Beets
Roots and Revel cocktail at Lento using Love Beets

It’s a marriage with Rochester roots—Lento restaurant is serving a new cocktail made with Love Beets, the packaged and ready-to-eat beets produced in Rochester.

The farm-to-table restaurant in Village Gate created a drink called “Roots and Revel,” featuring Love Beets’ Sweet Chili flavor beet, like the olive in a martini. The cocktail, which will be featured until mid-January at Lento, represents the first time Love Beets has been featured on a Rochester menu.

“We are happy to support Love Beets, a local company here in Rochester,” said Art Rogers, owner and executive chef at Lento. The cocktail created by Lento’s bartenders features tequila, lime, botanical spirits,  cardamom and beet shrub, a liquid concocted from juice of the Sweet Chili Love Beets and other ingredients.

Love Beets are processed and packaged in Rochester and sold across the country. They’re available in local outlets such as Wegmans, Tops, Aldi, Shop-Rite, BJ’s Wholesale Club and Costco.

“We’re thrilled that Lento has creatively incorporated Love Beets into their menu for all to enjoy, especially since the Love Beets team lives, works and plays here in Rochester, too,” said Daniel Cross, managing director at Love Beets.

Love Beets loves Rochester growers

Love Beets USA LLC has made good on its promise to source beets from the United States, officials said last week.

Love Beets—a pairing between LiDestri Foods Inc. and G’s Fresh Ltd. of the United Kingdom—processes and packages fresh, marinated and organic beets and beet products at the LiDestri Foods manufacturing complex at Eastman Business Park.

Love Beets will harvest New York-grown beets through the end of October from six main growers at 10 locations. The farms are within close proximity to Love Beets’ 100,000-square-foot production facility, providing an ideal growing region for its beets, officials said.

“As beet consumption grows in popularity across the U.S., we are excited to work more closely with growers to bring innovation in farming practices, experimentation, creativity and improved production capabilities,” said Daniel Cross, managing director of Love Beets production. “We would rather utilize the latest technology from around the world to improve our farming, growing and food manufacturing processes to make great products here in the U.S. than move raw materials across continents.”

The project, which began in earnest a year ago, marked the first production of Love Beets in the U.S. Available to U.S. consumers, the products had been produced solely in the United Kingdom.

Last year, local Love Beets officials announced a goal of having the majority of its beets sourced by New York farmers.

“We will support, develop and nurture local and domestic growers in the U.S. rather than use the fuel and emissions in shipping product around the world,” Cross said in a statement last week. “This will provide a fresher, tastier and potentially more nutritious product than importing a finished product from other countries.”

By 2018, the company projects that 85 percent of conventional Love Beets will be grown and harvested in the U.S., with 55 percent coming from New York. The remainder will come from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, California, Texas, Georgia and the Carolinas.

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