Could Rochester be America's beet basket? Love Beets USA thinks so

Growing roots with Love Beets

Chances are you’ve seen Rochester-based Love Beets in the produce section of your local grocery store or online retailer — after all, it’s hard to miss the fun, clever branding on packages of their vacuum-sealed fresh and cooked beets. Or perhaps you’ve tried one of their varieties of organic beet juices and discovered a new favorite, wholesome alternative to sugary sodas.

However, if you’re reading this and wondering why you haven’t seen Love Beets at your local grocer, David Stoklosa, Managing Director of Love Beets Production, LLC, is on a mission to make sure that changes soon.

“Love Beets are currently in over 9,000 outlets today across the country, as well as Mexico and Canada — but we’re still technically a startup,” explains Stoklosa. “Our mission is, we want to be all beets to everybody. It’s a great brand, we’re feeling really good about the business, and we’re bullish on where this could go.”

Though Love Beets branded products have been imported from the UK to the states since 2011, the official formation of Love Beets USA LLC — a joint venture between LiDestri Foods Inc of Fairport and the UK’s G’s Fresh Ltd. — have further helped the company move towards its goal of becoming synonymous with the versatile root veggie, thanks in no small part to a supportive community, quality workforce, and strong ties to the Finger Lakes region.

Planting seeds in Rochester

The story of Love Beets in Rochester began only a few short years ago, when Stoklosa — then working for LiDestri, a food and beverage producer — was tasked with guiding a new partnership between LiDestri and a farming family from England, Guy and Katherine Shropshire, who were looking to find a place in a U.S. market where beet farming had historically been very limited.

On July 27, 2015, a joint venture between LiDestri and the Shropshires was finalized, Stoklosa was named Managing Director of the newly formed Love Beets USA LLC and production officially kicked off in Rochester.

Stoklosa is quick to mention how the broader Rochester community played a major role helping establish Love Beets in the United States.

“Any company that puts its money where its mouth is — in other words, has a good product, business plan, and actually hires people — when you’re able to do all of that, then there’s a lot of people out there willing to support you and clear the road in terms of permit issues, paperwork issues, and just really help your business be successful,” explains Stoklosa.

With help from local Finger Lakes development initiatives and councils, it was time to get to work producing the wide variety of Love Beets products in their new homebase in Rochester.

“A year ago, we had nothing but an empty 100,000-square-foot warehouse,” recalls Stoklosa. “So we quickly went to work — not only building out the factory both from a front office and production floor standpoint, but also buying all the processing equipment necessary to fully integrate the Love Beets business in the United States, including actually growing the beets as well.

“Now here we are, one year later, about to start harvest season for our second year here in our $20M factory, producing a whole lot of vacuum-packed beets, fresh packed beets, and various other beet-related products.”

Locally sourced — and not just beets

A beet production company wouldn’t account for much without a certain core product — namely, the beets themselves.

In order to get the processing plant up and running, Stoklosa not only had to find local farmers who could grow the product, but also gain their trust and support in the Love Beets venture.

“If you want beets, you have to grow them and commit to the farmer that you’re taking them all when they harvest, because it’s not a commodity crop like corn, wheat or soybeans where they’re just always there,” says Stoklosa. “Last year was our first season working with local beet farmers, who were understandably hesitant because it’s a big investment — after all, they’re putting up the money to grow the crop and were skeptical that we’d buy everything — but when we did and then asked them to grow more the following season, they got a bit more comfortable and were more eager to work with us.

“And a majority of our farmers are in the Finger Lakes region, so logistics and transportation are all very efficient.”

After a large investment in product, Stoklosa’s next priority was building a workforce.

“We started with zero employees,” recalls Stoklosa. “I hired my leadership team first, and since then we now have 107 people working here.”

Stoklosa also praises the dedicated labor and innovative resources located in the Rochester area.

“The region’s IQ quotient is pretty high within the agriculture industry, processing and manufacturing sides of the business,” says Stoklosa. “Plus, you have lots of tools between the Cornell Cooperative and the Cornell Agriculture School, which tends to create some fun products, and there are some pretty cool innovations coming out from LiDestri as well.”

Establishing roots to grow

When asked about the future of the growing industry and Love Beets in general, Stoklosa is confident, listing new products, potential retailers and company goals in a manner that reflects a year of challenges and successes. He’s aware that Love Beets has cornered a niche market not only in New York State but North America as well, and hopes the company will continue being a valuable contributor to the larger Rochester community in the years ahead.

“We still haven’t tapped the full potential for this processing plant yet, its capacity, and our people,” says Stoklosa. “When we built this plant, we built it for four times the lines that we currently have in it, so the strategy is to be able to make products here in Rochester for distribution to the entire North American landscape, and not need to have another facility.

“That’s the goal. Here’s where we want to be.”

For more information on the agribusiness industry in New York State, contact Jane Thelen at Agribusiness@esd.ny.gov or (315) 793-2366.