It used to be all about the sauerkraut balls at the maker of frozen appetizers, Or Derv Foods, of Akron.
Now, Or Derv — creator of the popular Bunny B sauerkraut appetizers — is thinking outside the ball.
The company has quietly expanded its lineup and is offering everything from meatballs to calamari to bottled sauces and salsas.
This summer, the enterprise got an infusion of dollars for expansion from Bob Shearer and others, who now own 40 percent of Or Derv. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Shearer is the man who helped turn Shearer’s Foods of Massillon, maker of potato chips and other snacks, into a $500-million-a-year business.
“I’m excited about building a company again,” said Shearer, who stepped down as Shearer’s CEO last year in a sale of that business. “We built that business up. I’d like to do kind of the same thing again and I think we have a lot of potential with Or Derv.”
Already, Shearer and Or Derv’s CEO, Keith Kropp, are planning to break ground on a new plant in October.
They want to build in Akron and are considering a spot in the city-owned Ascot Industrial Park. The men envision employment growing from the current 14 to 40 or 50 in the next three years.
Kropp said Or Derv will hang on to its existing facility at 957 Johnston St. off Arlington Street, southeast of downtown.
The plan is to move the company’s bottling operation — where sauces and salsas are made — from a temporary site to Johnston.
Or Derv bought it this year from a processor in western Ohio. Or Derv, which had previously done a limited amount of bottling, is a private-label bottler — making products sold under other companies’ brand names.
“Actually, the sauerkraut ball business has become a small part of our business,” Kropp said.
Or Derv has roots in the 1960s; the Bunny B brand was part of the old Salem potato chip company. Kropp bought Or Derv in 2005 and has been growing sales ever since.
Long before Shearer’s arrival, Kropp realized Or Derv needed to broaden its offerings beyond sauerkraut balls to survive.
So he expanded the line to include everything from Reuben Snack Bites, to breaded calamari to falafel balls featuring chick peas, chick pea flour and spices. These are sold to national and regional restaurant chains as well as to distributors who deliver them to restaurants.
Currently, the only Or Derv products available at grocery stores are Bunny B sauerkraut balls. Most are sold within a 50- to 75-mile radius of Akron, a city known for its love of the treat. (Most restaurant customers carry Or Derv’s Connoisseur brand of sauerkraut balls.)
Shearer and Kropp said the expansion plans include selling more frozen-food items to grocers beyond the sauerkraut balls.
Kropp wasn’t looking for an investor when he first met with Shearer last year. John Bahas II, who is executive chef at Or Derv, introduced the two. Bahas is owner of Akron’s Waterloo Restaurant & Catering and Prime 93 restaurant and event center, the former Anthe’s in New Franklin.
Kropp said the more he and Shearer talked, “the more sense it made. Bob brings a lot to the table.”
Shearer said he was eager to get back into the food business: “It’s what I know.”
He and his parents and brother, Tom, founded Shearer’s in 1974. Initially, the business was a potato chip distributor. Eventually, the family decided to make its own chips and the Shearer’s brand was born.
The family sold the business to a private equity firm in 2008, and last year that firm sold the company to another private equity group, Wind Point Partners of Chicago.
“It’s exciting to be with the Or Derv,” Shearer said. “Especially developing new products. You can be a little bit more creative than you were with potato chips.”
His investment group includes Bob Hanline, founder and CEO of the R.S. Hanline Co., a food distributor in Shelby, Ohio; Al Melchiorre, CEO and president of Melcap Partners LLC, a private investment banking firm in Sharon Township; Steve Surmay, vice president at Shearer’s Foods Inc. and Joe Rogers, COO of Shearer Solutions, Bob Shearer’s consulting company. Rogers, who previously worked at Shearer’s, is now director of sales at Or Derv.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org.