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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Robert Rich Sr., who invented the first non-dairy whipped topping and founded a billion-dollar food company that bears his name here, died yesterday at 92, in his home in Palm Beach, Fla.
Rich was known as an innovator in the frozen-food industry. The Buffalo native started out operating a small dairy operation in western New York in the 1930s. His company -- Rich Products - began to grow rapidly after 1945, when he invented a dessert topping using soybeans instead of milk products.
He was a major supporter of Buffalo-area civic groups and charitable organizations. His son, Robert E. Rich Jr., will continue to run the family's business.
"I have had the honor of learning from my father as we worked side-by-side for more than 40 years in this great family business environment, experiencing first-hand his passion and commitment," said Rich Jr. "My father shared with me as a young man the most valuable gifts a father can give -- the gifts of his time, his knowledge and his trust. I will continue my father's spirit of innovation and dedication to this company he founded more than 60 years ago."
As one of the founding fathers of the frozen food industry, Rich invented the world's first non-dairy whipped topping, Rich's Whip Topping, in 1945. When the war effort was consuming every drop of milk, Rich was investigating a "better than cream" whipped topping. Using the plentiful soybean, he created a replacement for whipped cream, which was easier to use, more stable and could be frozen. His labor resulted in the legendary topping that is used by countless foodservice, restaurants, and supermarket bakery accounts.
"It's hard to measure the impact Robert Rich had on the frozen food industry but suffice it to say his contributions are both monumental and legendary," said Nevin Montgomery, president and c.e.o., National Frozen and Refrigerated Foods Association.
Rich had a strong commitment to educating people of all ages with an interest in foodservice. Rich Products partners with regional and national vocational schools that specialize in restaurant, hospitality, nutritional and general business management both to strengthen the industry.
In 2004, Rich's made a significant pledge to the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) to establish the Robert E. Rich Aspiring Entrepreneurs Scholarship, which awards four scholarships each year to students pursuing careers in the restaurant and foodservice industry.
In 2005, Rich Products celebrated its 60th birthday posting annual sales in excess of $2.5 billion. The company sells more than 2,300 products in more than 85 countries and employs more than 7,000 associates worldwide.