From left, John Penland, executive chef and vice president of research and development; Joe Harvey, director of technical sales; and Luis Martinez, vice president of research and innovation. (Photo by Dede Smith)
Madison Reeves (left), Nicole Lingohr (right) and Jackie Shelton (background) work in the Rubix Foods research and development lab. Reeves and Lingohr are lab technicians and Shelton is QA/QC lab manager. (Photo by Dede Smith)
Rubix Foods Executive Vice President Jeffrey Block, CFO and COO Bill Block, President Midd McManus and CEO Andy Block display their branded scissors at a ribbon-cutting at the company’s new headquarters and Innovation Center.
You’ve likely tasted Rubix Foods products – and liked them.
The Jacksonville-founded and headquartered company has worked with 70% of the top 150 restaurant chains in the U.S. and serves major industrial food-related manufacturers.
Rubix Foods develops, tests and provides flavor and functional ingredients for restaurants and food manufacturers, and also develops products to introduce.
It cannot publicly disclose the names of the companies it serves, but rubixfoods.com talks about case studies.
Those include developing cold foam for a leading national coffee chain; creating a spicy glaze for a leading quick-serve restaurant’s fried chicken sandwich that helps maintain the crispy coating; adding protein to the egg products of a national food manufacturer; and formulating a “mother sauce base” for a 250-unit national restaurant chain that needed a signature “made-from-scratch” flavor.
“We want to strategically partner with our customers,” said Executive Vice President Jeffrey Block during a tour Sept. 15 of the new Rubix Innovation Center in Flagler Center.
“Manufacturers are mesmerized by what we do here.”
An investment in innovation
Rubix Foods LLC formally opened its headquarters and Innovation Center on Sept. 20 at 13203 Flagler Center Blvd. in Flagler Center, the office and industrial park south of Old St. Augustine Road between Interstate 95 and Philips Highway.
“We are officially open for business as of right now,” CEO Andy Block said at the 9 a.m. grand opening Sept. 20.
“We can now focus on disruptive technologies and provide the best-in-class innovation and research for all of our world-class customers. With this facility our speed to market will be unmatched.”
Block said Rubix will be able to “beat almost anybody in the industry from research to rollout.”
Rubix, with 73 employees, started to move into the 50,000-square-foot “concept-to-conceptualization” center in May from a 13,500-square-foot location at 4131 Sunbeam Road in Mandarin, about 10 miles away.
It’s all about speed to market, Block said during the tour.
“We want to help our customers solve problems.”
Rubix Foods rebranded Oct. 20, 2021, from Darifair Foods, its name since 1981, to reflect its evolution from dairy products to a flavor and functional ingredient innovator.
Its new logo features bright blue type as a reference to the company’s historic branding complemented with an orange block in a nod to the Block family, which founded the company and is in its fourth generation of leadership.
Bill Block, 56, is CFO and COO; Andy, 54, is CEO; and Jeffrey, 51, is executive vice president; their appointed roles when their father stepped down in 2008.
A fifth generation has joined the company.
Justin Block, 27, Andy’s son, is a business and operations developer, having joined Darifair as an intern before graduating from the University of Florida in 2019 with a degree in food and resource economics. He then took on a sales role.
Food service and distribution veteran Midd McManus joined in 2015 as president.
Arbor Investments, with offices in Chicago and New York, invested in Darifair in April 2019 to provide equity for growth and expansion. They did not disclose the terms of the transaction.
Rubix Foods, then Darifair Foods LLC, paid $2.1 million for the 4.9-acre Flagler Center site in January 2020. The city issued construction permits totaling project costs of almost $37.5 million.
The total cost of land and construction is almost $40 million.
Arbor Investments CEO Greg Purcell said at the grand opening that the investment group met the Block family and Darifair team about four years ago.
“During our acquisition courtship, we took a walk on the beach in Ponte Vedra where Andy asked, ‘Greg, what’s the craziest thing you’re going to do with our company?’
“Without hesitation, I said, ‘Change the company’s name, build the brand, construct a new world-class food innovation center.’ Andy looked at me like I’d lost my mind.”
Purcell said his colleagues “questioned my sanity being so brutally honest to a prospective partner.”
“But that’s what we do at Arbor,” he said. “We look for businesses and like-minded entrepreneurs that are ready for a transformation. We found our people that day at Ponte Vedra.”
He described the Blocks as “kindred spirits, fellow high-energy entrepreneurs who execute. We work well with people who are driven to win.”
“We knew this business was much more than a commodity dairy company. What we saw was a hub of smart scientists, food technologists and world-class chefs developing some of the industry’s best innovations. Our Rubix team solves problems.”
From research to manufacturing
Touring the two-story, 50,000-square-foot building finds 30,000 square feet for innovation and 20,000 square feet for administration.
• A first-floor show kitchen for in-person and virtual demonstrations by Rubix chefs. Clients can come into the center, watch online virtually through streaming, or both.
• A research and development lab and large R&D test kitchen with advanced equipment for prototype development and evaluation and to simulate customers’ operations. The R&D kitchen also allows customers to bring in their equipment to test the products that Rubix develops. Rubix also invests in product technologies, including one in development for more than two years that mimics the taste and performance of heavy cream at one-third the fat level.
• Two pilot plants to simulate real-world manufacturing. The plants can evaluate new ingredients, formulations and processes on a small scale, or conduct equipment demonstrations for its manufacturing partners. Its products then are made among 51 manufacturing plants nationwide.
• Full-scale sensory panel and dedicated market research and consumer insight facilities. With Jacksonville considered a top U.S. test market, the Rubix Consumer Research facility features an eight-booth sensory panel, market research room and observation room. Testers can taste and rate the products and Rubix chefs can adjust the products immediately from the test kitchen.
• Food safety and quality assurance capabilities. The in-house lab evaluates product quality at all stages of production to meet safety and regulatory requirements.
• A customer-driven market research and insights department. The team monitors menu data, tracks industry trends and researches “the next big ideas” in food and menu innovation.
The center also provides an employee break room that includes an outdoor dining area with a louvered roof system for sun and rain; a backup generator; 300 miles of wiring to link internal networks; administrative, sales and supply chain offices; and the rooftop “Block Party Deck” with seating, entertainment, water misters and another louvered pergola.
Andy Block said the innovation facility also is open for potential customers to test-market products.
“Our goal is to double the company in the next five years,” he said.
As a privately owned company, Rubix Foods says it prefers not to disclose its revenue.
From canning to “unparalleled speed”
There’s more to the family history and entrepreneurial story, but in brief, the company descended from Max Block, who founded the Max Block Canning Co. in the Bronx, New York, in 1910.
He sold the company to Vita Foods in 1942, and his son, Aaron Block, joined that company, where he met Aaron Lapin,
In 1948, Aaron Lapin founded Reddi-wip in St. Louis and Aaron Block created the first Reddi-wip plant in Jacksonville.
In 1965, Aaron Block and his son, Mickey Block, founded Longlife Dairy Products in Jacksonville, the first U.S. ultra-high temperature dairy plant, where Danone North America now operates. Reddi-wip moved, too.
They sold the business in 1978 to Beatrice Foods Corp.
In 1981, Mickey Block founded Darifair Foods as a national dairy supplier, expanding into production of private-label sour cream, such as the one-ounce triangular condiment packets with bright blue coloring used at restaurants, and service brands and flavor ingredients.
Darifair Foods has been producing and supplying dairy products such as creams, cottage cheese, yogurt, fluid creamers, milk, ice creams, yogurt smoothies, sauces and other dairy products to clients in the U.S.
From there, the company expanded its technologies and products.
Bill, Andy and Jeffrey Block took over in 2008, starting a new era of culinary and science-driven innovation, and partnered with Arbor Investments in 2019.
Purcell said Sept. 20 that since the investment, “this company has survived and thrived during a global pandemic that severely disrupted the local supply chain, including the service industry.”
He said Rubix continues to recruit “the best and the brightest culinary talent.”
When Darifair announced the new Rubix Foods name and brand identity Oct. 20, 2021, it described itself as a “culinary and food science-focused provider of flavor and functional ingredients for restaurants and food manufacturers.”
It said the company has evolved beyond its dairy roots to serve business-to-business customers “in a full spectrum of food solutions.”
Andy Block said at the Oct. 27, 2020, groundbreaking for the new headquarters, before the rebranding, that the family has a rich history in food innovation.
“While we are definitely focused on the long-term picture of food service and manufacturing, we are also keenly aware of the current circumstances facing our customers, including supply chain interruptions, labor shortages and economic pressures,” Block said.
“More than ever, customers see the value of a comprehensive brain trust such as Rubix Foods in helping them track trends, explore new flavors and leverage ideal ingredients, all steered by our hands-on team at unparalleled speed.”