Jacksonville-based Darifair Foods, a culinary and food science company, broke ground Oct. 27 on its 47,500-square-foot corporate headquarters and innovation center in Flagler Center in South Jacksonville.
Darifair CEO Andy Block called it a new era for the company.
“For five generations our family has owned and operated food and dairy companies, but the Darifair we know today is completely different than the one we started 35 years ago,” he said in a news release.
Darifair described the facility as “an integral part of Darifair’s future growth strategy since partnering with private equity firm Arbor Investments” in 2019.
“We’ve advanced in so many ways and Arbor supports our vision for continued innovation; this facility is a huge nod to that commitment.”
The Block family founded and continues to lead the privately owned Darifair.
Arbor Investments, with offices in Chicago and New York, announced May 1, 2019, that it invested in the company.
Arbor Investments, founded in 1999, is a private equity firm focused on acquiring premier companies in the food, beverage and related industries. It has acquired or invested in more than 80 companies in North America.
The Darifair headquarters and center are under development at 13129 Flagler Center Blvd. at northeast Gran Bay Parkway and Flagler Center Boulevard.
The Flagler Center office and industrial park is south of Old St. Augustine Road between Interstate 95 and Philips Highway.
Jacksonville-based Stellar is designing and constructing the facility, which is expected to be completed in late 2021.
Darifair limited the groundbreaking event to company department heads and a few key members from Arbor Investments and Stellar. Darifair employees could watch remotely.
Block said the family has a rich history in food innovation, “stretching back to the 1940s when Aaron Block co-founded Reddi-wip in Jacksonville, Florida.”
He said that in the 1960s, Max Block started the first ultra-high temperature dairy plant in the U.S., extending the shelf life of dairy products from 14 to 60 days.
The release said that when Darifair was founded in 1985, it was chartered as the first National Dairy Supplier.
“Today, still under Block family leadership, Darifair has expanded its offerings, developing culinary and food science-focused solutions for restaurants and manufacturers,” said the release.
“Green-fielding a new headquarters demonstrates just how bullish we are about the future of Darifair,” he said, referring to new construction.
“This showpiece facility will not only help accelerate Darifair’s already impressive track record of growth, but continue the legacy the Block family has built,” he said.
The release said the Innovation Center’s research and development lab is the project’s most compelling aspect.
The lab features a working test kitchen and separate show kitchen, a pilot plant, a quality control lab and an integrated sensory and market research department.
“This Innovation Center cements our leadership in the industry,” Block said.
He said the building will enable the Darifair team and customers to develop and test product-specific applications “at unparalleled speed, while delivering unrivaled access to market data and consumer insights so pivotal to product development.”
Darifair Foods produces and supplies 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.
Darifair said it is a “leading culinary partner offering up insight-driven concepts and breakthrough food solutions for restaurants, retailers, and manufacturers in the United States.”
Block said Darifair has the talent and technology and soon will have the facility “to deliver food innovations of tomorrow.”
The new headquarters will house functions that include marketing, sales, customer service, R&D, finance, supply chain and IT.
The areas will include new offices, “socially distanced workstations, spacious meeting rooms, and a large rooftop entertaining area,” the release said.
Darifair President Midd McManus said the company is building with workforce growth in mind.
“This new facility provides us with space to support our future organizational needs for many years to come,” he said.
Darifair has 58 employees and the company said it plans for growth and will be hiring.
Darifair paid $2.1 million Jan. 23 for the Flagler Center development site.
The city issued a foundation permit Aug. 18 and a building permit Sept. 28 for the structure on about 5.06 acres.
The permit shows a $13 million construction cost.
Darifair is based in Mandarin at 4131 Sunbeam Road, where it occupies a 13,500-square-foot office building.
Darifair’s online history says that in 1948, Aaron Block and Aaron Lapin co-founded Reddi-wip in Jacksonville.
Lapin, in St. Louis, invented Reddi-wip and Block became the Southeast manufacturer and supplier.