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Akron juice maker is sold and gets a familiar face as CEO

Akron Beacon Journal logo Akron Beacon Journal 1/23/2020 By Katie Byard, Akron Beacon Journal
Jim Powers, director of operations, holds a flattened juice carton as he explains the automated filling process while operator Jennifer Newsom prepares to start a run of Ardmore Farms at the Country Pure Foods plant in Akron. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]© Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal/Akron Beacon Journal/TNS Jim Powers, director of operations, holds a flattened juice carton as he explains the automated filling process while operator Jennifer Newsom prepares to start a run of Ardmore Farms at the Country Pure Foods plant in Akron. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]

Old is new again at longtime Akron juice maker Country Pure Foods.

Ray Lee, who retired as CEO of Country Pure in 2017, has teamed up with a Cleveland private equity firm to buy the company that makes more than 300 juice products. Lee has returned to the company as CEO.

Lee partnered with private equity company Blue Point Capital, which has a portfolio of companies that includes Italian Rose, a manufacturer and distributor of salsas, dips, sauces and spreads based in Florida.

a person on the machine: A juice line operator loads single size serving cups into the automated filling machine for a run of Ardmore Farms grape juice at the Country Pure Foods plant in Akron.  [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]© Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal/Akron Beacon Journal/TNS A juice line operator loads single size serving cups into the automated filling machine for a run of Ardmore Farms grape juice at the Country Pure Foods plant in Akron. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]

Terms of the purchase were not disclosed.

Country Pure will keep its headquarters in downtown Akron. Also part of the sale was a plant on West Waterloo Road in Akron, along with four other plants outside Ohio.

Single size serving cups of Ardmore Farms grape juice are batch coded and date stamped after being filled at the Country Pure Foods plant in Akron. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]© Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal/Akron Beacon Journal/TNS Single size serving cups of Ardmore Farms grape juice are batch coded and date stamped after being filled at the Country Pure Foods plant in Akron. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]

"We have no intention of moving" from downtown Akron, said Lee, who plans to continue to live in Florida, where he moved some time ago, and travel to Ohio Pure's facilities as needed.

"We've made an investment there downtown," he said.

In 2017, the company moved all its headquarters staff to the fourth floor of former O'Neil's department store building — now called the Roetzel & Andress Building — at 222 S. Main St. downtown. The employees previously had been located at the Country Pure plant and office building on West Waterloo Road. The current headquarters staff numbers 35 to 40 people.

Country Pure sells it products nationwide. Its sells primarily to institutions such as schools, hospitals and prisons, under the Ardmore Farms brand. It also manufactures private-label brands for some of the country's largest grocery chains, as well as Natural Country juices and fruit drinks, available at retailers nationwide.

a man standing in a kitchen: Jim Powers, director of operations, explains the automated filling process as Ardmore Farms grape fruit juice is packaged into single-serving containers at the Country Pure Foods plant in Akron plant on Thursday Jan. 16, 2020.   [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]© Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal/Akron Beacon Journal/TNS Jim Powers, director of operations, explains the automated filling process as Ardmore Farms grape fruit juice is packaged into single-serving containers at the Country Pure Foods plant in Akron plant on Thursday Jan. 16, 2020. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]

In 2018, the company entered the plant-based beverage market and began making private-label almond milk that is sold at various grocery stores.

Lee said he when he retired from Country Pure in 2017, his intention was to "ride off into the sunset."

But then he heard the owner of Country Pure was looking to sell and a friend in investment banking told him he should buy it.

"He convinced me I should at least take a look at it, and before you know it, we were interviewing [possible] partners," Lee said.

Country Pure previously was owned by a joint venture of Japanese companies Sapporo International and Toyota Tsusho America. This joint venture purchased Country Pure in 2015 from another private-equity firm.

a man standing in a kitchen: Jennifer Newsom tests cartons of Ardmore Farms fruit juice at the lab in the Country Pure Foods plant in Akron. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]© Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal/Akron Beacon Journal/TNS Jennifer Newsom tests cartons of Ardmore Farms fruit juice at the lab in the Country Pure Foods plant in Akron. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]

Country Pure employs more than 500 people at its five plants and at its headquarters. In addition to the Akron plant, the juice maker has two plants in Florida, one in Connecticut and one in Texas.

Jim Powers, director of operations, watches a line of cartons of Ardmore Farms fruit juice at the Country Pure Foods plant in Akron, Ohio.  [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]© Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal/Akron Beacon Journal/TNS Jim Powers, director of operations, watches a line of cartons of Ardmore Farms fruit juice at the Country Pure Foods plant in Akron, Ohio. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]

Lee said he's long known officials with Blue Point and that was key in deciding to team up with the Cleveland firm.

As for Blue Point's interest in Country Pure, John LeMay, a partner with Blue Point, said in a news release that the private equity firm has long been tracking Country Pure's successes.

"Our prior successes and current portfolio investments in the food and beverage segment and our longstanding relationship with Ray, who was the former CEO, make it a natural one for us,." LeMay said.

Lee, a graduate of Akron's East high school and the University of Akron, joined the company's forerunner — Ohio Pure Foods — in 1992, and he was one of the original senior management members when Country Pure Foods was formed in 1995. He ultimately served as CEO for Country Pure Foods for more than 20 years. He left for a brief time and returned.

The company's roots go back to the 1950s when Walter Mirapaul, who died in 2011, and his brother-in-law formed Ohio Pure Foods. Mirapaul, known in Akron for his devotion to the arts, grew Ohio Pure through acquisitions and remained with the company for a time after it was purchased in 1988 by a Dutch company.

In 1995, Ohio Pure Foods merged with Natural Country Farms of Ellington, Connecticut, forming the business called Country Pure Foods.

Jennifer Newsom rearranges cartons of Ardmore Farms fruit juice as she starts a run of juice at the Country Pure Foods Akron plant on Thursday Jan. 16, 2020. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]© Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal/Akron Beacon Journal/TNS Jennifer Newsom rearranges cartons of Ardmore Farms fruit juice as she starts a run of juice at the Country Pure Foods Akron plant on Thursday Jan. 16, 2020. [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]

Contact reporter Katie Byard at 330-9963781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal. com.

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©2020 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

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