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In 1963, Rich Products took one small step across the Niagara River and one giant leap into international commerce when it opened its first Canadian manufacturing plant in Fort Erie.

At the time, it was a maker of non-dairy Whip Topping, Coffee Rich coffee creamer and frozen desserts. Today, it’s a global corporation selling 2,000 different products to 112 countries around the world.

“The Fort Erie plant has such a great story and has always held a significant place in Rich’s history since it was the fist venture outside of Buffalo,” said Robert E. Rich Jr., Rich’s chairman, in a news release. “It gave us the opportunity to build our sales and marketing offices as we traveled to all 10 provinces during those years.”

Rich’s is honoring that storied history today with a 50th-anniversary celebration. Current and retired associates, business partners and elected officials will converge on the Hagey Avenue plant for the event.

The plant opened with just three employees, and today it’s one of Fort Erie’s largest single-firm employers, with more than 250 workers.

“They’re very integral to our community,” said Douglas G. Martin, Town of Fort Erie mayor. “I hope they’re here for a lot of years to come. They’ve been a model corporation for the town.”

Every year, Rich Products serves on a business leaders’ forum for the Fort Erie’s Economic Development Corp., sharing insight with other businesses wishing to do international business with Canada.

“We love having them here. We’re so happy they chose Fort Erie,” Martin said.

Rich’s produces 300 different products at the Fort Erie facility, producing 5 million cases of bread, cinnamon buns, rolls, pizza and other items every year. Last year, it bolstered its Canadian presence by acquiring Dorgel Ltd. and Elistan Food Distributors, which make and market ice cream cakes and frozen desserts across Canada.

Rich’s Canada has sales and marketing offices and a second plant in Woodbridge, Ont., and employs a total of 365 people.

email: schristmann@buffnews.com