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Paragon Foods’ growth, planned move in line with local produce demand

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Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
Paragon Foods President Elaine Bellin provides a tour of the company's Lawrenceville headquarters on Friday, April 3, 2015.
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Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
“Right now, we could not even sell anything more because of our capacity,” said Paragon Foods President Elaine Bellin, on the Lawrenceville company’s need to expand.
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Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
Nikaila Fisher of Paragon Foods cores pineapples in the company’s Lawrenceville headquarters on Friday, April 3, 2015.
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Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
Paragon Foods dock workers unload a truck at the company's Lawrenceville headquarters on Friday, April 3, 2015.
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Sidney Davis | Trib Total Media
Paragon Foods in Lawrenceville

Demand for fresh fruits and vegetables means Lawrenceville-based Paragon Foods’ business will sprout up in a new location this year.

Founded in 1962, the produce distributor and producer plans to move to a facility in the Thorn Hill Industrial Park in Marshall that is more than twice as large as its current building, owner and President Elaine Bellin said.

“We are relocating because we’ve outgrown our current facility and we’re expanding the business. And this will facilitate the growth of the company with a larger building and certainly the access to the major highways, 79 and the turnpike, will be very helpful in our distribution efforts,” Bellin said.

Paragon plans to break ground this month and expects construction to be finished by the end of the year. It expects to spend $14 million to $15 million, which includes the cost of equipment, construction and land acquisition, Bellin said.

Paragon employs 135 people, but will add 40 over three years, she said, as the company looks to capitalize on the farm-to-table movement.

The company expects the most significant business growth to be in its Just Cut brand, which is a fresh fruit and vegetable line that is cut and packaged on-site.

“There is just this drive toward local products, fresh products, clean foods, you know, that whole thing. And young people are demanding more and more fresh, so that’s been part of the growth,” Bellin said.

The company gets produce from farms in Western Pennsylvania, Florida and California, she said. The new facility will allow Paragon to hold more products.

“Right now, we could not even sell anything more because of our capacity,” Bellin said.

Paragon’s customers include national and local restaurant chains such as Darden Restaurant Group, which owns the Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse brands, and Eat’n Park Hospitality Group.

In 2002, Homestead-based Eat’n Park started an initiative called FarmSource to integrate local products into its supply chain, said Kevin O’Connell, senior vice president of marketing for the company that includes 70 restaurants in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

“Paragon has been a big partner for us in that and helps us get produce from the local farms to our restaurants,” he said.

Eat’n Park was working with Paragon in 2002 when the restaurant chain found that local farmers wanted to supply produce but couldn’t transport the products, O’Connell said.

“So working with Paragon, we together kind of built that distribution system to allow local produce to get to local chains,” he said.

Paragon supplies food service management companies that feed people at large facilities such as Heinz Field and PNC Park, Bellin said.

The company ships about 80,000 cases of fresh and frozen goods weekly, including produce, dairy and poultry, said Rich Mosgrove, vice president of operations.

Bellin’s grandfather, Joseph Bellin, and her father, Bill Bellin, founded Paragon in 1962 on Vinial Street in the North Side.

In 1982, the company moved to a facility on Spring Garden Avenue in the North Side. Since 1990, Paragon has been at its Lawrenceville building, which the company hopes to lease out to a company in need of a large facility with refrigeration.

In 1986, Elaine Bellin was part owner of the company with her brother, but she bought him out in 1993, she said.

“I feel like this is my calling. My goal is not just to employ people, but it is to grow a business and employ people,” she said.

The company is developing a plan to encourage employee retention after it moves to the suburban site 21 miles away from its current location. That plan could include temporary shuttles, Elaine Bellin said.

“This staff I have is very good. And obviously, we want to retain as many as we can,” she said.

The company’s continued sales growth — $12 million in 1993 to $70 million in 2014 — is the result of it better responding to clients’ wants and diversifying its product offerings, such as with its Fresh Cut brand, whose products chefs are demanding, Elaine Bellin said.

“They want it fresh, but they also want it cut,” she said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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