A potential snack food heaven piques the interest of potato chip giant Bob Shearer

What started as a chat between Bob Shearer and a caterer led to a match made in snack food heaven.

When Shearer, co-founder of Shearer’s Foods Inc. and founder and CEO of Shearer Solutions, heard that Keith Kropp, owner and president of Or Derv Foods, was setting new standards with innovative appetizers, he wanted to meet him.

“He was not looking for a partner, but we hit it off,” Shearer says. “And he said, ‘With your experience and what you have done at Shearer’s, I think we could really do a lot with the company.’

“I agreed and so one thing led to another, and then basically with my investment group we bought 40 percent of the company. We’re looking to expand and grow the company and are planning a new manufacturing facility.”

Shearer discussed his first investment with Smart Business after selling Shearer’s Foods last year. 

Q. Besides its signature sauerkraut balls, Or Derv Foods produces a range of deep fried products such as calamari, banana pepper rings and even Oreos. With your 40 years in potato chips and other snack foods, how did this opportunity pique your interest?

A. I look for something that has a special niche, something in which we could be different, where we could diversify ourselves and be unique. With the group of talent that we have at the company, I feel good about the innovation that we can bring to the company.

Q. Who is in your investment group?

A. Bob Hanline, founder and CEO of The RS Hanline Co.; Al Melchiorre, CEO and president of Melcap Partners LLC; Steve Surmay, vice president at Shearer’s Foods Inc.; Joe Rogers, COO of Shearer Solutions; and John Bahas II, owner of Akron’s Waterloo Restaurant and Catering and Prime 93 Restaurant and Event Center — he tipped me off about Or Derv Foods, he’s also product development director at Or Derv Foods.

Q. You grew Shearer’s Foods from scratch in 1972 to more than $500 million of annual billings in 2012. You recently won the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Northeast Ohio Award. What’s the key to this type of success?

A. My philosophy has always been to try to work with good people. And I really like Kropp. Then I think you always have to have a unique product in the category and be innovative. Those are the things that help successfully move a company forward.

Q. Can you describe the plant expansion that’s slated for 2014?

A. The new plant will be a sustainable plant. We will be doing LEED certification. Obviously we have a great interest in conserving our natural resources and working to make our foods very sustainable in their nature and manufacturing processes. 

Q. What is it about the uniqueness, for example, of the products that enticed you?

A. We make wonderful falafels. Now I am really hooked on them. We are trying to do some products that cater to the vegan world and are organic and all-natural. We do an all-natural meatball that is just a great product. We do a meatless meatball for vegans that is just to die for. It’s great. We’re trying to develop a lot of unique products that set us apart from our competition. Outside of Shearer’s, this is my first adventure in food. I’ve done some minor things outside of the food industry, but this is where my real love is. I like the opportunity to be able to do that. ●

How to reach: Or Derv Foods, (330) 376-9411 or www.ordervfoods.com