Ray Roch – Roch’s Fresh Foods
- Written by: David Harry
- Produced by: Matthew Warner & Cherie Scott
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
For Ray Roch Jr., the third-generation owner of Roch’s Fresh Foods, waking up well before dawn is a family tradition.
Now based in West Greenwich, Rhode Island, Roch’s Fresh Foods was founded in the early 1930s by Joseph Roch, Ray’s grandfather, who rose early each day to open his corner grocery market in the Pawtuxet Valley section of the Ocean State’s Kent County.
By the mid-1950s, Ray’s dad, Ray Roch Sr., got up before the rooster crowed to deliver produce and operate the market the family opened in West Warwick’s Veteran’s Square (the store closed in 2017).
As a teenager, Ray Roch Jr. packed potatoes in the warehouse before joining the company full-time in 1987—the day after he graduated from St. Michael’s College with a degree in business administration and management. He became president and CEO in 1995 and led an expansion that included opening a market in Narragansett, Rhode Island, in 2002.
Roch now works with his son, Zach, the company’s vice president, who joined the company the day after earning his bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Vermont and has helped open a new Roch’s Fresh Foods store in West Greenwich. Zay has also helped bring in a new monitoring system for the company’s warehouse and truck fleet.
“Our motto is ‘Food is Family’” Ray Roch says. “We’ve always been a locally owned family business that cares about our community, and we’re finding new ways to show our commitment and build our brand.”
Coffee and a kitchen
The new 20,000-square-foot Roch’s Fresh Food Arnold Farm that opened in March is located next to the company’s warehouse in West Greenwich. Roch says the store builds on the success of the market in Narragansett, but it also goes well beyond that as it features a deli, butcher shop, prepared foods and a 2,000-square-foot state-of-the-art commercial kitchen.
The kitchen allows the company to make fresh-baked goods and expand its catering business. The baked goods will be sold in the adjoining coffee shop— which Ray says calls “a perfect way to attract and keep new customers.”
While the new store and coffee shop represent a new era for the company, Roch’s Fresh Foods’ wholesale produce business continues to comprise about 75 percent of the business.
Still, that business was threatened by the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020. For several weeks, Roch’s Fresh Foods’ fleet of 30 trucks sat idle, and about 100 employees were facing layoffs after the wholesale operation was shut down.
New ideas ‘pop up’
But the RI Delivers program, which was launched in April 2020 by the Rhode Island Department of Health, enabled Roch’s Fresh Foods to stay open by delivering groceries to people who were quarantined or otherwise stuck at home.
“We started a home delivery service literally overnight. We had eight phones open to take orders and they rang nonstop 12 hours per day,” Roch recalls.
As part of the 10-month RI Delivers Program, Roch’s Fresh Foods also added about 200 new items to its inventory, such as dairy and frozen foods. The items have been kept in stock as the wholesale business rebounded.
While RI Delivers kept operations busy at the 25,000-square-foot warehouse, the Rochs also created a popup market in a portion of it, using display and storage cases they had on hand. The popup closed when the new store opened in March.
Eating and learning
RI Delivers isn’t the first government partnership for Roch’s Fresh Foods. Since 2006, the company has worked with the state, local school districts and food service provider Sodexo to administer the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.
The program supplies schools with 4-ounce containers of fruits and vegetables such as carrots, broccoli or berries and more exotic selections like kiwi, papaya, mangos and pineapples. As Zach notes, the servings not only boost the nutritional content of school meals, the fruit and vegetables served are also used as examples in geography lessons.
After initially providing the fruit and vegetable cups to two local schools, the company now supplies more than 70 schools—or about 80,000 servings per week, all assembled at the company’s warehouse.
“For many of our neighbors, including our children, access to healthy, delicious meals is a huge challenge,” Ray Roch says. “Being part of this program helps us show what the company is really about.”
The family tradition is also what the company is about. However, while Ray says his father expected he’d become part of the company, he didn’t demand that Zach should follow him. However, Zach says the summers and weekends he worked in the warehouse as a teenager whetted his appetite to be part of the business.
“I like to be hands-on in the warehouse,” Zach says. “I like to be on the floor, and I’ll make deliveries, handle inventory and ensure food safety.”
And Ray likes the new energy and ideas his son brings to the company.
“The new store allows us to bring the Roch name into a fourth generation,” Ray says. “We’re excited to build on the foundation that my grandfather started and my dad nurtured. It’s been inspiring for me to see Zach want to continue to expand and have the business evolve in new directions.”
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