Success Story

This Black-owned ice cream brand was founded over 100 years ago and still going strong

Baldwin Richardson Foods is a global manufacturer of custom ingredients for the food and beverage industries. Since its establishment in 1921 as Baldwin Ice Cream in Chicago, the brand has evolved into a food giant.

It is one of the largest black family-owned businesses in the food industry. Today, it is responsible for filling in Kellogg’s Nutri-Gain bars for North America besides manufacturing pancake syrups, syrups for flavored coffee and savory sauces, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Headquartered in Oakbrook Terrace, the company also has manufacturing facilities in Macedon and Williamson, New York. It employs 370 people and produces nearly 300 million pounds of food annually.

“And sundae toppings, … any sweet goods,” said Cara Hughes, Baldwin Richardson Foods Co.’s Vice President of Customer and Community. “We have our own retail brands too, including Nance’s mustards and condiments and Mrs. Richardson’s Sundae toppings, which you can buy in the grocery store.”

“In the food industry, we call those liquid food products,” said Hughes’ sister Erin Tolefree, president of Baldwin Richardson Foods Co.

The company also helps brands looking for help to enhance their products and/or find or fill holes in their consumer marketing. Additionally, restaurant chains, consumer packaged goods brands, and retailers carry its products.

The journey to founding Baldwin Richardson Foods began when Hughes and Tolefree’s father Eric Johnson left Johnson Products to start his own business. In 1992, Johnson acquired the black-owned Baldwin Ice Cream Co., which was started in 1921 by seven African American postal workers and was based in Chicago. Baldwin Ice Cream Co. grew from a single ice cream parlor at 53rd and State streets to become a product sold in grocery stores around the country, the Chicago Tribune noted.

By 1997, Johnson had bought Richardson Foods, creating Baldwin Richardson Foods, and the new company moved from a retail business selling directly to consumers into a retail and food service ingredient company with strong relationships with well-known quick-service restaurants and coffeehouses in America.

Today, Baldwin Richardson Foods is giving back to the black community by establishing scholarships at Massachusetts-based Babson College (Johnson’s alma mater) and Spelman College (Hughes and Tolefree’s alma mater).

Tolefree stated, “We intentionally haven’t limited any of the scholarships to food because our objective is to foster entrepreneurs who will enter their communities and establish the next Baldwin Richardson Foods, employing hundreds of people and generating opportunities.”

The Johnson family is paying it forward by funding the next generation of black leaders, according to Tolefree. “If they go into communities and launch their own businesses and can employ people, it’s an amplifier effect,” she said. “That’s the piece that got us in—what the business enables in the lives of others.”

Abu Mubarik

Abu Mubarik is a journalist with years of experience in digital media. He loves football and tennis.

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