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Robert E. Rich Sr., at 92; invented nondairy topping

BUFFALO -- Frozen food pioneer Robert E. Rich Sr., whose invention of the first nondairy whipped topping in 1945 launched Rich Products Corp., has died.

Mr. Rich, 92, died Wednesday at his home in Palm Beach, Fla., the company said.

''For more than 60 years, Bob Rich Sr. has been a great motivator and the source of inspiration for our company and our associates around the world," said William Gisel Jr., chief operating officer of Rich Products, which employs 7,000 people internationally with sales of more than $2.5 billion.

With the death of its chairman, the company will continue to operate under its president, Robert Rich Jr. ''I have had the honor of learning from my father as we worked side by side for more than 40 years in this great family business environment," the younger Rich said, ''experiencing firsthand his passion and commitment."

Mr. Rich began his business career in 1935 as owner of Wilber Farms Dairy in 1935. In 1945, while war food administrator in Michigan and with milk scarce, he began investigating the plentiful soybean and came up with a soybean-based whipped topping touted as better than cream because it was more stable and could be frozen.

Mr. Rich's Whip Topping remains a staple in school food service, restaurants and supermarket bakeries. The company's product line also includes breads, pizza dough, seafood, and appetizers.

''It's hard to measure the impact Robert Rich had on the frozen food industry but suffice it to say his contributions are both monumental and legendary," said Nevin Montgomery, president and chief executive of the National Frozen and Refrigerated Foods Association.

Mr. Rich was one of the first four inductees in the National Frozen Food Industry Hall of Fame in 1990. A year later, he was inducted into the inaugural class of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, in recognition of a lifelong involvement in sports. Mr. Rich was chairman of the Buffalo Bisons, Cleveland's Triple-A farm team, and oversaw construction of a downtown baseball stadium for the team. The Buffalo Bills's football stadium bore the Rich name for decades, after Mr. Rich purchased the naming rights through Rich Products in 1972.

Mr. Rich's first wife, Janet, died in 1998. The couple had three children. In addition to his son, Mr. Rich leaves his second wife, Vicki Danielle McDuffee; another son, David; two stepdaughters, Stacey Bankston and Kristi LaRoche; 20 grandchildren; and 16 great-grandchildren.

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