Initiative Foods marks major milestone toward rebuild after devastating Sanger fire

It’s been nearly a year since a fire tore through Initiative Foods in Sanger and left dozens without a job.

On Thursday, the organic baby food maker is taking its first step to rebuilding by celebrating with a ribbon cutting ceremony. It was considered the biggest fire in Sanger history.

Flames destroyed the Initiative Foods warehouse last July.

“Seeing that fire was devastating for me and my wife,” Joe Corente said. “So, it was kind of, where do we go from here?”

Corente is one of about 80 employees who was left without a job. Ten months later, he’s one of 10 rehires in the first of at least four steps to rebuild from the ground up.

Brand-new equipment is allowing them to start a new line at what was once their smaller inventory warehouse less than a mile south. It’s a major step for president John Ypma.

“When we had the fire, it’s like catching ping pong balls,” he said. “You can’t catch them all at once. You have to do them pieces at a time. And each piece that comes together, it’s wonderful.”

Back at the site of the original warehouse, pretty much everything’s been demolished. But the sight will soon change. The company already has plans to rebuild a structure here.

This will allow them to bring business back from co-packers across the country who’ve been helping them maintain their customers.

“I think by the time we get through the whole thing, we’ll probably talking about having a total staff of about 100,” Ypma.

For John and company, the key to getting there is focusing on the future, not the past.

“We, at one point, would talk about the fire and now we don’t really talk about the fire,” he said. “We try to not even think about the fire. We just talk about where we’re going and what we’re gonna do, which is far more exciting.”

But they also stay true to their roots, treating each other as family – like former employees who had twins just a month after the fire.
Their grandfather still works at Initiative Foods and loves to show them off when they come to visit.

“They’re so loved by everybody here,” production supervisor Scott Elliott said. “It’s fun to sit there and realize out of that fire, you have these two blessings that appeared, and they’ve kind of become the cheerleaders, the symbols of what we do this for.”