Monday, October 30, 2006

Frieda's: A Passion for Produce

My profile of Frieda's, Inc., the well-known specialty produce distributor, is posted on the Well Fed Network. Click here to read about my interview with Karen Caplan, founder Frieda's daughter and current president.

(Frieda's is the produce company that helped to make the kiwifruit a household produce staple in the U.S.)

The company also has a colorful and helpful website loaded with recipes and other information.

Here's a little tidbit just for Blog Appetit readers: Out of the 500+ products Frieda's distributes, Ms. Caplan's favorite is passion fruit. Go to, click on recipes and search for passion fruit recipes. Frieda's recipe for passion fruit daiquiris will be your reward. (Sorry the site doesn't offer permalinks for a direct click experience.)
Photo Credit:

Update: is out of business and the link no longer works.
Here is the text of that post:

Back in 1962 the kiwifruit (then known as the Chinese gooseberry) was a virtual unknown to American consumers, but thanks to the grit, creativity and resourcefulness of produce distributor Frieda Caplan, the brown, furry fruit was renamed, promoted directly to consumers and eventually became a staple of fruit salads and bowls across the land.

Frieda’s, Inc., is now headed by its founder’s daughter, Karen Caplan, who refers to the successful introduction of the kiwifruit as an “18-year overnight success story.”

The Los Alamitos, CA, company’s kiwifruit experience “shifted the paradigm” of how produce is marketed and sold in this country, according to Caplan.   The company is known for not just spotting trends, but nourishing or in some cases creating them with what Caplan called “pull through” marketing, educating produce store produce buyers, media and consumers about the benefits and uses of the fruits and vegetables the company brings to the marketplace.  (Other produce items that Frieda’s helped popularize with American consumers include brown mushrooms, alfalfa sprouts, spaghetti squash and jicama.)

The fact that Frieda’s is a women owned and managed produce distribution company is “a really big deal” and a mother-daughter heritage in the industry is virtually unheard of, she said.  Frieda’s openness, education efforts, identifiable branding and recipes result in an impressive stream of hits a day on its website  and gives the company a unique way to bridge the gap between produce buyers, 98 percent of them who are men according to the Caplan, and consumers, about 85 percent of whom are women.

Every day Frieda’s gets email requests from all over the country from potential shoppers requesting specific Frieda’s products be carried by their local markets. The company follows up on every one.  There is a good chance the writers’ supermarkets or produce stores are already Frieda’s customers.  The privately held company, which releases no financial or sales data, distributes to more than 30,000 retail outlets across all 50 states, according to Caplan.  She said the stores typically stock from one to 40 or 50 out of Frieda’s more than 500-item product line.

What Caplan called a “halo affect” and the seeming magic the company has worked with its produce introductions results sometimes in “growers calling us out of desperation because they’ve heard Frieda’s can work magic.”  One example was the distribution of a European-style potato.  Two brothers from Michigan had received the rights to the French tuber and were growing it in Washington. 

“They wanted to speak to us about possibly marketing them. We asked how did you hear about us.  They told us ‘we called 200 different companies and almost everyone referred us to you so we figure maybe we should call you.’”

Frieda’s took on the sale of that potato and it was widely distributed. The company’s success and connections with consumers has changed buyers’ attitudes, too, Caplan said.  “Produce buyers can no longer object” to stocking Frieda’s newest finds.  They worry “if I don’t stock it, my competition will.”

Frieda’s is “typically 10-15 years ahead of time” with its product development. Caplan said the big trends are for “anything ethnic” with more Latin, Hispanic and Asian items becoming available in mainstream supermarkets.  Caplan predicted the next breakout produce item will be the mangosteen, a purple-skinned Asian fruit about the size of an orange and looking somewhat like a squat eggplant. Inside are segments of delicate tasting cream white flesh.  Sometimes called the “queen of fruit,” it has a relatively a short shelf life and has long been resistant to being grown in the states.  Caplan says Frieda’s will soon be stocking stores with mangosteens grown in Hawaii and expects to start importing the delicacy from Thailand next year.  Will it be the next kiwifruit? Who knows, but with Frieda’s marketing it, mangosteens will probably be showing up in produce aisles near you.

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