Frieda Caplan founds innovative specialty produce company
If kiwis, spaghetti squash, and jicama are familiar sights in your local grocery store, you probably have entrepreneur Frieda Caplan to thank. Since April 2, 1962, Frieda's Inc. has introduced produce ranging from shitake mushrooms to mangos, from kiwifruit to chayote squash, to the American market, changing American tastes along the way.
Caplan got her start as a produce broker, selling mushrooms in Los Angeles's 7th Street Market. In 1962, she began selling the New Zealand kiwi in the United States. In the first year, she sold just 2,400 pounds of the fruit, then called a Chinese Gooseberry. By 1986, Caplan alone was selling over 1 million pounds of the fruit a year, to restaurateurs, retail groceries, specialty groceries, and food service distributors. Since then, she has successfully introduced enoki mushrooms, alfalfa sprouts, shallots, and dozens of other fruits and vegetables to American markets and tables.
Caplan used innovative marketing concepts to introduce these products. Her innovations included offering directions and recipes on packaging – so that consumers would know how to store and prepare unfamiliar foods – and labeling produce with her brand name. Her labels also helped store clerks, who sometimes could not tell a Jerusalem artichoke from fresh ginger, to process new produce more quickly.
Frieda's Inc. was the first woman-owned and woman-operated American wholesale produce company. In a business sector dominated by men, Caplan's success is all the more remarkable. In 1972, the industry recognized her talents by electing her vice-president of the national Produce Marketing Association. In 1987, she was named an outstanding California Woman in Business. She has also received a Professional Achievement Award from UCLA.
Today, Frieda's Inc. remains a family-owned business, with Caplan's two daughters at the helm and Caplan herself remaining as Chair of the Board. From a warehouse in Los Angeles, they deliver specialty produce to customers across the United States and Canada. In addition, the company continues to seek out new edibles and to develop new recipes for the increasingly sophisticated American palate.