I just read an update from our procurement team that Cherimoyas are now at their peak of season! I just love Cherimoyas.

For those of you who are novices in the exotic fruit category, the Cherimoya is a subtropical fruit that grows in California and contra-seasonally in Chile and New Zealand (and probably in other countries that I do not know about).

I like to describe its looks as a cross between an artichoke and a hand grenade! (Got the picture?)

Besides the fabulous flavor (smooth vanilla-pineapple-pear-custard), my special closeness to Cherimoyas came when I was a senior at University of California, Davis. I was taking a marketing class and my partner, Bill Vinnicombe and I had to put together a marketing plan and present it to the class.

Since I had worked every summer with my mom in the produce business, I suggested we do our marketing project on Cherimoyas, one of the fruits that we sold on the produce market. Mom had just become the Green Grocer on ABC-TV in Los Angeles, so I already had ideas about how we could dazzle our class with our marketing ideas: Mark Twain described Cherimoyas as “deliciousness itself.” The Spanish name “Cherimoya” means “cold seeds,” and describes the dark brown inedible seeds inside the fruit.

As we researched our project, we discovered that each Cherimoya has to be hand-pollinated with a brush (with the farmers climbing up tall ladders to reach the fruit blossoms). This explained why Cherimoyas are always so much more expensive than other subtropical fruits.

Well, Bill was the “Green Grocer” that day in class and I was his back up. We got an A+ on our marketing project (I think the free samples of ripe Cherimoyas that we handed out helped). And my love of Cherimoyas grew.

So, when I was traveling to the magnificent country of Chile 10 years ago, I didn’t mind the 4 hour drive from Santiago to La Serena. In La Serena, I got the chance to meet many wonderful, hospitable Cherimoya growers and their families, and had a chance to taste the national dessert of Chile: Large, thick slices of Cherimoya (the size of a dinner plate), drizzled with freshly-squeezed orange juice. Mmmm…The perfect dessert.

So, next time you are at your local farmer’s market or grocery store, and see those high-priced, green, bumpy Cherimoyas, I invite you to buy one. Do not refrigerate them, but put them on the counter and let them get soft like an avocado. Then slice them, remove the seeds and skin and enjoy!

Mark Twain was right. Deliciousness itself!


Sometimes when I go to cocktail parties or meet other business people, they don’t take me seriously. I mean, really, here I am a 50-something woman (not always dressed like a CEO), trying to make interesting conversation and appear relevant. My absolute favorite conversation starter is to mention that I used to be a director of The Federal Reserve Bank. Yes, THE Fed.

And, yes, I met Chairman Alan Greenspan. But, that’s another story.

Mostly people want to know just exactly HOW I got to be a director. And that’s my favorite part of the story.

I’m kind of a competitive person. And, so when I was at a NAWBO Conference (National Association of Women Business Owners) about 10 years ago, and heard that a fellow woman business owner was a director of the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta, I decided that I wanted to be a director, too. So I asked that friend, Whitney Johns, how did she do it?

She said, “Karen, why don’t you send me your C.V. (fancy name for a professional resume), along with a packet on your company, and I will pass it along?” So, I sent her a packet and then forgot all about it.

About 12 months later, I got a call from the vice president of the Los Angeles Federal Reserve Bank Branch. He said he was doing Community Outreach and invited me to lunch. After about 45 minutes of chit-chat about our families, exercising and business, Mark finally came clean. He was actually interviewing me! He said there were no guarantees, but he was going to put forth my name as a potential nominee.

The following January, I began my three-year term as a director of the Federal Reserve Bank, Los Angeles Branch. (There are 12 Federal Reserve Districts, and the 12th District is based in San Francisco, which actually covers the nine western states. The Los Angeles Branch is one of 5 branches inside the 12th District).

Because I had to go through a very thorough background check and got fairly high-level FBI security clearance, I cannot say a lot about what went on at our monthly meetings. But I can tell you that each of the 7 directors gave a monthly report on what was going on in our particular industry. I updated the group on the produce industry, water shortages, trucking regulations, workers compensation insurance and the Atkins Diet’s effect on the potato industry! (Personally, I think my reports were the most interesting!). And, yes, we also voted on the interest rate.

The lesson here is – if you want to do something – ask for it! No matter how outrageous a possibility it is! If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

And, about meeting Chairman Alan Greenspan. We were at a cocktail party at the Federal Reserve Bank building in Washington, D.C., and he was standing next to me (no one else noticed that he had entered the room). I offered to “buy him a drink.” When I turned to order, the bartender said, “The Chairman likes a Diet Coke!”


Arugula. Arrugula. Rocket Salad. Roquette. Rugola… It has many names but it’s all the same thing. This peppery, leafy green has become quite popular with chefs over the past 10 years. It’s that long leaf salad green with scalloped leaves and a strong, distinct peppery flavor. It’s often found in mesclun salad mixes, or even alone as a bagged salad.

I vaguely recall when we first got a request for “Rocket Salad.” It must have been in the 1970s when we were just beginning to market fresh herbs. (That’s right, fresh cut herbs have only been widely sold in supermarkets for 30 years. Before that time, home cooks had to use dried herbs. What a flavor revolution!) We got one of our small growers to plant a few rows on their farm and we sold maybe five small bags a week.

I think Arugula is still most popular in Europe. When I first visited Berlin four years ago, my most memorable meal was at a glorious, glass-enclosed restaurant. My host ordered an incredible grilled vegetable salad. On a large oval platter, the chef had arranged a colorful medley of grilled eggplant, zucchini and bell peppers on a thick bed of Arugula. It was lightly topped with crumbled feta cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Even now, my mouth waters when I think of that salad. When I returned home, I concocted my own version of the salad. “Karen’s Famous Grilled Vegetables” is now a staple when we entertain at home.

During my trip to Berlin earlier this month, I enjoyed an Arugula (or Rauke) salad every night, garnished with cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Whenever I taste Arugula, I think of Berlin!

The narrow, delicate small-leaf variety is most popular in Europe, although it is seen here in upscale markets, often labeled as Wild Rocket or Baby Arugula. The larger, broader-leaf Arugula has leaves that measure about 4 inches long and is delicious wilted in warm salads.

Arugula is not always easy to find in supermarkets. Upscale markets may have it in the bagged salad section. (You can also find it at some farmers markets.) If you can’t find it at your store, be sure to request it from your produce manager. And if you have a home garden, Arugula is a natural to plant in the late spring and summer. But don’t plant too much, and watch it carefully. Arugula tends to grow fast and can become a little “tough” if left in the ground too long.

Make your next salad a little different — make Arugula your “Spice of Life!”


I am getting ready to pack for another business trip soon, so I need to make sure I have enough business cards. When should you carry business cards? Always. And I mean always. There is never a time when I leave my house without them:

Hint for guys: Please keep fresh business cards in your wallet! I just hate when guys start digging through their wallets looking for their business card and finally pull out a crumpled one, often with a phone number written on the back! Guys, you are always networking, so keep at least 5 to 8 fresh business cards on hand.

And, speaking of writing on the back of a business card, that’s why the backs of cards are blank. So you can write a note — a follow-up note. So, tell your company’s marketing department: Don’t print anything on the back, and don’t print on glossy paper that makes your pen smear.

Hint for students and the unemployed: Print your own business cards. Don’t worry about a fancy logo. Just make sure the font is clear and easy to read. Include your email address and cell phone number. You can order them online, or print them on your home computer (or at FedEx Office, Staples, etc.). Hey, you’re looking for that next great employment opportunity, aren’t you? Be prepared.

…And always carry them. Even if you’re on vacation. You never know when you will meet someone who you want to be in contact with.


As many of you probably know, my mother is Frieda Caplan. Correction, Frieda Rapoport Caplan. (A few years ago, my mom decided that she wanted to go back to her roots and added a middle name — her maiden name).

Since I started writing this blog, Mom has been emailing an almost-daily reminder that I should mention that “she is still around.” That at 86 years old, she still comes to work every day. Yes, Mom, I am listening to you.

In my adult lifetime, I have found that my mother has an amazing way of being ahead of her time. She seems to have clairvoyance when it comes to issues, new products, relationships, and in this case, important people…

As I travelled from Los Angeles to Berlin last week, I retrieved from my briefcase the reading materials I had hastily thrown in there. American Vegetable Grower Magazine was the first one out. I always start with the editor’s page of magazines. I have great respect for editors and I usually gain some insight.

Well, there it was. “Farewell to a Giant.” The Editor’s Note was announcing the passing of a great man, Norman Borlaug, at the age of 95. Mom has been spreading the word about Borlaug for years. Even though we never met, I feel like I knew Norman Borlaug.

Borlaug revolutionized agriculture in Mexico by developing a wheat variety that helped the country, and ultimately the world to develop and feed the hungry. Borlaug is only one of five people who have received all three of these awards: The Nobel Peace Prize, The Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. (Read the Editors’ Note about Borlaug here.)

Mom gave me — and dozens of her friends — his biography. “BORLAUG,” written by our good friend, Dr. Noel Vietmeyer. Noel befriended Mom (and me) back in the 1970s, and through his work at the National Academy of Sciences and the publication, Lost Crops of the Incas, introduced us to dozens of new produce items. You can thank Noel for being the inspiration for our introduction of Purple Potatoes, Oca, Quinoa, and numerous other “lost crops.” Noel just finished the second in a series of three books on Norman Borlaug’s life. My mom has “adopted” Noel and continues to buy and share copies of both of these books with her friends.

…So there is Norman Borlaug again in my magazine. I had no idea that there was a single person who revolutionized agriculture like Borlaug did. So, I guess it is no surprise that my mother, Frieda Rapoport Caplan, who many say revolutionized the way American consumers eat fruits and vegetables, is the person spreading the word about the person who really revolutionized modern agriculture.

So, Mom, now everyone knows that you are around and at the office every day! And that you continue to amaze me with your adeptness at being on top of the most important and interesting issues.


This week was especially gratifying for me because we officially launched our company’s Healthy Living Initiative by holding our first Health Task Force meeting. A little background…

Like many companies, we were hit with healthcare premium increases of more than 30 percent back in December. I had to figure out some way to deal with this huge cost increase. Besides sharing some of these costs with the company’s employees, I wanted to come up with a long-term way we could improve the health of our employees and their families, and, at the same time, lower our healthcare premiums.

As I was preparing for my “state of the company” address at our holiday luncheon in December, it came to me. Since our company mission is “To Change the Way America Eats,” it only made sense to start at home, right here at Frieda’s. So, I invited every department in our company to ask for volunteers for a company-wide task force.

No managers are part of our Health Task Force. Five employees — one from each department — will meet regularly to come up with recommendations for making us healthier. I was excited to learn that each member came to the meeting with their own list of ideas, and they have already scheduled a second meeting in two weeks.

My vision is that our Health Task Force will come up with three initiatives at a time that they will share with all employees. (Perhaps they will create a “no junk food sold in the building” rule, or schedule voluntary nutrition education classes at lunchtime.) This will be a ground-up movement that will get employees excited about being healthier, while promoting teamwork and better communication. And at the end of 2010, when we get our new healthcare premiums, I am hoping to see a more positive result.

This is a long-term commitment for Frieda’s, and with Healthcare Reform on everyone’s mind, I know that companies (large and small) will have to do their part to educate all Americans.

Of course, I have to do my part. Today, I walked into the office munching on my snack of Lady Apples! I love their small size, sweet flavor and crisp texture. Fuji apples used to be my favorite, but the ones I’ve bought lately are flavorless.

Why don’t you adopt your own Healthy Living Initiative for 2010, at home or at work. It’s easy.

Here are some resources with healthy living tips:


Ever trade goods for services? Well, I did recently. And things got a little “Ugli.”

My good friend Betsy offered to come to our company to do training on goal setting and planning. She performs professional training at her company (a large recruiting firm), and is a top performer there, so I figured it would be great for my account managers to hear from a high achiever.

My training budget was a little tight, so I asked Betsy if I could pay her in fruit. She agreed and the training went great!

And now – here comes the fruit payoff. As we discussed her fruit options, Betsy had many questions and concerns. Frieda’s sells exotic and unusual fruits and veggies, many of which she had never heard of.

“How about some Cherimoyas?”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“We have some lovely Moro Blood Oranges…”

“My husband doesn’t like citrus fruit.”

“How about a case of Fragrant Pears?”

“There are only 3 of us at home–we could never use a whole case.”

Does this sound familiar to you? You want to introduce a new fruit or veggie to your family and all you get is “No.”

So, I confronted Betsy head on. I sent her an email. “Betsy, I have figured out your problem: You have a fear of fruit.”

She had to laugh. I said, “Trust me. Even though you’ve never tried what I am going to bring to you, I bet you’ll love it. And, after you try it, I want you to ‘pass it forward’ and share it with your co-workers and friends.”

And so, I delivered a big heavy box of 18 Ugli Fruits.

Ugli Fruit is from Jamaica and is a grapefruit-tangelo cross. It comes by boat from Jamaica to Miami, and then we truck it to Southern California. It looks like a greenish-yellow scratched-up grapefruit, and its thick skin is easy to peel. Inside the fruit is a light golden-pink, refreshingly sweet, and very juicy flesh. This weeks’ shipment of Ugli Fruit had just arrived at our office and every piece looked great to me.

So what did Betsy think? “I have seen ‘uglier’ fruit in my life,” she said, “But I do love the name.” Betsy said she found the Ugli Fruit to be very juicy and refreshing. “It was fun to try a new fruit!”

So, go to your favorite supermarket and ask for some Ugli Fruit (also known as Uniq Fruit). They are only in season for a short time.

And now. . .what new fruit will I introduce next to Betsy’s family? Kiwano? Passion Fruit? Or maybe the sweet and soft Mamay Sapote? I’ll have to think about that one for a while.



I’m writing from Berlin, Germany, at Fruit Logistica, an international produce industry show held every February. I first heard of this gigantic show from my longtime produce friend, Marc DeNaeyer, who convinced me that I needed to go.

My first Fruit Logistica was in 2006 – and it was a very cold and snowy Berlin that year. I spent two days walking the most enormous food show I had ever encountered. Fruit Logistica was held in six, two-story buildings! (I was familiar with U.S. shows held in one exhibit hall!) As I walked the show, I saw beautiful produce from Holland, where the greenhouse-grown vegetables are displayed like artwork and sculptures. I saw Korean Asian Pears the size of large grapefruits. At the Israeli pavilion, I saw peppers, tomatoes, mangoes and citrus varieties that we never see on the West Coast (some Israeli products are shipped and sold on the East Coast when the freight costs are affordable).

I got to see so many packaging innovations that are commonplace in Europe, where produce is trucked from country to country, because of the close proximity. Peeled and pre-cooked potatoes with multi-month shelf-life. Multi-ingredient luncheon salads in clever plastic tubs wrapped in breathable plastic.

At the end of the show, I remember having gathered at least 30 pounds worth of brochures, leaflets and magazines. There was so much colorful information that I had to carry back to share with our buying and marketing departments.

My second trip to Fruit Logistica was in in 2008 – where the weather was completely different. No coats needed as the temperature was in the 50s. The show had increased in size and as I walked the show floor, I chuckled as I saw a few of my American produce friends. A few more American produce companies were displaying. I recognized many of my USA retailer clients now walking the show to see those same innovations that took my breath away two years earlier.

And, of course, I got to explore the City of Berlin while I was there, including the most amazing department store I’ve ever seen: KaDeWe (KDW). The first five floors are filled with clothing and merchandise and the top two floors feature a multitude of food courts which rival Harrod’s in London. Of course, the best part of this shopping experience was sitting down at the Veuve Clicquot Champagne Bar to taste the latest vintage!

Two years ago, several of my produce friends (actually 4 guys from Los Angeles and Chicago) and I explored an amazing food palace called Rogacki. If you are ever in Berlin, check it out! This food place is the size of a large market with an area dedicated to all types of fresh seafood and an area with all types of salads and Bratwurst and an amazing stand-up restaurant in the middle of it all.

As you are standing there feasting on freshly prepared fish of all kinds, you are sipping amazing vintages of wine, fresh bread, bratwurst, fresh salads. The camaraderie is amazing as you are always sandwiched between a combination of locals and tourists speaking a plethora of languages.

For my third Fruit Logistica, I am doing things a little differently. I am going on a supermarket tour and have meetings with suppliers and customers each night (and of course have to compare notes with my friend Marc). And this year I brought some very comfortable walking shoes! I am looking forward to some new culinary experiences and to make some new business connections. And hopefully, if my technology cooperates, I will be able to share some photos.

Auf Wiedersehen!



Okay, I admit it. I am not a sports fanatic. However, I do enjoy attending sporting events (my personal favorite is The Lakers) and I have spent many a Monday night watching football and Sunday afternoons watching golf. So, as we head toward the Big Game in February, I find myself spending more time thinking about the game of football than I otherwise would be.

So I asked my sister, Jackie, who is really a sports nut, for her insight on the Super Bowl. She said, “Karen – the Super Bowl is really about Leadership. Leadership, teamwork and working toward a common goal. All the qualities that get two teams to the Super Bowl, are those same things that we practice every day in our regular lives, as business owners.”

So, I think there must be a lot of Super Bowl analogies for any business.



No team ever got to the Super Bowl without great leadership. Coaches always have a season-long goal. They don’t say “let’s win games this season to make us feel good.” They say, “We’re going to the Super Bowl (big visionary goal) and to get there, we have to win every game.” They hire great assistant coaches (department managers, if you’re running a company). Each assistant coach has a specialty (offense, defense, etc.), just like each manager does. They assess their players and train them to be the best. They video tape their teams playing, so they can help them improve their performance. They never stop practicing. And honest feedback on each player’s performance is a given. (Think: performance reviews.)


Unless you are a golfer, it’s always about the team and teamwork (but even golfers have caddies). Sure, the Head Coach has his first-string players, but he always has a back-up player for every position. Because what if a player gets injured? You always have to have a contingency plan. Your bench has to be deep. Although the quarterbacks throw the ball and get a lot of visibility, it’s the whole team working together (offense and defense) that wins the game. We have all experienced working in an organization where other team members “have your back.” It makes all the difference in the world to have a team where everyone has a specialty function, yet they all share the team’s goal.

Working Toward A Common Goal

Every football team starts the season with the same goal – to get to the Super Bowl. Similarly, every company starts its year with financial goals and goals to grow their business by landing new accounts.

Thanks to Jackie’s explanation, I have a new perspective on the Super Bowl. I have a lot more admiration for the coaches. [From 2010] And in the particular case of the New Orleans Saints, they are a team and a city that has come from the horrible setback of Hurricane Katrina. It seems to me that as I watched the last few minutes of New Orleans defeating Minnesota, the game was symbolic of the rebuilding of The Big Easy. And, Jackie just reminded me that New Orleans has NEVER been to the Super Bowl. There is a lot to be said for persistence.

So, may the best team win! I will definitely be watching the game with a new found appreciation for the Super Bowl and what it stands for. [The New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts on February 7, 2010.]


Welcome to my blog!

After seeing the movie, Julie and Julia this past summer, I became obsessed with the concept of blogging. I’ve been doing a fair amount of research and reading a lot of blogs lately. And today, I am taking action. It’s time to share my experiences, pass on what I’ve learned and talk about MY wonderful world–a world of running a business, being in a family business, marketing, public speaking, family life, the produce industry (to name a few) and Frieda’s Specialty Produce.

Our company was started by my mother Frieda Caplan back in 1962 , and after she introduced Kiwifruit to America (really, she did!). Well the rest, as they say, is history.

I started working with my mom when I was about 14 years old during my summer breaks and vacations. I joined the company full time after college in 1977. So, I’ve been fortunate to have been right beside my mom as she grew the company. There are so many stories. So many new fruits and veggies that we’ve introduced over the years like Purple Potatoes, Spaghetti Squash, and Sugar Snap Peas. You name it – we’ve probably marketed it.

In fact, some say we’ve changed the way America eats! And we’ve adopted that as our mission. Go Mom!

So, a few times a week, I will be sharing “what’s on my plate” — stories, thoughts, happenings in the produce world, and food for thought.

Have an awesome day!