As I wrote in my last post, we had five interns this summer. There was plenty of work for them and I kept reminding myself, and our regular employees, that our job was to teach these interns what it is really like to work inside a company.

I didn’t expect to learn anything from them. But I did!

Last week was our national sales meeting. Once a year we bring in our sales team from all over the country for training and team building. We’ve done this for many years and on their last night in town, I always invite them to our house for a barbecue. Thank goodness for my husband, Garry, as he took care of every detail this year. We had more than 30 people at our house – on the hottest afternoon of the year!

It was nice to see our team in a relaxed atmosphere, just sitting in the backyard, sipping their beverages, sampling appetizers, and chowing down on Garry’s famous dry-rub, grilled ribs and chicken.

I finally had time to make a plate for myself and I took a seat next to our interns, Anika and Dani. As we were chatting and reminiscing about all their activities this summer, they started telling me about one of their greatest lessons during their internship with us.

It was about smiling.

Both Anika and Dani admitted to me early on that it was hard for them to remember to smile. Their job this summer was on our Street Team, visiting local supermarkets and being Frieda’s ambassadors to consumers. They not only sampled exotic fruits and vegetables, but their job was to answer consumers’ questions and welcome them into the produce department. During our weekly update meetings in the office, they would always be reminded to smile.

Well, at our team dinner, they confided in me that now they can’t STOP smiling. Dani told me that she finds herself smiling when she goes to the grocery store (when she’s not working) and says hello to strangers while walking through the produce department. She said it seems natural to her now and she noticed how much happier it makes her feel. And that it seemed to make total strangers happy!

Anika told us that our family style barbecue was so much different from social events at another company she had an internship with.

“Other company events I went to for XYZ Company consisted of me standing in a corner because I didn’t know anyone. Last night could not have been more different. I was able to name everyone at your house and talk to them, both about work and personal lives. The evening was a perfect example of how different, and in my opinion better, small companies are from big ones. People cared about when my last day was, what I’m doing in the fall, and how much they enjoyed working with me this summer. This internship has been great in so many ways, but the most important of which was being a part of a team. Last night just reaffirmed the greatness of small business.”

And then she gave me a big smile so I could tell she was sincere.

I recommend trying to smile as much as possible. And make eye contact with strangers when you say “hello.” How can you be in a bad mood or unproductive when you have a big smile on your face?

These two college students reminded me of that. But, if you know me personally, you know that I always have a smile on my face.

Try it!

Karen

If you read my blog last summer, you know that our company has an internship program where we invite college-aged students to work with us during the summer.

What each and every intern told us this year was that they were amazed that they did REAL work! No simple or “grunt” work at Frieda’s. Nope, we have so many projects that it’s all hands on deck!

I met with the group of interns when they started at Frieda’s and each week they had to write a report of “what they learned.” Then last week, I met with them all together to get their impressions of their internship experience. What amazed me the most? They told me it changed their lives! Each of them related that their career choice would probably change now that they have worked at Frieda’s. Here is what they learned in their own words.

Mitchell
Our first intern only worked for us for 12 days. Through a program at a local high school, we were thrilled to bring a high school senior into the office to learn what it is like. Mitchell was a referral from one of our employees.

“This past week I sat in on the creative design meeting and was able to see the new website design layouts. It’s interesting to see how important conference calls and communication really are especially when working collaboratively. A highlight of the week was being able to go to the produce market. Even though I had to wake up early (4 a.m.) it was a great experience. I feel like the work I am doing is helpful to the company.”

Rachael
We were so slammed with work in early May (and none of our college interns were ready to start work) so I contacted one of the high school seniors I know and asked her if she wanted a part time internship. With no work experience, Rachael jumped in without hesitation.

“Being an intern at Frieda’s Inc. has taught me so much, starting from just learning how to punch in the time I come and leave, to publicizing the Hatch Chile Roasting Events on every possible form of media, and learning so many helpful hints and tips from everyone who works here. This company is like one big family who is passionate and beyond welcoming and I thank you for letting me be a part of it.”

Rebecca
Rebecca is a rising Sophomore at George Washington University and was home for the summer.

“During my internship at Frieda’s, I learned the importance of food safety and about all the official documentation that companies need in order to do business with a company like Frieda’s. I was working independently on a food safety project, and I learned how to handle confusing situations and make confident decisions. Also, being part of the Frieda’s Street Team, I learned how to be flexible in a crunch as well as the effectiveness of in-person marketing, which creates a fresh and unique experience for customers.”

Danielle
I met Danielle at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo when I did a guest lecture in April of this year. She was one of many students who contacted us about an internship. Interestingly, her uncle’s family is in the produce business which gave her a different perspective on our industry.

“Not only have I learned so much about marketing from my internship, but I have also gained a lot of self esteem and confidence in my work abilities. I was able to be a part of a team that came together to implement a brand new idea for Frieda’s and be a part of its success. Having the ability to see the accomplishments of the Street Team and be a part of something successful has made this internship so rewarding. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity and know that the lessons I have learned while at Frieda’s will benefit me throughout my future internships and career.”

Anika
Anika contacted us earlier this year. She lives locally in Southern California but graduated from Bentley College in Massachusetts. She is going back to start her MBA in the fall.

“One of the best things about working at Frieda’s was being a part of a team and seeing direct results of my hard work. The wide range of projects I was assigned allowed me to integrate fully in the company and feel like an important member at Frieda’s, rather than just a summer intern. I also learned a lot about structure and flexibility in the workplace. The office isn’t a classroom with a syllabus and specific assignments. Things change, especially in the produce industry, and the ability to adapt to these changes quickly and efficiently is crucial to one’s success. This summer was such a great opportunity. Thank you, Frieda’s!”

I highly recommend offering internships. It’s a great way to give back, and you can get a lot of work done if you plan properly.

Karen

Frieda’s Street Team! From Left: Anika, Rebecca, Danielle and Alex (my daughter)

Late one afternoon last week, there was a bit of chatter in our sales department. One person challenged the group by asking, “Which of the more than 500 products we sell, do YOU personally buy at the supermarket?”

Interesting question. We sell so many crazy items, from Heirloom Tomatoes and Pine Nuts to Rambutan and Tofu. We’re so busy selling our specialty fruits and vegetables to retailers and foodservice distributors across the country, that sometimes we forget that we are consumers, too!

So, my coworker, Vicki came into my office and started telling me about her great experience with Frieda’s Crystallized Ginger. Vicki loves to go scuba diving, but has a tendency to get motion sickness. She was on a diving trip a few months ago and found that the crew had a large bag of Crystallized Ginger in the galley.

The captain told her that it helps people who get motion sickness! Ever since then, Crystallized Ginger has become a staple on her shopping list. And she packs it for every diving trip.

Frieda's Specialty Produce - Crystallized Ginger

I also shared my story with her. Many years ago, I was on a supermarket bus tour in Seattle. The weather was warm and the roads were curvy. My stomach was not doing well, so I was relieved when we stopped at an Asian grocery store (the famed Uwajimaya). I found a large bag of Crystallized Ginger and purchased it right away. Munching on small pieces of ginger during that 3-day bus trek saved my sanity!

Do you know someone who gets motion sickness? Nothing can ruin a cruise or bus tour more than feeling queasy.

Fortunately, Crystallized Ginger is fairly widely available. It’s made from large chunks of fresh ginger root that are soaked in a sugar solution. When dried, it has a firm and chewy texture, similar to dried fruit. (Sometimes it’s called Candied Ginger.) And the spicy nature of fresh ginger is mellowed a lot by the sugar. A small piece can go a long way in calming your nausea.

Crystallized Ginger has other uses, too: You can chop it finely and add to cookies or fruit cake (if you make it for the holidays). A piece dropped into a cup of hot water, after steeping about 5 minutes, makes a delicious tea and it has the same stomach-calming effects. You can even use it in a stir-fry.

So, next time you are tempted to buy an over-the-counter medicine to calm your stomach, try something more natural. Crystallized Ginger is inexpensive and you don’t have to hide it from your kids!

And now you know!

Karen

Meyer Lemons seem to be the darlings of the citrus department. Domestic (U.S.A.-grown) Meyer Lemons are not in season during the late summer, so we bring them in by boat from New Zealand. Even though they are far from “locally grown” at the moment, we are still seeing an incredible demand for these beautiful golden-skinned fruits. (From January through June, Meyer Lemons are grown in California.)

Meyer Lemons are actually a cross between a traditional lemon and a mandarin (or a common orange). Native to China, Meyer Lemons were introduced to the United States in 1908 by an agricultural explorer from the U.S.D.A., Frank Meyer.

The outside skin is kind of delicate, so Meyers must be handled more gently than regular, thick-skinned lemons. We recommend keeping Meyer Lemons in your refrigerator for this reason.

But what makes them so special and in demand by professional chefs and home cooks, is their less-acidic, almost sweet taste. As the story goes, once you’ve tried the Meyer Lemon in cakes, sauces, pies and in lemonade, they will become your preferred lemon.

I was inspired to write about Meyer Lemons from a recent consumer email we received:

After requesting the Clinton, New Jersey Shoprite Supermarket to carry the lemons, they have arrived. I love the Meyer Lemons and would appreciate your sending me the free recipes mentioned on the label.

Thank you,

Lorena M
Pittstown, NJ

This is typical of the dialogue we have had with shoppers since we started Frieda’s Inc. 1962. A shopper looks for a fresh produce item at their supermarket and cannot find it, so they reach out to Frieda’s. Ever since we started putting our name and address and an invitation to write to us on our packaging, consumers have written to us asking us to help them out. And here is what we do:

If you write to us looking for a product and give us the names of the stores you shop at, we will actually contact those stores and ask them to stock the product for you! And usually it works. Most supermarket buyers understand the “lifetime value” of a shopper and don’t want to lose one over a missed sale. So they will order the product.

Is there a special fruit or vegetable that you wish you could find in your local store? Email us here and tell us the name of the produce item and the 2 or 3 markets you shop at (and your city, of course).

And, next time you are shopping for lemons, try the Meyer Lemon. You will be delighted!

Karen

Almost every person I know is on some kind of diet or has made a change in their eating habits to improve their health. I think we are all after the same thing. We want to look good and feel good. And when we go to the doctor, we want him/her to say our numbers look awesome! (Our weight, our cholesterol, our blood sugar, etc.)

During the last year, I have been successful at dropping a few pounds. Part of that success has been that I’ve added frequent exercise to my normal regime. Although it is a challenge to fit in a 60-minute workout 5 or 6 days a week, I have found that teaming up with a friend for some workouts, and finding an inspiring fitness instructor for others, has made a real difference.

Actually, in addition to how good I feel physically after a workout (and how nice it is to have my clothes fit better), I find that the 60 minutes I spend working out are good for my mind. It forces me to think about nothing other than my workout. It’s like a vacation for my brain.

But changing my eating habits has made a big difference as well. I took the advice of my fitness trainer, Ikumi, and cut back the amount of food I am eating. When I go out to eat – my goal is to share the meal with someone – or eat half, and take the rest home for the next day’s lunch.

I’ve found that I am actually eating most of my protein (usually fish) at lunchtime. The rest of the day, I eat lots of fruits, vegetables and grains.

Like most business people, I tend to go out to dinner a lot. Eating dinner out is problematic for me. The portions are large. During the last two weeks, I’ve eaten dinner out 6 times. Each time I’ve gone out – I’ve looked over the menu and surprisingly found a vegetarian meal choice. Usually it’s a platter of a wide variety of fresh vegetables and grains. Previously, I would have felt cheated if I went out to a nice restaurant and ordered a platter of veggies.

But with all the publicity about making half your plate fruits and veggies, it seems as if restaurant chefs are getting creative. And my choices have tasted fantastic.

On Monday evening, my husband Garry and I were in Laguna Beach attending the Pageant of the Masters and the Sawdust Art Festival. If you are ever in Southern California during the month of August, I highly recommend this event. It’s a 2-hour show of volunteer performers who create live renditions of famous art. (The last act is a performance of Da Vinci’s Last Supper painting.). It’s impossible to describe, so check out their website: www.foapom.com

We joined four other couples for dinner at The Lumberyard in Laguna Beach. Here is what my dinner looked like (sans the grilled Portabella Mushroom I snatched off the plate when it arrived):

Grilled jumbo zucchini squash
Grilled asparagus
Steamed spinach with garlic
Half a grilled artichoke
Grilled red and green bell peppers
Grilled portabella mushroom
Grilled Roma tomato halves
Grilled baby broccolini (which I prefer to regular broccoli)
Small cup of garlic aioli dip

Honestly, I could not eat everything on my plate. I was full and satisfied after the meal. And I didn’t feel stuffed or uncomfortable during the 2-hour performance.

Next time you go out for lunch or dinner, consider ordering a smaller portion, a meatless entrée, or an appetizer as your main course.

You might be surprised at how delicious your meal will be!

Enjoy!
Karen

Every refrigerator has one. You know what I’m talking about. Those drawers where you put all your produce, with good intentions.

You go to the grocery store and see all that fantastic looking fresh produce, and purchase it with good intentions to serve it during the week. Then you end up being exhausted at the end of the day, and forget to use up what you bought.

So those cucumbers, cilantro, and grapes turn to mush. This is why I call the refrigerator vegetable drawer the “rotting drawer.”

I was at a cocktail party last week and I lamented about my rotting drawer. My new friend Elliot chuckled.

Elliot is a lot like my sister, Jackie. (She says if she could have chosen a different career, she would have been a research librarian, as she loves searching for information on the Internet.)

He apparently went home and researched a scientific study he recalled seeing years ago that reminded him of my rotting drawer story.

You can find the summary here. The goal of the study was to see if people consumed more candy if it was placed near them, like in a candy dish on their desk. Well, obviously, not many of us can abstain from snacking on nearby chocolate. (At least I can’t.)

The bottom line of the study was that the proximity and visibility of food can affect one’s consumption.

And, I’ve witnessed that myself at home.

A few months ago, I was tired of throwing away so much produce. So, I stopped storing my fresh produce in the drawers in my refrigerator. Instead, I put them on the shelves. All the bags of spinach and sugar snap peas, clamshells of cucumbers and melons.

Because I could see everything when I opened up the fridge, I started consuming all of it, and I stopped dumping produce.

I did the same thing in my pantry. While my daughter was away at summer camp, I got rid of all the snack foods that I really should not eat. And I did not replace them.

So maybe you should try the same thing. If you are truly committed to eating healthier, then put those healthy foods in front of you. Stock your refrigerator with good tasting, snackable produce. Don’t hide them in the drawers. Put a bowl of fresh fruit on your kitchen counter – you’ll be more likely to grab a healthy snack.

Thanks to Elliot for sharing the article. Now I know why I should NOT keep a dish of chocolate on my desk.

How do you prevent your rotting drawer from eating up your fresh produce?

Karen

This past weekend, I took my newest company employee — my daughter Alex — up to Monterey, California, to attend one of our industry’s trade shows. This one is devoted to the foodservice industry and it brings together growers, brokers, marketers, chefs, restaurant chains and distributors to talk about the latest and greatest in fresh produce.

While the largest segment of the produce industry is probably retail business (supermarkets), the foodservice side is pretty large. It’s made up of chain restaurants, such as McDonalds, Subway, California Pizza Kitchen, Darden (parent company of Olive Garden, Capital Grill, Seasons 52, etc.), and smaller independents like Hard Rock Café, Jamba Juice and Del Taco.

You may not realize just how much produce is purchased by these restaurants, but approximately 50 percent of all food consumed is eaten away from the home! That’s a lot of strawberries and tomatoes!

During this 3-day conference we visited growing areas, attended panel discussions and walked the show floor expo. (This year, the grower tour stopped at Ocean Mist Farms, one of the largest growers of artichokes.)

During the expo, more than 100 produce companies exhibited and sampled their tastiest new products. My friends at Gills Onions sampled the most fantastic French onion soup – served piping hot in single sized cups. Gills Onions is a second-generation family farm — the largest grower and processor of fresh onions in the country.

Driscoll’s handed out samples of the biggest and sweetest blueberries I’ve ever tasted. San Miguel Produce, which grows all sorts of specialty greens like kale and collard greens, sampled freeze dried kale covered in chocolate. Interesting, but not my favorite.

Voted the best new product at the show? Artisan Romaine lettuce from Tanimura and Antle, which are the perfect size for making lettuce wraps. They sampled grilled lettuce topped with shaved Pecorino Romano cheese and a balsamic dressing. (Here’s the recipe.)

Early Sunday morning, we got to watch five top chefs from northern California create a unique dish with a fresh produce item. Each chef was assigned their own item: carrots, avocados, small potatoes, artichokes and celery. It was fun to watch them create their recipes live.

But what was the best part of the conference? I asked my daughter Alex, a recent graduate in communications and public relations. She told me, “The networking was the most interesting part of the experience.”

When you attend a conference, do you make the most of the networking? Do you pack enough business cards so you can hand one out to everyone you meet — and be sure to get theirs, too.

Do you attend all the educational seminars, cocktail parties, meals and tours? It’s amazing how many different people you meet at each venue.

On Sunday evening, we decided to have dinner with a friend. Just the three of us. But, as my friend and I sat down to dinner, my daughter Alex disappeared. After a few minutes I started looking around.

There she was across the room, a glass of wine in one hand and business cards in the other, shaking hands with growers and buyers who we had met earlier that day. She came back to our table 20 minutes later very excited, as she met some of our industry trade press who might write a story about her.

That’s the way it should be at a trade show or any social event. Always maximizing the opportunities for your organization.

But the final, and possibly most important part of this story? The key follow-up that happens when you get back to the office! We’ve been pumping out emails and thank you notes since we got back.

Try it sometime!
Karen