I often write about shopping in supermarket produce departments because that’s where most of us buy our fresh produce.

But I am fully aware that about 50% of average American meals are consumed outside the home … That is, when we go out to eat.

Whether it’s picking up coffee at Starbucks or McDonald’s on our way to work, grabbing a salad for lunch at a restaurant (because we were too busy to pack a lunch), or going out to dinner with our family or friends, most of us eat quite a few of our meals outside our homes.

If you are not a part of the produce or restaurant industry, you may not be aware of what’s going on.

There is actually a movement that has been brewing for about 10 years. It’s a movement for restaurants and fast food places to consistently offer healthier eating options on their menus. And I’m not just talking about more salads.

Whether it is First Lady Michelle Obama working to get Salad Bars in Every School to encourage children to have healthy choices at lunchtime, or the produce industry working with the restaurant industry to double the amount of fresh produce consumed in restaurants by 2020 — a groundswell is happening almost everywhere.

That means, when you go to McDonald’s with your kids, they will get some apple slices instead of all French fries. It means at Subway, you have baby carrots and sliced apples as options (instead of chips). And when you go to an Applebee’s, Denny’s, Mimi’s, Panera, California Pizza Kitchen, Starbucks, Jason’s Deli or any of the chain restaurants that seem to be in every city, you will have significantly improved healthy choices when you order.

It may not be obvious to you until now. So, next time you go out to eat, whether it is an elegant dining experience, or a quick “meal on the go,” I encourage you to check out the fresh vegetable and fruit choices when you order. If each of us makes healthier choices when we dine out, we will be contributing to a healthier lifestyle and setting a great example for the next generation.

Are you in?


As you shop at the grocery store each week, you may or may not have a sense of the seasons.

If you are paying attention, you will notice that in late May through September, there are sizable displays of aromatic fresh tree fruits like peaches, nectarines, and pluots. In the next few weeks, those displays will be reduced or eliminated, as the California growing season ends.

And taking their places will be all kinds of apples and pears. In late August and September, all across the country, apple harvest is taking place. It takes a few weeks for the harvest, washing, polishing and packing process. Then they are shipped to supermarkets across the country. I can’t wait to walk into my local store and find my new apple favorite, Honeycrisp.

But if you walk past the potato tables, you probably won’t notice any big changes. There seem to be the same piles of 5 lb. russets, 10 lb. russets, whites, reds, etc. You may think that potatoes do not have seasons.

But that could not be further from the truth. Actually, this is the time of year when some of my favorite potatoes are freshly harvested and near peak of season.

I’m talking about the fingerling potatoes, baby and little potatoes. They come in many shapes and sizes. From outside skin that is yellow, red, purple or white (or a mix of several colors), to internal flesh that is white, yellow, red or purple.

They may be perfectly round, or flat and round, or they can be as long as your finger — thus the name “fingerling.”

There are many things to love about these smaller potatoes: They are more bite-sized, faster cooking, and many have unique flavors and textures.

One of my favorite potatoes is the Organic Klamath Pearl Potato, which was developed in cooperation with the University of California and is grown in the wetlands near the Oregon-California border. I recently learned that they have just been harvested and our first shipment of the season will arrive at our warehouse on Monday!

A few years ago, when we first introduced this potato, our grower personally delivered samples to about a dozen chefs in the San Francisco Bay area. Each chef immediately called us wanting to offer them on their menu, because they were small and round, did not soften or get mushy when boiled, yet were fantastic mashed, and had a delicate, nutty flavor.

The perfect potato.

Oh, and did I mention they are organically grown?

And, as with all my product stories – the grower we work with is a delightful individual. I have spent a lot of time with Dan – and we still laugh about our first meal together. We were having breakfast together at a produce convention and it was my turn to order. I ordered an egg white omelet and requested, “Instead of potatoes, can I get fruit?”

I then got a horrified look from Dan… I had just refused my host’s potatoes! Fortunately, he was very understanding and I now make sure to order potatoes FIRST before the rest of my meal.

I hope when you walk by the potato display at your favorite store, you stop to look at all the variety and try a new potato. Dan will be very happy you did.


That’s the saying that my sister, Jackie, has adopted in the last few months.

Back in early July, she was diagnosed with breast cancer (invasive ductal carcinoma). Fortunately, it is a slow-growing cancer and after seeing a team of doctors (an oncologist, a surgeon, a plastic surgeon, a radiologist and her regular ob/gyn), it was decided that she could delay her surgery for 2 months and spend almost two weeks in Kauai celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary with her husband Doug. Her surgery is this Tuesday, September 20.

Well, let me tell you, having your little sister/business partner/best friend tell you she has a lump in her breast, and that she has breast cancer … it really rocks your world.

For me, it was a Friday afternoon, and immediately following our conversation about her cancer, I had to go back into a meeting. My mind was racing and I found out weeks later that I missed a great deal of what was discussed in that meeting.

I spent the next few days alternating between crying, worrying that my sister was going to die (she isn’t), and trying to sort out why it happened. (Actually, she did test positive for the breast cancer gene BRCA1.) It was very emotional – and in great part, it was quite stressful because Jackie had told me not to discuss this with anyone, until she could tell both her kids.

Thankfully, Jackie is the logical, methodical one in the family. Within two weeks, she had a diagnosis, had selected her doctors, had a treatment plan, and was able to tell both her kids.

She sat me down and said, “Karen, please do not worry. I will be fine. And since there is nothing you can do to cure me of cancer, there is no reason to worry. What I need you to do is cover for me at work, while I am off getting cured. And take care of yourself.”

Well, that was a good assignment. Don’t worry. I’ve had a lot of time to think about that one. I promised myself that I would stop worrying about something when there was simply nothing I could do about it. Whether it was Jackie’s breast cancer, or the illness of another friend, or other situations that I was presented with – I decided “I will not worry.”

I also went to see a therapist. A good friend of mine, Lois, is a well respected therapist and I went to see her within a week of learning of Jackie’s diagnosis.

Lois told me, amongst many things, about the importance of hugs. She said that although doctors are good at treating the physical aspect of cancer, they are not always aware of the emotional treatment. Lois told me:

You need 4 hugs a day to smile
You need 8 hugs a day to feel alive
You need 12 hugs a day to thrive

That was probably the best advice we received.

So every day for the last 2 months, when I saw my sister at work, we would hug. She let everyone at our office know that they had her permission to give hugs and to remind her to smile.

Jackie’s prognosis also had an interesting effect on both Jackie and me. It put our entire lives in perspective. I noticed that we did not get stressed out about the things we used to. I found myself being much more patient with Jackie (and everyone else around me). And I stopped doing things that did not make me happy.

One of the things that makes me happy is doing things for others. So, I received Jackie’s permission to form “TEAM JACKIE” for an upcoming Breast Cancer Walk in Long Beach. The walk is this coming Saturday, September 24. So, as Jackie is home recovering from surgery, I will be participating in this walk.

My goal was to get 53 people to walk with me (Jackie is 53 years old). As of today, we have more than 60 walkers! I had hoped to raise $5,000 in sponsorship money – I learned a couple of weeks ago that TEAM JACKIE is the top fundraising team with more than $31,000! I tell everyone that when they make a donation to support us, they are just sending love and healing thoughts to my sister.

Every one of us faces these kinds of challenges in our life. Someone close to us gets ill. Please consider my learnings:

Don’t worry.

Give lots of hugs.

Get clarity on what’s important.

Do something about it.

And one last thought. From the very beginning of her diagnosis, Jackie decided she couldn’t change fate. She was not going to have any regrets. No pity party for her. She was going to face this challenge head on. In her words: “It is what it is”


During the last two weeks, two of my closest girlfriends have lost a parent. Both Barbara’s mom and Vivian’s father were around 90 years old and had lived a long and happy life.

Still, it does not make it any easier to lose a parent.

So what do you do as a friend, when one of your friends has a death in the family? Many people don’t know what to do. They feel uncomfortable. They don’t know what to say. So, often times they stay away from their grieving friends.

That’s not what I do. And let me share with you why.

A few years ago, an industry colleague (Mike) lost his 17-year-old daughter in a tragic car accident. I sent a sympathy card right away. And then I saw him at an industry trade show a few months later.

The first thing I said to him was that I hoped he got my card and that I was so sorry to hear about his daughter. But I was sure he really didn’t want to talk about it. He said to me, “Actually I do want to talk about it – it helps me. You’re one of the first people who asked.”

That was a big lesson to me. Many people who are grieving do find it helpful to talk about it. And for them, I’m sure it’s better than feeling your friends are all avoiding you.

So, what did I do for my two friends?

For Barbara, who lives in northern California, I offered to help find a place to hold a luncheon following the funeral. A simple call to a restaurant and printing directions. Barbara felt the love.

For Vivian, we decided to go have lunch on Sunday afternoon – just the two of us – and it allowed her to tell me all about her last days with her father (who I knew) and to shed a few tears.

That’s what friends are for.

Some of us are also touched by close friends and family members who have burdensome health issues. Maybe you feel like it’s too personal to ask them about their condition or prognosis. You might be sure that they are too busy to receive your phone call or a visit.

My long time friend Barbie was diagnosed with a brain tumor last week. Instead of staying away, I checked with her husband and stopped by to bring her a card and bright beautiful sunflowers to brighten her room. I maybe stayed 10 minutes. I took another mutual friend over to visit her again before her surgery and she was so happy to have a visitor and a hug (even for just 5 minutes).

Don’t underestimate the power of human contact. A hug. A bright smile. A text message, email or phone call. All of these things can be critical in the recovery of those who are ill or are grieving.

So next time you have the opportunity to brighten someone’s day with a visit – take advantage of that opportunity! You won’t regret it. And quite possibly you could give them a special gift.



I remember years ago giving a tour of our warehouse to some friends. They were visiting from Wisconsin and wondered what my office looked like.

So I invited them for a tour.

Our produce warehouse is over 80,000 square feet and much of it is refrigerated. As we walked through the different coolers, my friends commented that when they go to the grocery store, they didn’t give too much thought to where their food came from. They thought it came from the grocery store.

Fast forward 15 years, and most people give more thought about where their food comes from. Thanks to the Food Network and food bloggers, stories and videos about farmers and ranchers are everywhere. If you want to know how a product is grown, you can just “Google it.”

But most of us know that there are other sources of information. There are many organizations who share information (about farming and food, for example) that are NOT the farmers themselves. There are food advocates, consumer groups and more.

Sometimes I find that the information they share is not always the truth. It breaks my heart when I read stories like “the worst fruits and vegetables to eat.” That seems crazy to me. How can fresh produce be bad for you? Yet, there are thousands of consumers who read this information and assume it is THE truth.

News should be reported in a balanced fashion. And that’s why I was thrilled to stumble upon a newly formed group: The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA).
According to the USFRA website, this is the first time agricultural groups at the national, regional and state levels have collaborated on the topic. The USFRA seeks to lead the dialogue and answer Americans’ questions about how we raise our food – while being stewards of the environment, responsibly caring for our animals and maintaining strong businesses and communities.

What I love about my first glance at their website, is that they are launching “Food Dialogues” on September 22, where you can be “at the party” so to speak, be involved in live conversations (on Facebook and via their own website).

A journalist, Claire Shipman and Chef John Besh will be facilitating the conversation. Anyone can ask questions about where their food comes from. And I hope there are people asking about what to do about misinformation.

So many of my friends are farmers. And they are also business people. They have families to feed and communities to support. It is always in their best interest to grow the healthiest food to help feed themselves and others. And they all do it in the most sustainable way possible.

So, I encourage you to check out this website and be a part of the conversation.

And now you know!

Have you ever heard of Hatch Chiles? Maybe you haven’t.

There is a place called Hatch, New Mexico — about 40 miles north of Las Cruces — where they grow these amazing chile peppers. They look similar in shape and color to regular green Anaheim chiles, but tend to be more flavorful and can be quite spicy, depending on the variety.

Anaheim Chile


Hatch Green Chile

There is a French word “terroir” that describes the unique taste and flavors that a food item takes on because of the geography, geology and climate. It is most often used when describing wine and their unique flavor properties. For example, only sparkling white wine produced in the Champagne region of France can be called “Champagne.” The same thing applies to chile peppers grown at the elevation of 4,000 feet of Hatch, New Mexico. Some, say it’s magical.

Over the years, a large consumer following has developed for these amazing chile peppers. In fact, this weekend — September 3 and 4 – the Hatch Chile Festival is taking place in the small town of Hatch, and over 30,000 people from all over the country will attend to get their hands on those special chile peppers. One of the most popular attractions is the live chile roasting, which sends out a distinctly spicy aroma in the air.

The Hatch Chile season is relatively short – usually from early August through mid-September, so the festival happens at the peak of the season.

If you happen to live in Southern California, you may have noticed a growing trend of Hatch Chile roasting events at local supermarkets and public venues. It’s gotten to be quite the rage!

This year, my company decided to host a few Hatch Chile roasting events with one of our retail client-partners, Ralphs Grocery. Here are some photos taken at the events and you can see that by having an actual tumble roasting drum (kind of like the thing they pull raffle tickets out of, but with a large flame!), it creates a lot of excitement in the front of the store.




Here’s a quick video showing the roaster in action:

Since fresh Hatch Chiles are only available for about six weeks each year, many people will load up and buy 10 to 30 pounds at a time and freeze them to enjoy year-round. A few customers even purchased 90 pounds at a time!

It has become such a big deal, that one of my industry friends who heard about our Hatch Chile roasts sent us this email:

“Even Chili’s Restaurant has a Hatch Chile Hamburger on their menu here in Cincinnati!”

Even in Cincinnati!

If you really love chile peppers (that would make you a “Chile Head”) and have a supermarket in your area that you think would be a good candidate to host a Hatch Chile roasting event in 2012, let me know!

Meanwhile – happy Hatch Chile hunting!