About a year ago, I received an email from a former childhood neighbor, Steve, who asked why I never talked about the influence my father had on me growing up.
My dad, Al Caplan, was a force to be reckoned with. His mom died when he was 13 and he caught a freight train from Chicago to move out to California when he was a teenager. Then he joined the Marine Corps. He was underage when he enlisted, and there was no Internet to verify his date of birth.
After working as a union organizer for several years, he started his own company as a labor relations consultant. Some of his largest clients were in the scrap iron and metal industry, and many were grape growers.
Actually, it was my father who negotiated the first contract between Cesar Chavez/United Farm Workers and many of California’s grape growers (my dad represented the growers). My first job was working for my dad in his office, but after a short time I ran out of work and ended up working for my mother, Frieda, in her wholesale produce business.
My dad taught me many things about life and about business. Most importantly, he taught me about personal accountability. After I got my drivers license on my 16th birthday, we were negotiating to purchase a car for me. The deal was: I paid for half and he paid for half. We got the car and I handed over $1,500 (my life savings at that time – age 17). But I still owed another $1,500.
Dad and I got into a bit of a disagreement a few months later and he gave me a deadline. “Pay me the remaining $1,500 by Labor Day, or you lose your car.” I think that was the original “tough love” from a parent. I knew my dad was serious – so when I was a few hundred dollars short, I borrowed some money from my sister, Jackie, and paid him on time.
|(FROM LEFT) My dad, Al Caplan, with my mom (Frieda), my Uncle Paul, me, and my sister Jackie in 1966.|
And when I wanted to live at home during summers when I was in college, my dad told me I had to pay rent: $50 a week. Yes – he was tough.
But, my dad was also fair and very generous. He quietly (and many times, anonymously) gave money to family members and close friends who were in need.
Sometime after I became president of Frieda’s, Inc. in 1986, I invited my dad to come speak to my management team about employee relations. I will never forget the title of his talk: “Firm, fair, and friendly.” That was my dad’s philosophy on how to work with people.
And I would say that those values have prevailed in the more than 25 years that I have been president of Frieda’s.
The reason I have chosen to write about my dad this week is because it is the 14th anniversary of his passing (on February 5, 1998).
When I think of my dad, however, I do not think about business. I think about health. On the day his first granddaughter, Jennifer, was born in 1964 (he was 46), he decided to quit smoking (cigarettes and cigars). He decided that he needed to take care of his health so he could enjoy all of his grandchildren.
He then became quite the health food nut. His favorite book was “Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit” by Adelle Davis. From then on we only had whole wheat bread in our house, no sugary snacks, cookies or ice cream, and we ate lots of fruits and vegetables. My dad exercised every day, and often times watched Jack LaLanne on television while doing his daily exercise routine.
My dad lived past his 78th birthday to see all of his seven grandchildren. We all have our various memories of my dad, but I think my personal favorite was the day my first daughter, Alex, was born.
I told my parents that they could be in the delivery room as she was born. And there was my dad – camera in hand – recording the moment.
You know a lot about a person when you know about their heritage. No wonder my dad was tough, yet tender. We miss you, Dad.
Yesterday morning I made a phone call to a client in Pennsylvania. As part of the conversation, I asked about the weather. “Cool and raining” was his answer.
I apologetically told him it was going to be 85 in Southern California.
What I didn’t tell him was that I was going to be trekking throughout the citrus groves of the Citrus Variety Collection at the University of California Riverside (UCR) later in the day.
At 8 a.m., my colleague Dorian and I got in my car, and by 9 a.m. we were under a tent in Riverside with 200 other citrus enthusiasts being welcomed by Marylynn Yates, the new Dean of the College of Agriculture.
|Marylynn Yates, UCR’s new Dean of the College of Agriculture|
My first hour was spent listening to two women from the global multi-billion dollar company Givaudan, which is the leader in developing flavors and oils used in our foods, beverages and fragrances. I learned that citrus – lemons in particular – are the base of most beverages, from colas to fruit punches and more. Givaudan recently made a large endowment to the UCR Citrus Variety Collection, to ensure its future viability, because they have found that this repository of citrus germplasm has become their primary source of flavor inspiration worldwide. Over the past few years, Givaudan has brought more than 200 of their flavor developers from around the world to Riverside to sniff, smell, taste and play with the citrus. (Givaudan was recently featured on 60 Minutes. Click here to view “The Flavorists” – second story, about 16:30 minutes in.).
|Brochures from Givaudan|
We then sampled more than two dozen varieties of Mandarins and grapefruit hybrids. Growers next to me were whispering to each other what they thought were the best tasting, and which ones had future potential. Some of them planned to tear out their acreage of white grapefruits and oranges and were looking for a better-selling citrus fruit.
We convened for lunch (barbecue, of course). I was able to snap this photograph of two of the most famous Citrus Aficionados: David Karp (aka the “Fruit Detective”) and Tracy Kahn (curator of the Citrus Variety Collection). These two people know more about citrus fruits than anyone on the planet!
|From left: David Karp, me, Tracy Kahn|
As I turned around to leave, I noticed a man smiling at me. His name tag said “Bob Knight.” He was about my age, and I thought to myself, could it be?
I went to introduce myself: “Are you related to THE Bob Knight? Yes, it turns out he is the son of one of my mother’s first kiwifruit growers! We started to recount memories of the 1970s, when we were both teenagers helping our parents market the first California-grown Kiwifruit.
|Me and Bob Knight|
Yesterday was such a beautiful day in Southern California, in many ways!
Last week I wrote about my recent trip to the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. Held by the National Association of the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT), this show brings together many foodies, producers of artisan foods and buyers, and many others.
For many, it’s also a show for reuniting with old friends in the food business.
As I headed down the last aisle on the show floor around 3 p.m. that Sunday, a big smile came over my face. I saw my long-time friend, Paula Lambert, of the Mozzarella Company in Dallas, Texas.
Paula started The Mozzarella Company in 1982 – which means she is celebrating 30 years in business. My mom and I met Paula years ago at another food conference – I think it was the American Institute of Wine and Food. That’s where we also met Julia Child.
When I came up to Paula’s booth at the Fancy Food Show, she had laryngitis. One of her cheeses (Hoja Santa Goat Cheese) had won a national award the afternoon before at the Good Food Awards at the Ferry Building in San Francisco and she had spent the afternoon handing out samples and talking with consumers (thus the laryngitis).
Since I was travelling to Dallas for business the following week, I asked if Paula wanted to get together in her hometown when she had her voice back.
So, during my trip to Texas last week, I caught a taxi and was whisked off to a small community near uptown Dallas.
Paula’s home is adjacent to a cemetery and after navigating down a cobblestone walkway, and through a rusted gate (I felt like I was in a Harry Potter Movie), I came upon a Booziotis-designed modern home. I then felt like I was walking into an Architectural Digest photograph.
Paula recently became a widower, so she always fills her home with friends and food. It was my great luck to share a short dinner with she and her longtime friend and former neighbor, Bill. And of course, we sampled many of the cheeses she makes in her local cheese “factory.”
My absolute favorite was what she calls the “Christmas Cheese.” It has the texture of polenta, and crumbly cheese with chile pepper overtones. I could not stop sampling it!
I asked Paula how she ended up starting a cheese business, in Dallas, of all places.
When Paula was younger, she lived in Perugia, Italy to learn Italian. After returning to Dallas, she missed the delicate homemade cheeses of Italy. Thus, her idea for a business was born. That was 1982 (and you can read about it here). Paula has grown the business from producing 100 pounds of cheese her first week, to now more than 5,000 pounds a week!
Not only did Paula and I sample some of her amazing cheeses, we also made dinner together. I found out that Paula takes small groups to France and Italy twice a year to cook in farmhouses. She’s a fabulous cook, so, it was especially fun for me to learn a new way to prepare broccoli and a recipe for homemade vinaigrette from her.
If you love cheese (and who doesn’t), I encourage you to check out her clever website, MozzCo.com! You may even want to order some cheese from her.
One of the joys of being in the food business is that you not only get to taste some delicious foods and travel to interesting places – you also get to meet some amazing, sincere and passionate people who become lifelong friends.
And if they are like the beautiful, charming and genuine Paula Lambert, you also get inspired to live your passion.
Thank you, Paula, for an amazing dinner!
This past weekend I took my youngest daughter Sophia, on her first business trip. Each January, the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) holds the Fancy Food Show at the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco. I like to attend this show — even though they don’t typically have any fresh produce — as many of the newest foods and food trends start here.
Since the show starts on Sunday, I decided that Sophia and I would fly up on Saturday morning and spend the day touring the city, and then attend the show on Sunday.
We actually flew into Oakland Airport (in the East Bay) – my preference whenever I travel to San Francisco. The airport in San Francisco (SFO) is often plagued with fog delays. (A tip for anyone coming out west for a vacation or business – fly into Oakland!)
Sophia is a high school senior, so we spent the first part of the morning visiting San Francisco State University, which is located south of Golden Gate Park near Daly City. She has applied to this school so it was a good opportunity to see the campus, which is beautiful, green and very friendly.
We then headed over to the Ferry Building (located in the Embarcadero area, nestled under the Bay Bridge), which is the home to a Saturday morning farmers market and a collection of some amazing artisan food producers, all housed in a historic building.
After snacking on lunch and my BEST FIND of some very yummy vegan kale chips I did something that I have resisted for years: I bought two tickets for the Hop On /Hop Off bus tour of San Francisco. (I first rode a Hop On / Hop Off bus when I was in London about 13 years ago with eldest daughter Alex. Great way to get an overview of a city).
We rode on top of the red double decker bus and learned about everything from the Disney Family Museum which is housed in the Presidio, The Japanese Tea Garden which is in Golden Gate Park, the Haight Ashbury section of SF. (I tried to explain the popularity of that area to my 17-year-old daughter… I was definitely dating myself when I used the words, “hippies” and “flower children.”)
Even with the bus tour, we ended up walking more than 7 miles on Saturday. I know this thanks to my Nike+GPS app on my iPhone. But, we were just prepping ourselves for our walk around the Fancy Food Show on Sunday.
Sunday morning we arrived at show early so we could pick up our badges. This show has three large halls filled with more than 1,000 booths that are usually 10 x 10 feet. Oftentimes you will find the owner(s) and their family members and friends staffing the booths, handing out samples of their latest products. Most exhibitors are small companies with less than 10 employees who may have started by hand producing and packaging their products.
There are also large companies who exhibit, like Walkers Shortbread, Stash Tea, Hormel Foods and Stonyfield Farm (yogurt).
So, what’s going to be “hot” in the coming year?
• Gluten-free and vegan selections were definitely everywhere. Whether it’s gluten-free cookies or salad dressings, I could see a big trend of adding the words “gluten-free” to the label, as consumers are demanding this feature.
• Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. Artisan (made in small batches) chocolate was everywhere. And the big new flavor? Caramel with Himalayan salt crystals. Yum!
• Loose leaf tea. Unique new blends, some highlighting medicinal properties, were in full force, along with all the latest tea accessories. Clear glass tea pots and teacups are definitely “in”.
• Olives. No wonder olive bars have become prevalent in upscale supermarkets – who knew there were so many types of freshly cured olives!
One of the most encouraging things about this show was this giant sign I found in the middle of the show floor.
Like all trade shows, there had to be a giant, attention-grabbing stuffed animal character. Here’s Sophia with a PANDA who was sampling something yummy.
I asked Sophia to share her observations of the food show:
• There are so many companies and many have very similar products – it was overwhelming. (I felt the same way.)
• What really made a company stand out was when the people working the booth were engaging (but not too pushy).
• There were so many samples that you have to pace yourself, and it helps to know what you are looking for. (Great perspective if you are a gourmet food retailer attending this show for the first time.)
• You only have one chance to make a good first impression.
The best part of this weekend excursion is that when we arrived back home to So Cal, Sophia received an email that she was accepted into San Francisco State University! A perfect ending to our weekend!
When I was younger, there were only three main varieties of apples in the produce department: Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith.
I used to enjoy the sweet Red Delicious because its skin was not too thick. But I couldn’t depend on their crunchiness. Sometimes they were mealy and totally unappetizing.
Then I found the Fuji. I wrote a previous blog about how Fuji apples revolutionized apple sales and consumption, because they were not dark red on the outside. (Years ago, everyone thought that apples had to be red for consumers to buy them!) Fujis were kind of “ugly” and the flavor profile was more sophisticated than the Red Delicious.
But after a few years, Fuji apples didn’t taste so exciting to me anymore. Back to the grocery store to find a new apple variety.
Enter the Honeycrisp. Yum! I’m sure you’ve seen or tasted this apple or at least heard about it. It was developed in Minnesota and first introduced commercially in 1974. It has grown so much in popularity and significance that in 2006, Andersen Elementary School in Bayport, Minn., petitioned for the Minnesota state legislature to make the Honeycrisp apple the state fruit; the bill was passed in May 2006.
Last fall, as I traveled across the United States, I heard the same story. The entire Honeycrisp crop had sold out early last season and consumers were asking their produce managers, “Where are the Honeycrisp apples?” When they finally arrived at my local store, even though the displays were large, they sold out quickly and it took a few weeks for my produce manager to order enough! (What a great problem to have, right?)
This year the Honeycrisp season will be ending early again. I was at my local Trader Joe’s last week and noticed some bruising and the TJ’s employee working in produce that day told me, “Yeah, it’s nearly the end of the season.”
So, now I am on the hunt for a new variety to try until my beloved Honeycrisp comes back into season. I tried the Ambrosia last week. My produce guy thought I would enjoy them as much – but their flavor profile wasn’t as satisfying. But the Ambrosia are crisp, which I like.
If you’ve always purchased the same apple varieties, maybe it’s a good time to try a new variety. When you are shopping and want to know what they taste like, feel free to ask your produce manager to cut one up for you. Did you know that many produce managers LOVE it when a shopper asks for their advice or recommendation?
What’s your favorite apple variety to eat out of hand? I would love to know – you can comment at the bottom of my blog online.
Remember the old adage? An apple a day keeps the doctor away. I think it’s true!
When I wrote about kale last year (read my post here), I initially thought it was purely used as a garnish on a plate or in a supermarket display. I never really thought about eating it. Then I discovered a raw kale salad.
Last week, after writing about how Dr. Terry Wahls reversed the effects of multiple sclerosis by changing her diet, I changed my diet to include more raw vegetables. (I’ll write more about that at a later time).
I am now eating a raw kale salad for lunch every day. Like most working people, if I can find a pre-cut version of a food that tastes decent with no additives, I will likely purchase it. Time-saving is the name of the game for me.
So, imagine my happiness when I found an organic kale salad package at my local Ralphs Grocery store! I purchased one bag and tried it. Not bad. The shredded carrots and red cabbage add some color and a little flavor. I added a light vinaigrette dressing for the perfect salad.
Maybe it’s a new variety of kale that is not quite as chewy, but I found it very palatable and satisfying. And I am eating a RAW, dark green, cruciferous vegetable for lunch. I feel like I am instantly getting healthier.
A couple of lessons I’d like to share:
Apparently, I am not the only shopper who has discovered kale and the health benefits. The California produce industry has been publishing research on what’s selling and what’s hot in produce departments in Northern and Southern California — and guess which vegetable has seen a 40 percent increase in purchases during the last year?
Yes, it is kale! Who would have thought?
I’m “krazy” for kale, and I think you might be, too, after you try it!
The dentist is the last place I thought I would find one of Frieda’s tropical fruits, but that is exactly what happened yesterday.
I am very conscientious about my teeth, so I have them cleaned 3 or 4 times a year. Did you know that one of the ways to maintain and improve your health is to have your teeth cleaned regularly and floss daily. I once asked my dentist how often I should floss my teeth. He said, “Floss your teeth only on the days you want to keep them!” ’Nuf said.
As I walked into the dental office yesterday, my eyes were immediately drawn to a pink can of air freshener made by Febreze. Then I saw the name of the scent: “Thai Dragon Fruit.”
I was so excited that I grabbed the can and ran to my hygienist, Chow. I asked her if she knew where that piece of Dragon Fruit came from.
She said, “Thailand?”
I told her: “No. It came from Frieda’s…my company!”
It was fun to share the story with her: A couple years ago we got a call from a photographer who was doing some work for Procter and Gamble’s Febreze air scent line. We were sworn to secrecy.
Febreze was launching a new line of scents, and one was Thai Dragon Fruit! The folks at P and G were told to call Frieda’s Specialty Produce as we were recommended as a great source of product and information. So, we immediately shipped them a box of fruits. And the photo session took place.
The funny thing to us is that Dragon Fruit really has NO scent! And the flavor is very mild. But it sure looks good on the package. Here is the description from the Febreze can:
THAILAND: Thailand means land of the smile. Easy to do when you welcome the tropical freshness of Thai Dragon Fruit to your home land.
If you want to know more about fresh Dragon Fruit – check it out on our website.
|A beautiful slice of Magenta Dragon Fruit.|
Dragon Fruit is quite eye-catching arranged in a tropical fruit centerpiece and it comes in a variety of colors. Frieda’s sells both the magenta and white-fleshed varieties. The flavor and texture reminds me of a very mild Kiwifruit. It has become much more popular in the past few years and it’s encouraging to us that many supermarkets now carry it as part of their tropical fruits displays. Dragon Fruit is available intermittently year-round and is grown in Thailand, Vietnam, and the U.S.A. (and other places, too).
I wonder what I will find on my next trip to the dentist…
Each day, I walk by my sister (and business partner) Jackie’s office and stick my head in. This morning, I stopped in to run a couple of ideas by her for my blog. Before I could even get through my first idea – she said, “Did you watch that video that our brother Dennis sent us?”
Well, I guess my brother doesn’t send me ALL of his emails with random information. This one time, I wish he did.
Jackie forwarded me a link to an article and video from a TEDx conference held in Iowa City.
You’ve probably heard of “TED” conferences, right? TED started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, and Design. You can find out more here. These sold-out conferences and spin-off events have changed the way we think and the way we share information.
The most amazing thing about a TED talk is that it brings together the world’s most incredible thinkers and doers and lets them tell the story of their lives – in 18 minutes or less. Can you imagine that? Bill Gates? 18 minutes. Steve Jobs? 18 minutes. President Bill Clinton? 18 minutes. The Dalai Lama? The same 18 minutes.
Well, the video link which I am including here is from Terry Wahls, a female physician who was diagnosed with incurable MS (Multiple Sclerosis). You may not have MS, but I’m sure you know someone who has been affected by this dreadful disease.
After much personal research, Dr. Wahls was able to REVERSE her Multiple Sclerosis by switching to a “Paleo-style” diet focused on eating fresh, raw fruits and vegetables, wild fish, grass-fed meat, organ meats and seaweed. And, no aspartame.
Her talk is less than 18 minutes (of course) and seeing her before and after photos of the dramatic and incredibly positive effect the diet change had on her body and spirit is mind-blowing.
I know a few people who have Multiple Sclerosis, or other serious health issues. Because of all the nutritional information I am exposed to as part of my work in the produce industry, I have always wondered how many of our health issues could be controlled or eliminated by making different food choices.
As you are starting the New Year, and already implementing your New Year’s Resolutions, I suggest you take a moment to check out this article or take 18 minutes to check out the video. You may want to modify a few of those resolutions to include a diet more heavily weighted to FRESH fruits and vegetables.
Watching the video changed my life (as I was trying to figure out a reason NOT to eat my beloved bread and butter that is my downfall). I would love to hear what you thought of it. Please comment at the end of my blog post online.
Happy New Year!