After months of masks on, masks off, travel, no travel… Jack and I were able to go on a thrice rescheduled Caribbean cruise last month.

In early February, once we confirmed that we could go on the cruise, I finally asked him which ports we would be visiting. When he told me we would be stopping for a day on the island of Roatan, Honduras, I got excited. “I have a couple of friends who live there now!”

So, thanks to Facebook, Messenger and Instagram, I was able to reach out immediately to my friend Natalie (and her husband Shannon).

A little backstory: Natalie worked in marketing for several large produce companies and Shannon was the publisher of a produce trade publication. They met while doing business together (he sold ads to her company). Natalie was a client of Shannon’s and they met at a business dinner. While some tough negotiations took place, there was no denying there were sparks. They joke that he made it his mission to forever make her a happy customer.

A few years later, they got married!

Natalie told me that while they were dating Shannon shared his “dream plan” with her, which was to one day “sell everything”, move to the tropics and open a dive shop.  After she got certified in scuba diving, the dream became a shared one and they used dream planning sessions to think about these and other goals and dreams and their plan to make them a reality.

Fast-forward….they went on a diving vacation at New Year’s a couple of years ago, and then, got “locked down” in Roatan, Honduras, for a few weeks, thanks to the Pandemic. I remember seeing their post on Facebook and wondering what they would do, being stranded in a third-world country, and in my mind “cut off from civilization” for several weeks.

Well, as it turns out, they loved it! And it allowed them to realize that their shared dream could come true, as they could buy a dive shop in Roatan, find a place to rent, and move to a tropical paradise.

So, a few weeks ago, when our ship docked in Roatan, Omar their driver picked us up at the port and we drove to the SUN DIVERS dive shop in Half Moon Bay. And there was Natalie waiting for us when we arrived (Shannon was in the states on a short visit, so we missed seeing him during that trip).

It was fun watching her at their shop, and she was able to take a few hours off, and walk us through the small town they live in. That’s when she told us their story of moving to Roatan (one of three islands off the coast of Honduras). If you want to read more about their move and their life, you can read this short interview in the Entrepreneurs Section Forbes Magazine by John Greathouse (dated January 30, 2021).

The idea of “Dream Planning” was amazing to hear about—and it was inspiring to hear that Natalie and Shannon took action on their dreams. In fact, Natalie and Jack really hit it off, because the week following our trip, Jack’s 10th book was due to be released. It is entitled “Jack Daly’s Life by Design” and shows people the step-by-step process that he created to live an amazing life. They definitely were comparing notes on the importance of dreaming, writing your dreams down, and … taking action! We had an awesome afternoon with Natalie, and I was so excited to get an official “Sun Divers” shirt before I left.

As I was leaving, I did ask Natalie what it was like when she went back for a visit to civilization. She told me after more than a year of only buying things she needed (like food), and not having a car, and enjoying plenty of quiet time by the water, that it was quite shocking to her system to go back to traffic, shopping malls and big supermarkets. It was sensory overload. And from the smile on her face, I could tell that she and Shannon were quite content in Roatan and will probably be living there for quite a while. Perhaps it’s good to go off the grid.

Have you ever considered doing dream planning with your partner or your family? It might be worth a try. You never know where you may end up.

Karen

P.S. If you want to learn how to design your life, you can check out Jack’s new book here:

Jack Daly’s Life By Design

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earlier this week, I was meeting with one of my work colleagues and we got into a conversation about errors that are made at work. It’s not unusual for someone to say, “Well, I do it correctly 99% of the time.” For some people, that might seem like a pretty good ratio.

But when this came up in our conversation, I was reminded of the work I did more than 30 years ago studying and implementing TQM (Total Quality Management). The following list is discussed often when it comes to 99.99% quality:

Possible Outcomes of 99.99% Quality 

What is the potential outcome if 99.99% is the quality metric standard?

When we consider the implications in medical procedures or commercial airline flights, it puts things in perspective.

What is your expectation for yourself and for others when it comes to accomplishing tasks? Whether it is at home or work, or with family, friends or coworkers, we set the standard in terms of acceptable expectations with our own self-standards.

I know that I oftentimes drive my coworkers and family crazy with my goal of 100% accuracy—but after reviewing this list, perhaps they will understand why I ask so many questions and strive for 100%.

So, as you transition this week into another year, perhaps you will consider what percentage of accuracy and accomplishment are acceptable to you. What will you tolerate?

Wishing you a Happy and Healthy New Year!

And I didn’t imagine ever saying this … I am actually looking forward to seeing the Rose Parade in Pasadena, CA, this Saturday morning, after it was cancelled last year. It will make me feel like things are getting back to normal!

Karen

About this time last year, I wrote about visiting the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, CA. Due to COVID, the library was only partially open to visitors, so that visit left me with the feeling that I should return to see more.

So during this past year, I not only visited the Nixon Presidential Library for a second time, but I also made the trek to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA (a two-hour drive from where I live).

What a contrast! The Nixon Library is tucked in a heavily residential area, and is a popular venue for weddings, proms and other events. The teeny-tiny home where Richard Nixon and his four brothers grew up in are part of the Presidential Library complex. You get the feeling of Nixon’s humble beginnings. And through the permanent exhibits, I got a real feeling about the challenges of Nixon’s Presidency and the world in which he had to function as the leader of the free world.

In contrast, the Reagan Presidential Library sits on more than 100 acres and the main building is an enormous Spanish-style hacienda surrounded by gardens, plus both Reagan and his beloved wife Nancy, are buried there. There is a replica of the Oval Office with a curious twist.  According to our tour guide, when President Reagan came to visit the Presidential Library while it was being built, he commented that the ceiling wasn’t high enough and he wanted it to be an actual replica of the real Oval Office in The White House. So, the architect measured it, and indeed it was a few inches too short! So, the replica Oval Office was modified with a couple of steps down leading into the Oval Office, so that the ceiling was at the proper height (and when you exit, you walk up a short ramp, to put you back at the level of the rest of the museum).

But, the most magnificent part of the Reagan Library is the pavilion in which Air Force One is displayed. More than one-half of the room is glass, so that it appears (if you use your imagination) as if the plane is ready for takeoff. It is truly breathtaking to see the airplane, which carried several presidents and their entourages around the world. Frankly, it appears much less techy and fancy than the images you see on television.

As I walked through the many exhibits at the Reagan Library that were open that day, I was struck by exactly how numerous the challenges are that a sitting President faces on any given day. Literally, I turned to Jack while we were walking through one of the galleries at the Reagan Library and commented on how incredible the amount of pressure was and how many big decisions needed to be made by the sitting President—it was quite daunting.

Philosopher George Santayana is credited with saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

I find studying history is most interesting and memorable, and I believe there is a great opportunity to learn lessons from the past. And it seems so much more real to me when I do it through the lens of people. That must be why I like biographies and autobiographies so much.

Visiting the Presidential Libraries allows me to learn about our own American history through the eyes of Presidents, past and present. One of the surprises for me was that there is so much more on display in addition to memorabilia of the President. There are temporary exhibits including other presidents, world events, books, movies and more. Most of the Presidential Libraries are set up for students to visit and to be a learning lab. And just like when you visit Washington, D.C., and our nation’s capitol for the first time—including all the monuments and museums—you leave with a new appreciation of our nation’s roots and the complicated journey over the past 200-plus years.

And so it has been for me. I’ve been able to relive the era around Nixon’s Presidency (1969–1974) and Reagan’s Presidency (1981–1989) from the time I was still in elementary school through when I gave birth to my first child.

The added bonus? While at the Nixon Library, there was an exhibit highlighting books on all the Presidents.  I snapped a photo of one, which I read last week titled, Team of Five: The Presidents Club in the Age of Trump by Kate Anderson Brower. Brower is a No. 1 New York Times bestselling author, and this book looks at the relationships between members of the Presidents Club and includes an Oval Office interview with President Trump. The “Presidents Club” is made up of the living Presidents and is an informal, yet important support group for the current acting President of the United States. The book was fascinating, as she spoke specifically about the personal and professional relationships between former Presidents Carter, Bush 41, Obama, Bush 43, and Clinton (jokingly called Bush 42 due to his close personal relationship with George H.W. Bush after they both left office) along with insights from her personal interview with Trump while in office.

So, as you are making travel plans for 2022, I encourage you make time to visit one of these amazing fifteen repositories of American History that represent these Presidents:

Herbert Hoover – West Branch, IA

Franklin D. Roosevelt – Hyde Park, NY

Harry S. Truman – Independence, MO

Dwight D. Eisenhower – Abilene, KS

John F. Kennedy – Boston, MA

Lyndon B. Johnson – Austin, TX

Richard Nixon – Yorba Linda, CA

Gerald Ford – Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids, MI (two separate locations)

Jimmy Carter – Atlanta, GA

Ronald Reagan – Simi Valley, CA

George H. Bush – College Station, TX

William J. Clinton – Little Rock, AR

George W. Bush – Dallas, TX

Barack Obama – Hoffman Estates, IL

Can’t wait to learn more history this next year when I visit at least a couple more!

Karen

I admit to falling for many of those ads I see whenever I am on Instagram, Facebook, browsing the internet or reading an online article.

However, some of my best new gift ideas have come from referrals from friends.

And so, as you are doing last-minute shopping for holiday gifts, here are several of my favorites:

ONDO socks: Once I tried these thin, no slip socks, I was hooked! When I wear non-running sneakers or loafers, I like to wear a light sock, as it makes the shoes more comfortable and eliminates the sweaty, sticky feeling. And they really DO NOT slip! They come in a few colors, and I’ve even gifted them to a few friends and houseguests.

VASTITCH Comfortable Leggings: For many of the holidays (St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, Valentine’s Day, etc.) it’s fun to dress up. I have found the easiest way to dress up is with my exercise outfits, and it’s so easy since I found this website. Instead of trying to find decorative sweaters or T-shirts, now when I go for a run on a weekend near a Hallmark holiday, I go into my drawer and choose a color-coordinated pair of leggings. They make a perfect gift and ARE super comfortable.

ETSY for wine bags: Have you ever been going to a friend’s home for a party and want to bring a bottle of wine? You want to wrap it, and look all over for a wine bag. What’s a neutral color scheme that doesn’t look like you are reusing a wine bag from Christmas when it’s for a housewarming gift? Well check out this designer.

Etsy (an American e-commerce company focused on handmade or vintage items and craft supplies) is where many independent artists sell their wares. I was looking for personalized wine bags last year and came across this woman in Florida who makes custom-printed canvas wine bags and delivers them quickly with an incredible personal touch. Heyar (the owner), whose Etsy handle is Socialholic, is so busy that she is taking a break from new orders until January 3—but check out her offerings after the new year.

VISTAPRINT for address labels: One of the most surprising and appreciated gifts I ever received was when my dear friend Miriam sent me 10-20 postage stamps with a red heart on them! Miriam knows that I am all about love, and that I write a lot of handwritten notes, so postage stamps with a heart on them was a perfect gift for me! And we all know you can never have enough stamps handy … so, what about gifting a friend some custom-designed return address labels? Professionally printed address labels plus a page of postage stamps is the perfect gift.

I would love to learn about your favorite go-to or signature gifts. We all have them! Perhaps they are a brand of candles or stationery.

Gifts this year don’t have to be expensive, but they should come from the heart!

Enjoy!

Karen

It’s no secret that I read a lot of books. Let me correct that—I listen to a lot of books. With my 45-minute commute each way to work, I have found the perfect way to fill that time with something useful—listening to books.

In 2020, I listened to 52 books during the year and so far in 2021, I am at 84 books. I know that sounds like a lot (it is), but it is amazing that the 90 minutes of commuting each day, plus some extra time when I go to doctors’ appointments or visit friends, allows me to finish so many books. Last month, while on our cruise, I actually read three printed books, which I carried with me in my luggage.

With so many books under my belt, there are always a few standouts that I like to share with friends. So, in the hope that you’ll consider adding Audible to your mobile device or have a Kindle, here are my top recommendations from 2021 for you to consider adding to your reading list for 2022:

Autobiographies or Biographies (I love reading peoples’ stories):

  1. Still Foolin’ ‘Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are my Keys.Narrated by Billy Crystal, the chapters alternate with actual comedy gigs, and his life story.
  2. Beginner’s Mind by Yo-Yo Ma. I didn’t know anything about Yo-Yo’s life history or his story. It’s a short read but really made me want to go to one of his concerts.
  3. Ladyparts by Deborah Copaken. Through every health challenge imaginable and a lot of laughter (she’s a comedian) and positive thinking, the author narrates this book and keeps you both laughing and in amazement.
  4. A Runner’s High: My Life in Motion by Dean Karnazes. The story of the ultramarathoning legend, I literally would find places to drive or walk while I was listening to this incredibly inspiring story so it wouldn’t stop.

Business Books:

  1. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande. The author is a doctor who helped create the modern operating room checklist for surgery published and promoted by the World Health Organization (WHO). Examples of checklist usage by airplane pilots and surgery doctors made me realize how important and time-saving systems and processes are.
  2. Get A Grip: An Entrepreneurial Fable—Your Journey to Get Real, Get Simple, and Get Results by Gino Wickman. Similar to the fable approach that Patrick Lencioni used in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, I had my entire management team read this book and we continue to discuss lessons from it.

Life Lessons:

  1. Make Your Next Shot Your Best Shot: The Secret to Playing Great Golf by Dr. Bob Rotella. He is America’s preeminent sports psychologist, and this book helped me keep my head in the game.
  2. The Splendid and the Vile:  Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson. The story of Winston Churchill during one year of World War II … Talk about having a vision and believing.

Health:

  1. Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD. This book has been on my list for a few years, recommended by a friend. I eliminated wheat from my diet after reading this book last month and it has helped me feel healthier, sleep better, have less aches and pains and, oh yeah, lose a few pounds.

Fiction:

  1. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. Truth: Lisa is a personal friend of mine. I could not believe I had never read one of her books (she is a world-renowned writer and author). The storyline was fascinating about lifelong friendships and reminded me that you never know someone else’s story.

Do you have books you’d like to recommend to me? I would love that. Almost every single book on my list above was an unsolicited recommendation from a friend.

Karen

Anyone who has gone out to eat with me knows that as soon as we are seated and the server comes to our table, the first three words out of my mouth are always, “What’s your name?”

I think years ago my two daughters were embarrassed by my question. But as they have grown older and wiser, I think they agree that by asking the server’s name, you establish a closer connection.

I’ve found 100% of the time that once I know the server’s name, I find ways to use it. I thank them for taking my order, for bringing me my drink, for refilling my water, etc. And with this more authentic, personal connection—using their first name—I always get better service. My party seems to get more attention and when we leave, it feels like we had a superior experience.

Sometimes, the server will ask me my name in return! That always catches me off guard, but when they use my name when addressing me, my positive experience is significantly increased.

So, that made me think, how could other businesses or positions leverage using someone’s name?

For example, when I go to the doctor, it would make a positive difference for me if the receptionist or nurse would introduce themselves: “Hello, I’m Sandra and I am the doctor’s nurse. I will be taking you to your examination room, but first I need to get your vitals.” Surely that’s a lot better than barking out my name from the waiting room and then, after a walk down a long hallway, them indicating to me to sit down to get my blood pressure taken or get my weight.

Or, when I arrive at a restaurant, wouldn’t it enhance my experience to have the person at the host station say, “Hello Ms. Caplan, so happy to have you with us this evening. I am Thomas and I am checking to make sure your table is ready. It will be my pleasure to take you there now! Please follow me.”?

Some organizations depend on name tags to do the job. Did you know that the proper side to wear your name badge on is your RIGHT side? That’s because when shaking a person’s hand it is easiest to read a tag/label on the right. Most people put it on the left side and oftentimes it’s covered by a lapel or long hair, making it difficult to read. And don’t get me started on those companies who put no thought into the typeface size or ease of legibility on name tags. But, why depend on a name tag? I think it’s better to properly introduce yourself verbally.

I went to a small holiday party last week and there were no name tags. The gathering was in a person’s home and there were only a dozen people. But some people were new to the group and others hadn’t seen each other for a long time. Frankly, I didn’t remember everyone’s name and had to whisper to a friend and ask. I personally think that even in these kinds of personal settings, it is a gesture of kindness to your guests to prepare name tags, if only with the person’s first name, printed in large, easy-to-read lettering. Then have guests apply it on the right side.

So, the next time you go someplace, try it out. Ask the persons’ name—no matter where you are. It will make them feel more important, and you will probably have a better experience.

“A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”  Dale Carnegie

Karen

Like the rest of the world, my travel schedule came to a grinding halt 18 months ago. Thanks to COVID, all my business trips were cancelled, as clients were no longer taking in-person meetings. Plus, my personal/vacation travel was curtailed heavily, although my partner Jack and I did sneak in quite a few short trips in 2020 and 2021.

During the past couple of months, I’ve noticed an easing of meeting restrictions, so this past week I took both a personal trip (to Las Vegas) and my first short business trip.

My overall feeling was: Geez, I need to find my travel rhythm again.

For those of you who used to travel regularly, you probably know what I mean. I used to keep my toiletries and make-up packed and ready to go, which made packing for a two or three-day trip super easy. On my first trip this past weekend, I found I needed to reload my toiletries case… darn it, I was out of the travel-size toothpaste, make-up remover, etc.

And selecting clothes for my two-day business trip took me much longer than usual. Then I remembered a travel tip I learned from a magazine: Just pick one color scheme for all business trips so everything is interchangeable. Ever wonder why so many people wear all black or all navy when they travel for business? Well, that’s why! Everything is mix and match, and you don’t have to pack as many clothes and shoes, allowing you to fit everything into a carry-on luggage.

And how about getting to the airport? I was very worried about how long it would take to get through security, even though I have TSA pre-check. So, I got to the airport two hours before my flight. Turns out, TSA has gotten fairly efficient, and it actually took much less time than pre-COVID. I found myself on all flights with tons of time before departure.

So, what to do with that extra hour or so? I read. That’s because I always save up all my reading materials for when I am taking flights. I get about 10-15 magazines and newspapers each month, both at home and at work, and I never seem to have the time to read them during my regular weekly schedule. So, I let them pile up.

When I’m getting ready for a trip, I put all my reading in a tote for my flights. I used to stuff them into a rolling briefcase, but it was terribly bulky and heavy. Now I actually put them in a burlap tote or reusable shopping bag. I know it may not appear too classy or business-like to get on a plane with a shopping bag stuffed with reading. However, on a two- or three-hour flight I can usually get through at least half of my reading, and I am thrilled to be able to pass them off to the flight attendants as trash (or many times the flight attendants enjoy reading the magazines).

I used to purchase food at the airport to eat during the flight so I was not dependent on in-flight food and beverage offerings. But, since resuming travel again, I have started bringing my own healthy snacks from home. Nuts and protein bars are my go-to. That means all I need to purchase at the airport is bottled water. I know that one of the ways to make sure you feel good during and after a flight is to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. I’m not really good at remembering to bring a refillable water bottle (which would be the best environmental choice), so I frequently purchase a large bottle of water at my airport of departure.

This week one of my trips took me through the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. As you can see from the photo below, airline traffic and passenger levels are back to pre-pandemic levels. Most of my flights were 100% filled with no empty seats.

And although at first I was skeptical about the need to use the alcohol wipes that the airlines handed out when I boarded to wipe down my seatbelt, travel table, and all contact surfaces, I noticed that my seatmates used the wipes with no shame, so I have now started to do the same. And, of course, all passengers and flight attendants are wearing masks in flight. The threat of permanent expulsion from airlines for not masking has made it an easy choice.

So, as you get ready for your next (or first) trip, I hope you get your rhythm back right away. I’m happy the cover for my iPhone allows me to store my driver’s license and one credit card, so I don’t even need to get into my purse when I travel.

And in case you’re panicked about whether you’ll need to update your driver’s license with a REAL ID this year—don’t fret! We just got notice yesterday that REAL ID won’t be required until 2023. Hallelujah! I was even happier to learn that you don’t have to go to the DMV to get your REAL ID—you can go to AAA, and they will take care of it for you.

 

Phoenix Sky Harbor airport on Monday morning

Safe Travels!

Karen

PS I will be traveling on vacation for the next two weeks, so my next blogpost will be Friday, November 19th.

Earlier this week I was invited to speak to a group of about 20 female attorneys from a leading global law firm. My topic: Resilience. (The other two speakers covered mentoring and negotiating.)

At first I was a bit perplexed as to why I was asked to speak on this topic, but after thinking about it, I realized that I actually am a bit of an expert of the subject. Here is why I say that: Just read my blog posts each week—I often talk about obstacles and challenges I have faced, and how I work my way through them. I think that is resilience.

When I started my remarks to the group, I started by saying, “You might think my success in life is due to me being lucky during my life.” I gave a little background on me and my company. You know the story—mom started our company 60 years ago. She introduced the kiwifruit to American consumers. I took over at age 30. I’m now living with the love of my life and am living happily ever after.

Then I spent the next 15 minutes recounting a few of the business happenings and personal challenges I have faced in my “lucky life.”

In 1993, while I was away on a business trip, we had an ammonia leak in our refrigerated warehouse and lost our entire inventory of produce (over $1 million). Fortunately, we were able to evacuate the building promptly so no one was injured, and our insurance policy covered our loss 100%. However, during the two days we were recovering and replacing our inventory, our competitor called one of our biggest clients and told them we went out of business! We lost that client’s business permanently. Lucky?

A few years later, one of our largest clients did a dramatic pivot in their purchasing patterns (without warning) and we lost about 35% of our business volume overnight. We lost millions of dollars over the next couple of years as I attempted to “right size” our business. Lucky?

And then in my personal life, I shared that I have been married and divorced three times. Lucky?

It was a difficult journey, but I finally concluded that it was better I not ever marry again and live the rest of my life as a single woman. Of course, about two-and-a-half years ago, I had our annual dinner with my longtime business friend (who was also single after his wife of 47 years passed away). Our annual “catch up” dinner ended with a (surprise) kiss and we have been together ever since, living our lives together, as if we are married (but we are not).

Those three stories are just a few of my experiences I chose to share. And I then divulged to the group how I got through it all:

“Focus on that which you have control over.”

Instead of having a pity-party for myself each and every time I had a monumentally difficult situation, I would review the following thoughts in my head:

  1. Do I want to be liked or do I want to be respected?It took me a while to understand and accept that being respected was most important. I could not win a popularity contest and be a successful business owner.
  2. How I do anything is how I do everything. My business coach pointed out some bad habits I had developed. Because I am willing to honestly be introspective, I realized that my bad habits in my business life were the same bad habits I had developed in my personal life. It took a lot of courage to admit this, but once I did, I found myself repeating this to both myself and to others as a reminder. How I do any ANYTHING is how I do EVERYTHING.
  3. I ask myself in difficult situations: What is the worst that can happen? Literally, I go to the worst place in my head. For example, when my partner Jack was diagnosed with melanoma cancer 18 months ago, I went to the worst place. And the worst place was: Jack would die tomorrow. I would be alone. Where would I live? Of course, Jack is alive and well and thriving, but thinking about the “worst” place forced me to realize how ridiculous my fears were. And going to the extreme really can be a wake-up call that the reality will likely be significantly more positive.

So, as I finished up my presentation, I asked for questions or comments. One of the more senior leaders present said this, “We are so lucky to have Karen talk with us today. She is living proof that the smile you see on a successful business person’s face does not mean everything is perfect. It shows you that we all have challenges that we work through every day. And we get through them. Even if at the moment they seem daunting and impossible, we get through them.

Yes, Karen showed us how to focus on that which we have control over. She showed us the face of resilience.”

So, the next time you are facing a difficult situation, whether at work or at home, consider these thoughts:

Be resilient!

Karen

In my office, I noticed a giant stack of newspapers and magazines piling up on my assistant’s desk. Turns out, we receive more than 10 paper copies of each industry newspaper, plus at least two or three copies of each magazine.

So I grabbed a stack of the 10 duplicate newspapers and walked around the office asking, “Do you want a copy of this newspaper?” The vast majority of everyone said “no thanks”, as they get a daily electronic version via email.  Since my co-workers are on their computers all day long, plus many of them work remotely from their home offices, they have gotten used to reading the headlines on their computer and only clicking through on the super interesting stories for more info. I did find a few people who were interested in the physical paper, but honestly, they were the other baby boomers in my office (we have a great mix of team members in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s).

So here I was with eight copies of the industry paper and thinking, “what a waste of natural resources.” What was even weirder about this situation was that I remember cancelling all our subscriptions to these physical copies when I realized times had changed and many people found it easier just to read on online. It seems as if the publisher of these industry papers continued to send them out, probably as a way to keep their circulation numbers high.

So, this mini-experiment made me think—how many other opportunities are there to make the choice: Paper or electronic?

Airplane tickets/Boarding passes — I love getting my boarding passes on my smartphone, via the airline app. No need to print the boarding pass ahead of time or stand in line when I get to the airport to print a ticket.

Reading books on a Kindle — Many people swear by the Kindle—only one small screen to carry instead of those large, heavy, paper books.

Music — Most of us use a device for our music—but back in the day, we had to purchase cassette tapes or CDs in order to listen to our favorite music. Now, thanks to our smartphones plus wireless speakers, we can get our music anytime, any place.

Coupons — Remember clipping coupons? Now, almost all coupons can be downloaded digitally and you have them handy on your smartphone and your smart wallet.

To-do lists —  I admit, I still like to make paper lists for food shopping or my things to do, but many people use the “notes” app on their phone to make those lists, or they use the list function on Amazon or Out of Milk.

Movies — Don’t get me started on the revolution in this business. First you could only see movies by going to a physical movie theater. Then, do you remember purchasing movie DVDs? After that you could rent them at Blockbuster; then Netflix started mailing them to your home. Now, we have Apple TV, Hulu, Amazon+, etc. You can get any movie, any place. And with your smartphone or tablet, you can even watch them while on an airplane.

Magazines — Okay, I’m a little old fashioned here. We get subscriptions to at least 10 monthly magazines at our home. And, yes they do pile up sometimes … but they do get read. It’s kind of fun thumbing through the magazines, ripping out pages of stories I want to share or save.  I am aware that every one of these magazines also has my email address and drops a teaser headliner email too frequently into my inbox. But I can hit that delete button pretty easily.

Thank-you notes — I still hand write thank you notes—to the tune of 290 handwritten notes so far this year. Yes, that’s more than one a day! Sure, I could send a text or an email … but in the last two weeks I’ve gotten three separate emails from recipients of my handwritten thank-you notes with essentially the same comment: “I know this seems ridiculous to send you a thank-you note for the thank-you note. But thank you! You really made me feel special. And I rarely, if ever, get a paper note anymore.”

I could go on and on with examples of how my world has shifted from being paper-based to electronic. Most of these changes are for the better, but some are a definite adjustment.

Since the pendulum has swung very far to the “electronic everything,” this means you can really stand out if you do something on paper. I predict printed company brochures, magazines, and personalized stationery are making a comeback.

So, stand out!

Karen

With all my running and walking activities of late (I completed my fourth half marathon on last Saturday), I am having a bit of discomfort with my feet and my knees. So, I thought it would be best to see a podiatrist.

It’s so amazing how the universe works—as within a day or two after I mentioned this out loud, a longtime friend of mine sent me an email and randomly mentioned she was having foot issues and found a great podiatrist near where I live!

So, I immediately called the doctor’s office to set up an appointment. When the receptionist answered, the first thing I said was, “Who’s this?” That always catches people by surprise, but I have found it is important to refer to someone by name. The office manager’s name is Jan, and I thanked her for all her help in setting up my appointment for the following week.

I have a practice of always setting up any number I call for service or a business in my contacts. That’s because I’ve learned over the years that I will usually have to call them back again, and this saves me from having Post-its all around my work area, or having to remember their name, or having to look them up via Google. I also add the “label” for what kind of service they are in their Outlook contact. For example, in this case I wrote the word “podiatrist” in the contact, so if I need to call the person back, I am not having to remember the doctor’s actual name—I can just do a search in contacts for “podiatrist.” It has saved me tons of time searching for my plumber, my electrician, and even the cable company.

After I had set up the appointment, within a few days my work schedule went crazy and I suddenly had a work conflict with the doctor’s appointment.

So when I called the office to change my appointment, I said, “Hi, is this Jan?” I could tell the office manager was quite startled that I knew her by name. That’s because in addition to saving the doctor’s information in my contacts, I added the name of the person who answered the phone. I do that all the time—I add people’s spouses names, kids’ gender and ages, secretary’s name, etc. I learned long ago that the most important word to any person is their own name and recalling something about them personally always creates an instant connection.

Jan easily gave me a new appointment time. I could tell she was especially nice on the phone, as I made her feel important by using her name.

Have you ever done something similar to this?  Perhaps asked a server at a restaurant their name when you are seated and then thanked them by name during your meal? Did they seem a little bit more attentive to you?

So, I hope the next time you make a new connection, that you will immediately add their name, email, number, etc. to your phone/email contacts. Believe me, it may take a little bit of extra time up front, but you will thank me later when you need to reconnect with someone.

Best practice 101.

Karen

Yesterday I was on a business trip with a coworker. Because our offices are here in California and so much of the produce we sell grows here, it is easy to drive (or in our case, fly) to visit a few growers in a single day.

As we were driving back to the airport, I thanked my coworker for driving (it was about 250 miles round trip). He said, “No problem!”

I kind of gulped when he said that. Whenever I hear the words “no problem,” I am reminded of an important lesson I learned a few years ago.

A friend of mine pointed out that when we say the words “no problem,” we are actually projecting two negative words: “no” and “problem.” However, when we say “no problem,” it usually is because someone has thanked us for doing something, and instead of saying “you’re welcome,” we want to make it sound like it wasn’t a big deal, so we say “no problem.”

It reminds me of learning basic French. The word for thank you in French is “merci.” To respond to “merci,” you are taught to say the casual response of “de rien” (which literally translated means “for nothing”).

So, I offered an alternative answer to my coworker. I suggested that next time someone thanks him for something, how about saying “my pleasure.” He smiled at me and agreed to try it and see how it felt.

We pulled up to a gas station on our journey home and he got out to put gas in the car. I said, “Thanks for filling up the car with gas!” He paused, stuck his head back in the car, and said with a smile, “my pleasure.”

He agreed that it felt so much better.

And, it actually made ME feel better.

So, next time someone says “thank you,” resist the temptation to say “no problem.”  Consider saying, “It was my pleasure!”

Karen

Do you have survey fatigue? You know what I mean—you make a large purchase (a car), buy something online (clothing) or call an airline or credit card company to dispute a charge, and within minutes you receive a survey via email. A few years ago those surveys were few and far between, they now seem to fill up our email in-boxes.

Many of my friends and family members tell me they don’t waste their time completing the surveys—partially because it takes time, and partially because they don’t think it makes a difference.

I’ve always been a firm believer that there is a human at the end of a survey and that if I have important or meaningful feedback to share, then I make the time to respond.

So that’s what happened to me a couple of weeks ago, after I attended a golf club fitting hosted by TaylorMade Golf at my local golf course. The club sent out the announcement, and I reserved the 30-minute time slot online. The timing was perfect for me, as there are two specific clubs that I was looking to purchase.

When I arrived at the golf club and walked up to the pop-up tent to test the clubs, I was greeted by two twentysomethings: a man and a woman. The woman was fairly personable, but all the guy did was look at his electronic tablet when I walked up and the first thing out of his mouth was, “I have another appointment at 11:00 a.m., so we need to hurry up.”

I looked at my watch and said, “Well, that means I still have 11 minutes to try out the clubs and make my choice!” The guy was annoyed (full disclosure—my partner Jack was there at 10:30 a.m. for his fitting and we shared the time slot, so I was within the time slot).

I tested a couple of styles of clubs, but obviously felt quite rushed and hastily made my decision to purchase. Afterward, I kept thinking that next time I would rather go to a golf store where I would not be so rushed, versus the convenience of a fitting at the golf course where I play.

Then came an email survey the next day. I was ready for it! I immediately completed it, explaining how it was not a great experience for me. What happened next was a huge surprise.

Within a few days, I received a personal email from another local TaylorMade representative who acknowledged my fitting experience and “wanted to make sure every fitting feels personal and you leave with a sense of satisfaction in your experience.” He offered to do a refitting at another local course.

Wow—I was impressed! I let him know that unfortunately my schedule would not allow me the time to have another fitting, but thanked him for reaching out. And then, the real kicker.

I received another email from him this morning. “Hey Karen—I am more than happy to drop off some golf balls and hats for the inconvenience. Please send me your address so I can deliver the swag. I also looked over your order, and it looks like the wedges you ordered are fairly backordered. I can switch them out for you for a similar shaft, and they will ship in September. Let me know if you would like me to make the change.”

Double wow! This customer experiential expert turned my awful incident and complaint into an experience that made me feel special and happy again! How did that happen so quickly?

First, he acknowledged my feedback in a timely fashion. He then let me know my personal satisfaction was important to him and the company and suggested some options to me.

He didn’t take “no” for an answer (as I really did give him a brush off with my first response). He gently responded with another option or two with kindness and authenticity and was not defensive, plus the offer of swag.

So, next time you have feedback to give, remember that there may be a human at the other end of the survey.

Or, if you are the company representative where a customer has had a less-than-stellar experience, responding quickly and authentically and offering some kind of replacement may make a difference. It’s important NOT to make excuses or defend your organization. Acknowledge the error flat out. That authentic humility goes a long way in this day and age.

So now, when you get a survey via email, perhaps you will take the time to give your feedback.

And of course, I cannot wait to get my new golf clubs. Crossing my fingers that I will be 100% satisfied. Or else, I’ll be contacting my new best friend Mike at TaylorMade.

Karen

Last week I took a couple of days of vacation and we went golfing about 20 miles away as a mini-vacation. I took up golfing almost exactly a year ago and have been playing about four times a month. The course we play at is pretty challenging, but like my partner Jack says—if you can play Bella Collina with its uneven lies, huge hills and rippling greens, you can play anywhere.

So, we decided to play at two of the Top 100 Golf Courses in the U.S.—Pelican Hill Golf Club (North and South Courses) in Newport Beach, Calif.

But this column is not really about golf, but rather about the amazing couple we played with on our second day. And how all four of our lives were changed forever.

It’s always a bit unnerving when you play golf as a twosome, as you never know who you will be matched up with. On most golf courses, you are matched up with another twosome, having no idea if your skill level is similar. Our first day, we were matched up with an older couple from San Diego. Neither were in good health, the man drank a couple of Bloody Mary’s instead of eating lunch, and their scoring was questionable. Needless to say, when we came to the course the second day, we were holding our breath as to who would be our golfing partners.

On that second day, we were matched up with another couple, Nick and Debbie. Nick approached us first, as we were sitting in our golf cart. He was fit, had a distinctive New Jersey accent and a big smile. Right away we hit it off with him. He looked at me and said his wife Debbie would be relieved to know that we were playing with another couple, as she always dreaded when she was the only woman in a foursome.

Then Debbie approached us. Again, she was fit, had that engaging Jersey accent, but was kind of reserved and quiet. She told me she has been playing golf for more than 10 years—so I warned her that I was just a beginner (wanting to set expectations in case I was not having a good golf day). Turns out Nick and Debbie had just completed a 3-day golf camp in the San Diego area and were apprehensive about how they would now play, after 3 days of a golf instructor “messing with their grip and stance”!

I noticed right away that Nick and my partner Jack hit it off. As we finished up each hole, the two of them would stay behind on the green chatting. In fact, their conversations got longer and longer as we moved through each hole, and it got to the point that I was a bit annoyed. So, I said something to Jack.

Then he told me what they were talking about. Debbie had just completed four months of chemotherapy for cancer treatment after several serious surgeries. Jack couldn’t remember what kind of cancer it was, but Nick was confiding in Jack about how he was feeling, how difficult it had been to tell their six children about her illness, and how much he loved his wife. This extended golfing vacation was to allow them to spend time together doing something they both loved—golfing together. Jack could relate—he lost his wife of 47 years, Bonnie, to pancreatic cancer about four years ago. Once Jack told me that, I said to myself, “You never know someone’s story.”

So as Nick and Jack were chatting during golf, I decided to make it easy for Debbie to open up to me. I shared with her about Jack’s diagnosis of melanoma and that he had just completed his second of eight infusions of Keytruda that week. As I told her about Jack’s fantastic and positive mental attitude, she started to talk to me. By the end of the round, we invited Nick and Debbie to come to our house for wine and dinner on Saturday before they flew home Monday morning.

We were so excited to have Nick and Debbie come to our house. We both realized that our being matched up on the golf course was kismet (fate). When they arrived, it was as if we were lifelong friends. We had an amazing evening of wine, conversation and upscale pizza. (Nick is Italian, so we took him to our favorite San Clemente Italian restaurant Brick Woodfire Cuisine for authentic, handmade pizza.)

As the evening progressed, Debbie and I had a chance to talk privately and she made a few comments about her honest worries about her surgery, her chemo and her health. I took the opportunity to share with her how Jack’s positive attitude and almost effervescent commentary about his own health and prognosis really fueled his energy, and I believe his recovery. I told Debbie that both Jack and I were big believers in being positive and how saying only positive words and having only positive thoughts really does make a difference. I could tell by her reaction that this made a difference for her.

As they were leaving our home, we all hugged each other and talked about when we would come to visit them in New Jersey during our next visit to the East Coast. Debbie whispered to me, thanking me for giving her such a positive message about her future.

The next morning we received a text from them: “Karen & Jack … it feels like we’ve known you for decades. Hard to believe it’s only been ~72 hours. Thanks again …”

Next time you notice someone not having a good day, remember: “You never know someone’s story.” Ask questions and show empathy.

When you are feeling sorry for yourself, or negative feelings are going through your head, remember:  you are sending negative energy into the universe. Why not send positive energy and thoughts out there? They will work harder for you.

The next time you have the opportunity to make new friends or meet new people, just think, you might be making lifelong friends and having an opportunity to make a positive impact on their life!

Jack, me, Debbie and Nick

Karen

Okay, so maybe I am a little prejudiced, but when a well-published children’s book author contacted me three years ago and said she planned to write a book about my mom, Frieda Rapoport Caplan, I was so excited! I’ve always found kids are fascinated (and grateful) when they discover that it was my mom who is credited with introducing kiwifruit to America in 1962. Honestly, who can imagine a world before kiwifruit?

Here’s how it happened. About three years ago, Mara Rockliff—an author of more than 75 children’s books—sent an ordinary email to our company. Mara had taken a trip to Israel organized by the nonprofit PJ Library for children’s authors and illustrators, and she was inspired to think about Jewish subjects she might write about. When she got back, she dug around and found an amazing resource called the “Jewish Women’s Archive,” and decided to scroll through the listing alphabetically. There are hundreds of women listed, so thank goodness my mom was listed under “Caplan”… near the front of the alpha listing. As luck would have it, the photo image under my mom’s listing was a green kiwifruit slice, not an image of her face like most everyone else’s!

That spurred Mara to research Frieda a bit more, and in the end, Frieda’s story was too intriguing to pass up! See more of why Mara decided to write the book here: Just Try It: An Interview with Mara Rockliff

As you can imagine, we get dozens of email inquiries every week through our website, mostly from consumers. I’ve always told our team that we treat every inquiry with equal importance. It didn’t take long for the message to make its way from our marketing team to me, and I immediately sent Mara an email.

From that moment on, Mara and I exchanged close to a dozen emails with her asking me all sorts of questions over the next 12 months. For instance:

So, in early February it was with great joy that I received a large box containing two copies of “TRY IT! How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat.” The book was completed in early 2020 and was finally published in hardcover format on January 12, 2021, by Beach Lane Books, a subsidiary of the huge publishing entity Simon & Schuster.

Book Cover: Simon & Schuster Try-It! by Mara Rockliff, Illustrated by Giselle Potter

As I paged through the book and saw the hand-painted illustrations by Giselle Potter of my mom always in a purple dress (which is exactly how she dressed), talking with a buyer about a flat of brown, fuzzy kiwifruit—I got chills. There were pages loaded with images of her discoveries (like mangosteen in 2008, habanero peppers in 1990 and dragonfruit in 1994). Unreal!

Frieda “feeling it in her elbows”

 

Mom at the L.A. Produce Market in the early days

To have my mom recognized by a complete industry outsider for her amazing contributions to changing the way America eats was mind boggling, and so gratifying. I never had a chance to tell mom about the book, as I wanted to surprise her with it after it was actually published. As you know, my mom passed away 14 months ago.

But as my sister Jackie and my eldest daughter Alex looked at the newly minted book, we knew exactly what mom would have wanted us to do.

And that is, to share the great news of this book during the week of our company anniversary. And that’s exactly why I have waited until this week to announce it.

This week, on April 2, we will be celebrating our 59th company anniversary! And what better way to celebrate than to tell all our friends about this amazing children’s book?

Because we think it is such a great story—full of inspiration for all ages, but especially for young children, we want to make sure it is a #1 best seller! There are many places you can purchase the book online, but because we want to make it an Amazon #1 best seller, we are asking all our friends to help us accomplish this by purchasing the book at the exact same day and time (this will help the algorithm recognize the book and push it to the top of the list!) I learned this technique from a book author who has had three Amazon #1 best sellers!

So, if you are so inclined, please click this link Try It! How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat and purchase one or more copies of “TRY IT!” On Friday, April 2, at 9:00 a.m. PST (or 12:00 p.m. EST).

This book is not only a great tribute to the first lady of produce, Frieda Rapoport Caplan, but it is a great way to introduce a new generation of young kids to some of the weirdest looking fruits and veggies—dragonfruit, mangosteen, fresh lychee, starfruit, donut peaches, green cauliflower and purple asparagus.

When you receive your copy and read through it, I’m hoping you will get the same chills that Jackie, Alex and I got. It’s a fitting tribute to share with you on our company anniversary! And, in keeping with company tradition, know that we will be celebrating our anniversary the same way we do every year—by gathering our employees all together (physically distanced) and handing out purple-frosted cupcakes!

Me, Mom and Alex celebrated our company anniversary a few years ago – with purple frosted cupcakes!

The book has already received rave reviews and is the perfect way to inspire the little ones in your life. For more information, please visit: Simon & Schuster Try-It! by Mara Rockliff, Illustrated by Giselle Potter and TRY IT! for yourself!

Enjoy and happy reading!

Karen

 

Reminder, if you are so inclined, please click this link Try It! How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat and purchase one or more copies of “TRY IT!” On Friday, April 2, at 9:00 a.m. PST (or 12:00 p.m. EST) and help us make this book an Amazon #1 best seller.

Let me start by saying that I have no near-term plan to retire. But I would like to share what my 96-year-old mother thinks about retirement.

Most of you have heard of my mom, Dr. Frieda Rapoport Caplan. And that up until 2019, my mom was coming into our office four days a week (she cut back a few years ago from five days a week).

It was only in late December that she chose to work from home because the trek up our two flights of stairs had gotten to be a bit much for her. But believe me, she is still on her computer from her home office, monitoring the important activities of “her baby,” Frieda’s Specialty Produce, the company she founded in 1962.

I have to be honest that at times during my career, I have been annoyed with my mom’s continuing interest in every detail of the business. She closely monitored the Accounts Receivables, sometimes volunteering to call overdue customers to ask for our money (she always got a quick response). She frequently would send emails to some of our sales reps when they made a big sale or her email might ask why a client hadn’t purchased in a few weeks. I’d be thinking, “Mom, can’t you let it go?”

And then I had the opportunity to hear Dan Buettner, the National Geographic Fellow and author of “The Blue Zones,” last month at a produce conference. It’s the second time I’ve heard Dan and for some reason, this time one part of his message really resonated with me.

When sharing the details of the five or six communities around the world where a high concentration of people live past 100 years of age, one characteristic stood out. It wasn’t their primarily plant-based diet, not their sleeping patterns of seven to eight hours a night or the involvement in a spiritual practice or religion. It wasn’t the natural amounts of exercise they get or their close-knit community of friends.

It was that they had a purpose. A reason to get up in the morning!

And it was when he was talking about having that purpose, that raison d’etre, that I realized why my mom is so vibrant. So relevant. So alive! It’s because she is still connected with, interested in and passionate about our business.

As we celebrated her 96th birthday last Saturday, she peppered my daughters, Alex and Sophia, and me with questions about work, our clients and our growers. I realized that perhaps retirement may not be the best solution for everyone. I have read many articles that talk about people who retired and then got ill or passed away shortly after they stopped working. I’ve even had close friends who this has happened to. One of my friends recommends if you are considering retiring that you have a plan for a slow transition from your current work life to something else (a hobby, volunteer work or a Chapter 2 or 3 in your life).

As for me, as long as my mom is calling me daily asking for a recap of “what great thing happened at work today,” I plan to be working passionately.

How about you? Have you thought about what you would do if you weren’t working? Would you have a purpose, a reason to get up in the morning?

Karen

P.S. If you want to send Frieda a Happy Birthday message, please click here.

Mom and me, on her birthday this past weekend.

This is not a blog about shopping. This is a blog about removing roadblocks.

This past weekend, I needed to restock on a few things, so I headed to my local mall. Even though I went into Nordstrom only to purchase their special liquid laundry soap, I couldn’t resist taking a stroll around the store. And as you might have guessed, that little stroll ended up with me finding a few things to try on.

I have been a Nordstrom shopper since the company opened its first stores in southern California over 30 years ago. I know that in order to get access to a dressing room, you need to find a sales associate, as the dressing rooms are locked. Only the sales associates have the keys.

So, you can imagine my shock when the sales associate told me that the dressing room doors were all open, so pick whichever room I wanted!

When I went to purchase my items at the cash register, I asked the cashier, “So, when did Nordstrom unlock the dressing room doors?”

She told me that they got a new store manager about four months ago (the previous manager went on maternity leave), and the first thing the new manager did was tell the sales associates to unlock the dressing room doors.

Even though the locking practice had come into being to reduce theft, it also helped engage the salespeople with shoppers by personally escorting them to the dressing rooms. The new manager realized that it actually had become a huge inconvenience for shoppers. It interfered with their ease of shopping. And I’m guessing, she realized that it was not sending a positive message in alignment with the Nordstrom brand.

So, I asked the obvious question of the cashier, “Did theft go up after you unlocked the doors?” She told me she had not heard anything more about it, so she assumed it had not.

That made me wonder: How many “locked dressing room doors” do you have in your business? If you have an automated voicemail for your business, do you start your message with, “To speak with someone immediately, press “0” for operator,” then proceed with the directory of names? Or do you force callers to go through the directory by entering the first three letters of the person’s first or last name?

On your website, do you feature your best selling items on your home page? Or do you force customers to search through your entire website to find what they’re looking for?

When you have a visitor to your building, do you immediately offer them water or directions to the restroom? Or do you wait for them to ask?

When you give new employees your company handbook, do you give them a cheat sheet of the FAQs (such as company holidays, benefits info and payroll info)? Or do you hand them the 100-page handbook and say, “Good luck! Everything is in here.”

How many roadblocks do we naturally put up in our businesses? And if we replaced them with something easier and more convenient, would we have a better result?

If you want to “unlock the doors” in your company, know that most of them are super easy to change. The challenge may be that they are habits, with unknown origins, e.g., “We’ve always done it that way.”

It took only a bit of adjustment at our company to change our company voicemail, website, visitor-welcoming process and employee handbook.

What should you change?

Karen

I’m guessing I am not the only person who gets a hard knot in their lower neck-shoulder region. It feels so tense. Last week while I was out of town at a produce conference, it got really bad. It was like I couldn’t even turn my head without feeling the strain of my tight muscles. Does that ever happen to you?

My first angle of attack was to take an Advil and go to bed early.

I did sleep well, but unfortunately that knot in my neck was still there the next morning.

Second strategy was to get a neck massage on Monday afternoon. It felt better for a short while, but that knot returned.

So, yesterday when I went to work out with my strength coach, Yas, I let him know about my sore shoulder muscles. He looked at me and commented, “So, you sit on your **s all day at a desk, right? Typing on your computer.” And he held out his forearms and imitated my daily position, which included having my shoulders tensed up. “Yep, you’re right,” I answered.

And that’s when it dawned on me.

Why am I not using my stand-up desk?

A few years ago, a couple of our employees mentioned to me that they heard having a stand-up desk helps reduce lower back pain and shoulder tension, and actually stimulates better productivity. So we did a beta test with those two employees by purchasing units that would retrofit our current cubicles for less than $300 each. We did nothing more than give them the stand-up desks with comfort mats to go under their feet. And we waited to see what happened.

Guess what? As other employees noticed, they, too, asked for stand-up units, and everyone personally commented on how much better they felt physically during the day. It’s as if the cobwebs get cleaned out when you stand up and work. And they all have less low-back tension and it creates more energy in the office.

So this morning I came into work, and after our entire floor did stretching at 9 a.m. as part of our newly launched employee well-being program, I raised my stand-up desk. Sure enough, my shoulders felt less tense. My legs and lower back felt better. And as I looked around my office, I saw four other co-workers had raised their desks too.

Does your company offer this option? More and more companies offer these ergonomically friendly stand-up desks. But there are still some that don’t; they must not be aware that it’s an easy $300 retrofit for an existing desk. And that $300 investment is a good hedge against increased absenteeism and injury.

So if your neck and shoulders are usually tight during the work day, you might want to arrange to get a stand-up unit. It will make a world of difference.

Karen

As you may recall, I changed to a vegan lifestyle on December 31, 2018, for many reasons. Primarily it was for health reasons. I had done a lot of research during the previous year, reading books such as “How Not to Die” by Dr. Michael Greger. Although that book has a title that sounds less than positive, it actually gives you hope in each chapter about how no to die from specific diseases, such as lung cancer, breast cancer, diabetes, etc.

What I never told anyone was that a week after I chose a completely plant-based diet, I went for my annual checkup and stress test at the cardiologist. Like many CEOs, because of the stress of my job, I proactively choose to get a checkup each year, versus waiting for something to happen.

So after my annual exam, my doctor and I sat down in his office. He told me, “You have to do something. Your cholesterol has gotten really high and I am starting to see a blockage in your left ventricle. That means the left side of your heart is having to work harder.” He asked me, “Do you want my help?” And my answer was “Yes. As long as it does not involve medication. And by the way, I just went vegan last week.” He took a deep breath, thought for a minute, and then proceeded to give me his “prescription.”

  1. Start intermittent fasting (the science was showing this was very effective, he said). That meant only coffee and water in the morning, not eating anything until noon. Eat super light for lunch and as little as possible for dinner. Really cut back on food consumption. No grains, breads, sugar, etc.
  2. Do cardio every single day; a minimum of 30 minutes a day and up to 75 minutes a day.
  3. Return in six months for a follow-up exam.

It took me a week or so to wrap my head around intermittent fasting. But I figured I would try it. Once I started skipping breakfast in the morning, I found I was not hungry in the morning. It was like eating caused me to want to eat more. So the longer I waited to eat, the less I was hungry. And if I started to get hungry, I would drink a lot of water. So one to two cups of black coffee in the morning have been the start of my day for the last six months.

I admit that during the first five months, I did cardio almost every single day. But as I started traveling, it got harder. But I joined a new gym in January that is super upscale, by the beach and very clean, with all new equipment. That has made a huge difference for me. I am now working out and doing cardio four to six days a week.

And of course, I have been 100% vegan since January 1. As hard as that may sound, it has actually been very easy (I like to say it is totally in the mind). I have traveled to Germany and Spain, plus New York and Houston. I’ve never had a hard time finding something to eat, no matter if I am at a steak house or a vegetarian restaurant, which I found in Barcelona. It was actually very fun and touching when I was in southern Spain visiting some grower friends; all three guys I was with chose to have a veggie lunch with me.

So, here are the results of my vegan-cardio-intermittent fasting lifestyle for the last six months. I went to see my doctor last week and had a complete blood panel done.

When my doctor walked in after seeing the results of my blood tests, he sat down beside me and said with a big smile on his face, “What did you do since I saw you? Your results are remarkable!”

I told him that I did everything he told me to. Plus I was 100% vegan (turns out, he is also vegan which was refreshing for me to learn). He then asked me how I felt.

I told him there were many things I had noticed since going vegan.

I want to share them with you now:

  1. I am sleeping so much better. My sleep is more solid and I feel so much more rested, even when I don’t get my seven and a half to eight hours a night.
  2. I lost about 10 pounds in the first three months. I’m sure it was from eating less food, and no grains or breads. I have more to lose, but I know that “calories in” are the biggest factor in weight loss. Since I work out with a strength trainer, I’m guessing some of that fat has turned into muscle.
  3. My mind is clearer. This is a big one. As I was reflecting on the first six months of the year with my business coach last week, I commented on how much clearer my mind seems. I’m not foggy anymore. Previously I had a slower start in the morning and it would take a few hours to get going. Now, I feel on my game the minute I get to work. And everything seems crystal clear to me.
  4. This one is kind of personal, but I noticed I’m not perspiring as much. Of course when I work out I sweat a lot, but I’ve noticed that when I am at work I don’t sweat as much. I do think that is due to my system being clear of animal products.
  5. My thinning hair is growing back. Many of us find our hair thins as we get older. A dear friend of mine had commented on my hair thinning in the front a few years ago. It was a very personal comment she made, but that’s one of the things I love about her. Well, when I went to my hair stylist last week, we both noticed that my hair was getting thicker in all the right places.

And finally, I have to share an article that my darling mother, Frieda, gave to me last night. It’s from The Week Magazine and entitled “Red meat could shorten your life.” She said that this article is so important she wants to share it with everyone she knows. I made a dozen copies for her to share with all her friends.

I probably never told you that when I went vegan six months ago, my mom joined me! Yes, that’s right, my 95-year-old mother, Frieda, is now also vegan. And I think that is quite a testimonial as she tells me every day how much better and lighter she feels!

So, I hope you will take some time to consider whether eating fewer animal products, and more fruits and veggies, might be an easy choice for you to make. You don’t have to be as dramatic as I’ve been by going 100% vegan. In fact, another friend, also a doctor, recently decided to be “Vegan Before 6” each day. It’s all about choice, and it’s really all about making our lives better and longer.

To your good health!

Karen

 

Even before the two earthquakes we experienced in Southern California last week, I had planned to blog about earthquakes. If you don’t live in California, but somewhere else that has other natural events like tornadoes, hurricanes, fires or flash floods, I know you’ve had similarly scary experiences. But I’d bet you’ve never had the opportunity to listen to the world’s expert on your particular natural disaster-causing event, right?

Well, I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Lucy Jones (aka “The Earthquake Lady”) last month at the Natural History Museum. You see, one of my good friends, Lori Bettison-Varga, is the president of the museum. She invited me to one of its First Friday events. I checked my calendar and was kind of excited to drive to downtown LA after a long week, and sip a little wine in the museum’s outdoor garden.

At about 7, they started ushering us into a dark, auditorium-like room. As I looked around, I realized that we were in the Dinosaur Wing, as life-sized dioramas featuring various dinosaurs covered every wall in the huge hall.

As we sat down, I glanced at the program and noticed that famed LA Times reporter Patt Morrison would be interviewing “The Earthquake Lady.” I’m like, “Oh, this is just GREAT.” (Not really.) Frankly, like most Southern Californians, whenever there’s an earthquake, my heart starts racing and I get a little panicked. The last thing I wanted to be doing on a Friday evening was listening to a couple of people talk about earthquakes. But I was seated between Lori and her husband, Bob, so there was no escaping. Did I mention that Lori and Bob are geologists?

So, I decided to enjoy the lecture.

And frankly, I was surprised—I was surprised at how calm Lucy was. She is a seismologist and the public voice for earthquake science and earthquake safety in California. You can read tons about her right here.

What I loved most about her presentation was what I learned. Simple, basic things that I had never thought of:

  1. Many of us buy extra water to have on hand in case of an emergency. When asked how much water you should have, Lucy answered, “No matter how much you have, you should probably buy more.”(I went out and bought a lot more water.)
  2. She said the reason we will want more water is that if we have a huge earthquake, there is a good chance that the large, clay, underground pipes that carry water to our homes will crack. And if so, it could take a long time to repair them. So, it’s possible we will not have access to water for a while.
  3. The other pipes that are underground, which could crack during an earthquake, carry our sewage. Picture that. Cracked sewage pipes underground. Enough said.
  4. And finally, if the power goes out, ATMs will not work. Lucy said that most people don’t think about what it would be like without cash or access to cash. She suggested going to the bank, taking out some cash, and stashing it in a safe, secure place in your home. (I went to the bank and now have many $20 bills stashed away at home.)

After hearing Lucy talk, I felt more informed about earthquakes, what causes them and how the earth works. When you are informed, you react more calmly.

And that’s what happened as I was sitting on the floor taking off my shoes on Friday night, when we had that 7.1 earthquake about 8:20 p.m. Instead of my usual run for a doorway (Lucy said that is a fallacy; it is not a safer place to be in an earthquake), I stayed seated on the ground. That’s where Lucy said to be, away from windows, and near something you can crawl under for protection. She said many people break bones or get injured because they are running during an earthquake and they fall down because of the jarring movements.

Lucy took questions from the audience: Does fracking cause earthquakes? Do earthquakes cause tsunamis? She was very clear that there is no such thing as earthquake weather and earthquakes do not only happen in the early morning, which was demonstrated perfectly on Friday evening.

So, I hope that you get a little extra cash next time you are at the ATM and stash some extra water and non-perishable food in case of an emergency. Oh, by the way, Lucy said you should be sure that stored food and water are in an easy-to-access place, where they aren’t likely to be hidden in case of an earthquake.

Thank you, Lucy, for making earthquakes more manageable.

Karen

 

Like anyone who exercises regularly, or walks or runs a lot, I am in the habit of getting new workout shoes every four to five months. I work out about five or six days a week. Most days I spend time on the treadmill. So, I have learned to keep an eye on how my shoes are wearing.

But six months ago, I started working with a strength coach (he hates being referred to as a “trainer”). Twice a week, I meet him at my gym for an hour of weight lifting and strength conditioning. A few months ago, Yas (that’s his name) mentioned to me that I need to get thinner-soled trainers. In case you didn’t know, in England, they call workout shoes “trainers”; many Americans call them “tennis shoes.” Yas is from England, so in his distinct and sometimes difficult-to-understand British accent, he finally convinced me to get new trainers, based on his recommendation.

Yas had noticed during my exercise sessions that I was a bit unstable on my feet. He told me that the cushiony soles of my Adidas, Nikes and Brooks shoes are all thick and that can make my ankles a bit weak and wobbly. Interestingly, in speaking to friends, they, like me, thought it was good to have these thickly soled shoes. Something about the cushion being good for you. The cushion might feel good, but it raises your center of gravity enough that we compensate by wobbling.

So Yas sent me a link to a shoe brand called Merrell. I believe Merrell is best known for hiking shoes. But Yas recommended the Vapor Glove model for me. These shoes have very little padding. The toe box is broad and they have serious arch support. I actually feel more like I am walking barefoot. My feet are definitely closer to the ground.

 

Yas also told me to walk barefooted at home as it activate the muscles in my feet and will train them to work harder at stabilizing me.

So, two weeks ago, I wore my new Merrell Vapor Glove shoes to my workout. I could not believe the difference in my stability. He has me do some rather complicated strength-building exercises for my hamstrings and the improvement in the number of reps I was able to do and how much stronger I felt was palpable.

As we get older, we are concerned about building muscle mass and bone strength. The last thing we want to happen is to lose our footing, fall down and hit our knee (which I did twice last year) or break a bone (thank goodness that has not happened to me). I never knew that there were other styles of workout shoes that actually HELPED create more stability when I exercise or walk.

If you have experienced any of the wobbling or instability when you run, walk or exercise, I suggest you try this style of shoe. And don’t forget to walk barefoot every day. Who knew this could help with balance?

Karen

 

Although I’ve never had serious or ongoing insomnia, there are definitely nights when I have a hard time going to sleep. Or I wake up at 1 or 2 a.m. and cannot go back to sleep. I have many friends who complain about the same thing.

So, when two of my coworkers got some insights on getting better sleep, I was very interested.

They had gone to see a healer. I don’t know what kind of healer, but I am guessing it was someone spiritual, homeopathic or something along those lines. Anyway, I was fascinated about what they shared with me.

As they were finishing their session, the healer turned to one of my coworkers and asked, “So, do you have problems sleeping?” She was caught off guard because she had not mentioned anything to him about her constant restlessness at night. She often complained that it was hard for her to get a good, solid night’s sleep.

He then asked her, “Do you have any crystals or books in your bedroom?” She nodded yes and pointed to the necklace that her boyfriend gave her. It contains a crystal. She never takes it off. Plus, her bedroom is filled with many full bookshelves and she has several crystals hanging on her walls and sitting on her nightstand.

The healer suggested she remove all crystals and books from her bedroom. He told her that the energy of the crystals and the words in the books were interrupting her sleep.

She wasn’t quite sure about all of this, but went home and removed all the crystals and books anyway. That very first night, she had one of the best, uninterrupted, full night of sleep she’d had in a long time. Later that week, she forgot to take off her crystal necklace, and guess what? She did not sleep very well that night.

As she told me all this, I found it interesting. Not very scientific, but interesting.

So, just for the heck of it, when I got home that night, I removed all the crystals from my bedroom, took the books off my nightstand and moved them into another room. Then I went to bed.

Seriously, I had one of the best night’s sleep! And I’ve noticed in the last few weeks that my sleep has continued to be more restful. I am also able to fall asleep quickly. Of course, when I go to bed with a lot on my mind from work, I occasionally wake up super early, but I figure that is my subconscious telling me to get to work early that day. I actually embrace that when it happens and don’t stay in bed. I get up and read, write or do work.

After I had experienced this crystal- and book-free sleep, I mentioned it to a couple friends who have insomnia issues. One friend is a recent widow and good, restful sleep has been a real issue. I suggested she try this new technique: Remove all crystals, books and photos of her spouse and family from her bedroom to see if her sleep would get better. I added the photos to the list, as it made sense to me that having your former spouse or family members staring at you all night might be equally disruptive to sleep.

I haven’t heard back from her yet, but I am hopeful that these changes help her.

If you have challenges with poor quality sleep and you’ve tried all the other normal suggestions (no coffee after noon, keeping your room cold, not using any devices an hour before you go to sleep), perhaps you might want to clear a few things from your bedroom.

I would love to hear if this allows you to have more restful sleep.

Sleep well!

Karen

Last week, I got to spend an hour touring one of the most dynamic and regenerative organic walnut farms in California. It’s in Winters, California, just outside Sacramento.

I was in the area for a meeting at the University of California, Davis, and my dear friend Craig McNamara invited me to come by to see his organic walnut ranch and Center for Land-Based Learning, his pet project and legacy.

I literally had 45 minutes to spend with him, as I had a flight to catch that evening. So as soon as I arrived at the ranch, we jumped into an all-electric ATV and did the fastest tour I’ve ever had of a farm.

If the name McNamara sounds familiar to you, it’s because Craig is the son of the late Robert S. McNamara, the eighth U.S. secretary of defense, who served from 1961 to 1968 under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. He played a major role in escalating the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War.

I had recently learned of that personal connection, so in the most diplomatic way I could, I asked Craig about his dad (whose name is inextricably associated with that war) and how Craig ended up as a farmer in Winters, since he grew up in Washington, D.C. You can read more about Craig and his dad in this article.

Craig shared with me that due to his father’s connection to the war and the personal burden Craig felt, he dropped out of Stanford University in protest and fled the country. He rode a motorcycle 6,000 miles to Colombia, then hitchhiked another 6,000 miles to Tierra del Fuego (the southernmost point on the continent). He ended up living on the land of peasant farmers in Mexico, Ecuador and Chile, and worked side by side with them, growing food. Craig realized working on the land was helping him heal. He returned to UC Davis and earned a degree in Plant and Soil Science. He met the love of his life and now wife, Julie, and they bought a small farm in Winters.

When they bought the farm, the best part was a cute house, which they still live in. But the ground was in terrible condition. During his time working with farmers in South America, he had learned to cultivate the land organically and applied that to his new business. He eventually created three enterprises.

First is Sierra Orchards, at 450 acres, producing mostly organic walnuts and olives for olive oil.

Second is the Center for Land-Based Learning, Craig’s passion project. Its mission is to inspire, educate and cultivate future generations of farmers, agricultural leaders and natural resources stewards. The center trains more than 2,000 people annually on sustainable farming practices, so they can go back to their communities and farm.

And third is the creation of the California Farm Academy (CFA) that trains 24 beginners each year, preparing them to be the next generation of California farmers. Graduates of CFA share incubator plots on 15 acres of Craig’s land, selling their produce to restaurants across the Bay Area and Sacramento. They are also part of the Farm to Table movement and have started many urban farms.

Craig proudly standing in front of the 15 acre incubator farm.

 

After the tour, Craig took me into his small office to give me a couple of bottles of his special olive oil. I spotted a photo of Craig and his dad, Secretary McNamara. With permission, I snapped this photo.

Craig and his dad Robert McNamara.

While driving to the Sacramento airport, weaving through the countryside on a one-lane road, I just couldn’t turn on the radio. I had too many thoughts going through my mind about the burdens Craig carried regarding his father’s legacy. And how Craig was able to move past those to become a farmer and entrepreneur. Interestingly, he leveraged his own leadership skills to get appointed to the California State Board of Food and Agriculture (he served for 17 years, the last seven as president). That means he was a key advisor to California’s governor and secretary of agriculture.

My final thought as I arrived at the airport was of Putah Creek flowing through his farm. Craig and I, in his ATV, roughed it through a few fields, so that he could show me the work he and his crew had done to restore Putah Creek. It’s a tributary of the Sacramento River. The 85-mile creek has its headwaters in the Mayacamas Mountains, a part of the Coast Ranges, and flows east through two dams, including a section on Craig’s farm. He showed me how, over many years, they were able to install large boulders and create an aerated section of the creek, which is now home to thousands of salmon that swim upstream each season.

The circle of life is so amazing to me. In 45 minutes, Craig shared the most intimate details of his life with me, and how he finally healed his wounds from memories of his father’s life by becoming a farmer. An organic farmer and teacher. And yet, part of Craig’s legacy will be that he served in our own state government, as a leader and influencer for generations to come.

It’s interesting how even when we resist being like our parents and want to follow our own path, we eventually find that our parents were perfect for us. It was our parents’ choices and actions that helped make us who we are today.

 

Karen

The restored Putah Creek on Craig’s farm.

My discovery about the celery juice phenomenon started about two months ago, when I was vacationing in Barcelona, Spain. I took a day trip to visit some grower friends in Murcia, Spain. As we were walking their celery field, my host said, “Can you believe that celery market? We got a call from a U.S. celery grower friend of ours this morning commenting on how crazy the celery market has gotten.” (Translation: The prices and demand for celery are both very high.)

I didn’t give it a second thought.

Then, about two weeks ago, I happened to pick up a copy of the Long Beach Business Journal and read an interview of the CEO of a local company. I was so inspired by his comments that I wrote him a personal note. A few days later, I received an email from him, thanking me for sending him the article. He closed his email by saying, “Frieda’s looks like a great operation and given the boom in wellness awareness, should be well positioned for growth. Drinking my 20 oz. of celery juice as I type this…”

Half–joking, I just had to write back and ask, “I wonder what’s up with the celery juice trend, anyway?”

My new pen pal, David, wrote back: “It has a lot to do with the awareness of Anthony William – Medical Medium…”

So I googled the Medical Medium, saw he wrote a book on Celery Juicing, but ultimately after a few minutes, I turned back to my work.

And then, last Thursday, I was up in Salinas attending the retirement party for an industry friend and I ran into one of the U.S. largest vegetable growers, David Gill. David looked fantastic! I mean, his eyes were clear, his skin looked great, and he actually looked younger. So, I ask him, “What are you doing these days? You look great.”

You aren’t going to believe what he told me: “I’ve been drinking 16 oz. of celery juice every morning for the last 6 weeks!” Seriously? I asked him what inspired him to do that. He said, “Well, I am a large celery grower, and someone told me about the health benefits of celery juice, so I figured I should try it. After all, I know where to get fresh celery!”

So I literally came home this weekend and went online to do my research. I ordered a copy of his book Medical Medium Celery Juice.

Thanks to Amazon Prime, it arrived on Sunday morning, and I quickly thumbed through the first few chapters of the book. The more I read, the more I thought: drinking 16 oz. of celery juice first thing every morning can’t be bad. So off I went to buy a juicer and a few large heads of organic celery.

In concept, Anthony William professes that drinking 16 oz. of freshly juiced celery each morning, on an empty stomach, acts a bit like a detox. He tells you not to have anything else to eat or drink for 30 minutes (so my morning coffee just has to wait).

Of course, in his book, he lists a variety of conditions that the celery juice will help minimize.

So, if you’re wondering why there seems to be a shortage of celery bunches at your favorite grocery store, part of the reason is because juicing-obsessed consumers nationwide are literally buying up everything they can get! Plus, grower David Gill did disclose that there have been some growing and weather challenges with celery, which has also limited supplies. It’s a bit of a perfect storm of celery demand.

If you’re one of those millions of consumers who are drinking celery juice each morning, I’d love to hear from you!

And if you just can’t fathom the flavor of celery juice first thing in the morning, you’ll be amused to know my daughter Sophia texted me this morning, “I don’t know what I expected celery juice to taste like, but it’s gross.”

Yes, I recruited her to join me on my celery juice journey.

Karen

 

Okay, let me start by saying: When you are into healthy eating or at least want to make healthier choices, you are always reading food labels. It’s shocking to see what “stuff” gets put into food to make it taste good. It’s usually excessive sodium, high-fructose corn syrup, and other things I cannot pronounce or spell.

So, when I was at a produce trade show last year and saw this new snack food Peatos, I was intrigued.

 

 

 

And, they were delicious. I thought: Clever! A “healthy” alternative to Cheetos. And that was it. I saw them at my local supermarket and occasionally bought them. And since I went vegan, I have been delighted by their “Fiery Hot” flavor product.

End of story.

Then, I was reviewing the guest list for a CEO Summit I was attending the day before the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, on May 3. There on the list was the name Nick Desai, CEO of Snack It Forward LLC, World Peas Brand, i.e., the creator of Peatos. My favorite snack.

OMG. OMG. OMG.

I put Nick’s name on my short list of people to be sure and meet. And when I got to the meeting, the orange Peatos logo on his white shirt (and the shirts of his two young daughters along with him) made him easy to identify. (We produce people tend to wear our logo shirts everywhere… Shameless promotion.)

Nick and I immediately struck up a conversation at the break.

I asked him how the heck he started the company. He told me he was in the investment banking world and decided it was too stressful, so in 2007 he decided he wanted to get into real business and found the opportunity to buy the company Snack It Forward. We both laughed about it being a tossup of which is more stressful: investment banking or owning your own (food) company.

Fast forward to 2018. Nick got rid of his manufacturing plant and stopped selling the licensed Sunkist trail mixes his company was known for.

Being of Indian descent, and being raised in a vegetarian lifestyle, he was perplexed why American vegetarian snacks weren’t made of pulses (beans, lentils, fava beans, etc.). They are a great source of protein, and he noticed that most snack foods in the U.S. were mostly carbs and fat. So, he developed a pulse-based snack that resembled the craveable Cheetos snack.

We talked about the challenges of attending trade shows, doing sampling, getting co-packers, signing confidentiality agreements with manufacturers, pursuing retail clients, getting that first big sale and then the 24/7 nature of the food business.

We both love it! And because he brought his two daughters with him, we developed a more personal connection about the realities of balancing work/family. I’m guessing his wife was enjoying some downtime back in SoCal.

I was intrigued and full of admiration that Nick was able to transform his life and his company by looking back at his roots. His family is from India, and his wife is vegetarian. He’s a smart business guy, but he wanted a change that was more real to him.

So, thank you, Nick, for taking the plunge into healthier snack foods. I’m grateful that his first retail customer was Kroger, and from what he told me, his line of Peatos is available nationwide in all Kroger stores in the produce department. He also told me that I could purchase Peatos on Amazon… But that’s another story.

#UNJUNKYOURSNACK

 

Karen

 

I bet you have both the Uber and the Lyft apps on your smartphone. And when you go out of town, you might no longer feel like you need to rent a car, because you can just take an Uber from the airport to your hotel. And from your hotel to business meetings, dinner events and more.

And when you are at home, if you are going out after work, or out for a nice dinner, and plan to drink alcoholic beverages, you might no longer worry about one person being the DD, the designated driver. You will just Uber to/from your evening venue. No more worries about getting a DUI.

A few years ago, I wrote about how my 95-year-old mother discovered Go Go Grandparent, an add-on service from Lyft, which allows those without smart phones to call and get the same ride-sharing service. You can read about it here. It’s been a game changer for my mom, because it allows her to have the same freedom to come and go, even though she no longer drives. (If you have parents, grandparents or friends who should not drive, I highly recommend you check this service out.)

And of course, we’ve all heard about Uber Eats, which you can use to get delivery of prepared food.

But this weekend, I learned of yet another new use for Uber/Lyft that is saving companies hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

My sister Jackie told me that during her travels, she has noticed that many hotels no longer have vans that offer airport pickup. Instead, if you have an overnight reservation, the hotel will call you an Uber, which will pick you up at the airport and take you to your hotel. Paid for by the hotel! Hotels have found that they not only save the cost of owning and maintaining an airport van, but they no longer have to tie up an employee to drive back and forth in the van. With the labor shortage that many cities experience, they can use that person at the hotel.

And in fact, the same thing is happening at car dealerships. When you drop off your car for service, many dealerships have a van which will deliver you back to your home or office, saving you the cost of renting a car. Here in SoCal, I’ve just learned that some car dealerships are offering an Uber or Lyft ride back to your work. On them!

I even met a business consultant who lives up in West Los Angeles. He proudly told me a few years ago he sold his car. And he now takes an Uber to all of his business meetings. He said, in addition to saving the cost of maintaining and fueling a vehicle, he now can use the travel time between meetings to work, make phone calls, etc. In a place like LA, where traffic comes in many shades of nightmare, the thought of being able to make your travel time productive sounds like heaven to me.

Talking about benefitting from the gig economy?! Next time you are planning an evening out, attending a meeting during peak traffic times or when you’re too exhausted to drive…think about a different way of getting to your destination.

Karen

First, let me start by saying I have not, nor will I ever think about, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. The Pacific Crest Trail is 2,650 miles long, spans from Mexico to Canada, across two mountain ranges, and yes, there are people who actually walk the entire length of it.

And, I am proud and amazed to share that my nephew, Frankie Wiggins (my sister Jackie’s son) hiked the entire PCT last year. He departed in mid-April and finished his epic 142-day journey on September 15. Frankie has a degree in Mechanical Engineering (from Cal Poly SLO), and I think the analytical and problem-solving skills he learned in college were honed and perfected on the PCT. He planned out, on a day-by-day basis, just how long he would hike each day, where he would get water, how much his pack would weigh during different portions of the trip, plus dozens of more calculations and incredibly detailed items. Think of your most detailed excel spreadsheet or Gantt chart, on steroids.

Fortunately, my sister posted updates periodically on Facebook, so we knew he was alive! Here is a photo of him during the course of the hike.

In case you want to know what it’s like to walk that far, you can do what I did and read the book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Chery Strayed. It was coincidental that I read that book in early 2018, right before Frankie started his hike, but it sure made the trials and tribulations of such a long and lonely trek relatable to me. (BTW – the Movie, Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon is just a tease. It’s really worth it to read or listen to the entire book. And then you can find out why/how the author changed her last name to Strayed.)

Several times during Frankie’s 142-day epic journey, my sister Jackie and her husband Doug would meet up with Frankie on the trail. Once they joined him to attend a friend’s wedding, but sometimes it was just so Frankie could experience a hot shower and get new shoes. At one point, Doug met up with Frankie in a Northern California town called Downieville, in Sierra County, population 282. It’s basically in the middle of nowhere, but it has a post office that is used by many PCT hikers to send and receive mail and supply boxes.

And, Downieville is the home of The Mountain Messenger, famed as California’s Oldest Weekly Newspaper.

And I have to say, my brother-in-law Doug is obsessed with The Mountain Messenger. So obsessed in fact that he told me that he ordered a one-year subscription for me as my birthday present last October. I smiled and really didn’t know what to say. A newspaper from a town with a population of less than 300 people? Seriously, what would it possibly do for me?

Well, first I got this letter from the Editor and Publisher:

I chuckled out loud. What a great writing style and tongue-in-cheek humor.

Then I got my first paper. It’s usually six pages and a quick read. And surprisingly, I have to admit that I love it! The writers are so humorous and light-hearted, even when they are talking about politics (which they do regularly). They poke fun at everyone, whether it is the sheriff, elected state or county officials, or business owners. This week was about the first day of fishing season—I loved the story and I have never fished!

In this day and age of divisiveness, lack of tolerance and many people taking themselves too seriously, I find the light-hearted nature of this paper is sometimes the highlight of my reading week. And in case you want to see what all the fun is about, a one-year subscription for an out-of-county person is $35.00. You can send money to Mountain Messenger at P.O. Drawer A, Downieville 95936 or call Don at (530) 289-3262 with credit card in hand.

You will enjoy the weekly chuckles.

Karen

I’ve been pretty good about taking all my vitamins and supplements for the past 10 years or so. I started seeing Lisa, a naturopath, about that time and learned which ones I should be taking. Each time I go in for an appointment, Lisa actually does a skin prick to get a blood sample, and then looks at my blood under a microscope. She can tell if I have eaten anything I’m allergic to and can diagnose any energy issues I’m having. It amazes me what she can tell from looking at how healthy my red blood cells look and how many white blood cells are present.

I have to admit, when I went vegan in late December 2018, I kind of fell off the wagon. For some reason, I stopped consistently taking all of my supplements. My eating patterns changed, and I didn’t make it a priority to fit in taking them daily.

So last week, after a whirlwind three weeks of traveling, I contacted Lisa and asked if she could squeeze me in for a visit. I went to her office at 7 p.m. on Tuesday evening and frankly, started dozing off in her waiting room.

When I walked in to see her, she took a blood sample and looked at it under the microscope. While she was looking at it, she projected it onto a computer screen so I could see it too. I was shocked. I had never seen my blood look so pathetic. Very few red blood cells, and those that were there were almost transparent. She looked at me and asked, “What is going on?

I admitted that I hadn’t been taking my supplements. She pulled out a piece of paper titled “Signs and Symptoms of B12 Deficiency” and handed it to me.

OMG – I saw a few symptoms that had been plaguing me for a couple of months:  weakness in arms, legs, trunk; forgetfulness, memory loss; shortness of breath. Honestly, I thought what I had been experiencing was due to “getting older.” I never connected the facts that I might have a vitamin deficiency.

So, she gave me a Vitamin B12 shot and B12 patches to wear every other day. She has me taking liquid B12 under my tongue three times a day. Plus a variety of other supplements to restore my energy, balance, etc.

Almost immediately, I started feeling more energetic. I felt stronger when I worked out, started sleeping better and didn’t seem to have that feeling of being at a loss for the right words.

I know some people don’t believe in taking vitamins and supplements. They think they can get everything from what they eat and vitamins are for “tree huggers.” Last year, I heard Olympic Gold Medalist Lindsey Vonn speak at a conference, and she shared that when she was training for competition, she got her blood tested daily to see what minerals were lacking in her blood, so she could supplement for peak performance.

I don’t know about you, but if it’s good enough for an Olympic athlete, it’s a best practice for me. Taking care of your body to ensure you are at peak performance – by eating the right foods, eating less of bad-for-you foods, getting enough sleep and taking vitamins when needed – seems like a good idea.

I’m fortunate to have an expert naturopath I can rely upon – who supports your wellness? Have you ever thought of having your blood tested to see if you have sufficient levels of Vitamin D, B, etc.? If you are experiencing any of the signs or symptoms listed above, I recommend looking for a naturopath near you.

You’ll feel better! And you will perform better.

Karen

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t know a lot about the difference between 3G, 4G and 5G. I guessed it had something to do with bandwidth (as it relates to how fast my mobile phone works). And I have seen announcements in the press that Verizon (my carrier) launched their 5G network in October 2018.

And then I went to Barcelona, Spain, last week. I went to Barcelona to attend the three-day International Women’s Forum Conference (I am a member). The Friday morning program was entitled “The Fourth Industrial Revolution.” The program description detailed that there would be some discussion on how 5G will improve the capacity and reliability of mobile broadband. And that it is expected to unleash a technological revolution that will transform the way we live and work. Technological revolution. That definitely got my attention.

To step back, nowhere in the materials did it say that the location of the conference, Barcelona, is considered the “smartest city” in the world. In fact, I learned that Spain has more fiber network than the U.K., France, and Italy – combined! What is a smart city? A smart city’s purpose is to make people’s lives better. And to use technology as an enabler for that.

So as I listened to executives from Intel, Dentons, IBM Europe, and GSMA (which is the trade body that represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide) I was blown away to learn that going from 3G to 5G basically improves the download capability 20,000 times. Yes – that means our data, audio, video, etc., will download 20,000 times faster than when we had 3G.

And why is this important?  Because of the Internet of Things (IoT). 5G will enable us to really be connected. Whether it is the timing of traffic signals when there is an accident or heavy traffic, or enabling autonomous vehicles to talk to each other to avoid collisions, optimize traffic flow, etc. Or allowing you and everyone at your company to simultaneously download a training video or webcast, from personal mobile devices, in the same room.

If you want to know how 5G is really going to change our world, then play this four-minute video. It’s an excellent overview of what we’re in for.

I’m excited about the future, and my head is spinning with ways the IoT will enable us to do things we’ve never even thought of. As my 95-year-old mother likes to say, “Technology is amazing.”

Karen

About 18 months ago, a dear friend of mine suggested I read a book entitled Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown. I really had no idea who Brené Brown was, but I felt an instant connection to her since she narrates her books (I listened to the book on Audible).

Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, is a research professor at the University of Houston. That’s her day job. But her real calling is that she has spent the last two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy. Her TED talk – “The Power of Vulnerability” – is one of the top five most-viewed TED talks in the world, with more than 35 million views. That is a lot of views!

She talks about shame and vulnerability – not the typical subjects of speeches and presentations. Mostly because no one likes to talk about that. If you haven’t listened to her, I highly suggest you either watch her TED talk or listen to one of her books. Her Texan accent, her speech is punctuated with swear words (her talks are heavily peppered with the word “bullshit”) and her authenticity are contagious. I learned years ago that to use a swear word properly in a speech can actually connect you with your audience.

But Brené’s use of swear words is more than a connection tool, it is the truth, exemplified. Like when she was asked to speak at a Very Big Business Conference, with the limitations of 1) no swearing and 2) no mention of her faith (her personal values are faith and courage). She talked about her thought process on this request, and finally she decided, “This is bullshit.” She is who she is, and she will not give in to anyone who asks her to NOT be her authentic self.

Brené has written five New York Times #1 best-selling books:  The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, Braving the Wilderness and most recently Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.

You can probably tell, I am a bit of a fangirl for Brené, so when I learned that she was speaking in Houston at a small private event, my friend Lisa, who lives in Houston, offered to have me sit at her table for the dinner. I booked my ticket to Houston immediately – I was in!

Let me start by saying that I must have mentioned to Lisa at least five times that I wanted to meet Brené personally. I was so determined that Lisa sent me a screenshot of the seating chart for the event, to show me where we were sitting (table #4) and where Brené would be. I wrote a note to Brené on my personal stationary and carried it with me in my purse.

So, it was no surprise that when we arrived at the pre-event reception, I spotted Brené across the room. I don’t think anyone had really seen her yet. So I quickly pulled out my phone, recruited someone I didn’t know to take our photo and moved toward Brené.

I was immediately struck by how she connects with people. She looks directly into your eyes and genuinely smiles. When it was my turn to say hello to Brené, I passed her my note (to open later) and told her that I flew from California just to see her. I also shared that her latest book, Dare to Lead, was so amazing that several months earlier I purchased 10 copies of it to distribute to every member of my leadership team at work.

After our photo was taken, I looked and there were dozens of other people lined up to talk with her.

After the dinner portion of the event, she got up and spoke to this group of 250 people about the Five Barriers to Courage:  Tough Conversations, Fears & Feelings, Stuck in Setbacks, Problem Solving/Action Bias and Inclusivity, Diversity + Equity. And she ended her talk with the Four Skills Sets Needed: Rumbling with Vulnerability, Living into Our Values, Braving Trust and Learning to Rise.

She is such a compelling speaker that even though the dinner ran long and she wasn’t able to start her talk until 9 p.m. – not a single person got up to leave before she finished at 9:45 p.m.

As I rode in the car back to my hotel, two takeaways rolled around in my head.

First, there is no courage without vulnerability. (I decided that it is okay for me to be vulnerable. Even though I feel like I am supposed to have that big red “S” for superwoman on my chest, I think it is better for me to be vulnerable and ask for help when I need it.)

And second, clear is kind. Unclear is unkind. (I asked myself, how many times do I beat around the bush with people and am not direct with my ask or my opinion?) I am really being unkind by being unclear?

This trip to Houston to meet and hear Dr. Brené Brown was a revelation for me.

The name of the event was: Dare to Show Up. It took a little scheduling and a plane flight, but I’m so glad I did dare to show up. I hope YOU will dare to show up when the opportunity presents itself to you.

Karen

Last week, in my ongoing quest for “continuous learning,” I attended the UC Davis Agribusiness Executive Seminar in Newport Beach. I have been attending this biennial year 2.5-day seminar for the last 15 years. It is patterned after the Harvard Business School Agribusiness Seminar and uses case studies on businesses written by professional case study writers. As part of the seminar’s method, the CEO (protagonist) comes to the group to defend his/her business decisions and plan. Attendees at the seminar are sent the case studies in advance. We are expected to read them and be prepared to discuss them and to challenge the protagonists.

We had six case studies this year. One of the most interesting was about Raley’s, the privately owned supermarket-chain based in Sacramento, California. Chairman and Owner Michael Teel and his CEO, Keith Knopf, came to speak with us and “defend” their business position.

While I cannot divulge the details of the case study (we take a pledge of confidentiality), I wanted to share what is public knowledge.

Raley’s currently has about 121 stores, and about five years ago, Michael Teel decided to shift the operating strategy of his company. He decided Raley’s should become a purpose-driven company and wanted to position his company as a trusted advisor to the consumers who shop in his stores.

They call it “The Raley’s Way.” On the company website’s career page, it says: “changing the way the world eats, one plate at a time.”

Michael told us, as he was approaching age 60, he reflected on his life and saw a thread around health and wellness and alternative medicine. He made a connection between the products his supermarkets sell and the (poor) health of consumers. In his mind, the connection was not a positive one. Meaning, he was struck that the sugar and salt-filled foods and the choices his stores offered to shoppers were affecting their health in a negative way. That’s when he made the decision to shift his strategy and to be purpose driven.

Over the last five years, Raley’s has made some very dramatic changes. He removed candy from the checkout lanes and replaced it with healthier snacks. He stopped selling tobacco products in his stores and gave priority display space to the healthiest choices on his stores’ shelves. What you may not know about the supermarket industry is that big companies (we call them CPGs – Consumer Packaged Goods) seem to dictate what is sold in stores, because of the attractive incentives they give to retailers to stock those products. And if products are on the shelves at the store, consumers tend to buy them.

Michael saw that he could offer healthier choices. And that meant, he and his leadership team had to go against the conventional supermarket wisdom. Instead of listening to the recommendation of CPG companies, they started to make decisions based on being a trusted, health-oriented advisor to his shoppers.

Since Raley’s is a for-profit business, so you might ask yourself: Did his decision to change what was sold in his stores pay off? Or was this just a “feel good” move? Well, it was kind of both.

Initially the company sales took a dip. So, Mike and Keith and their management team made some adjustments to their plans, and during the course of the last five years, their company has become more profitable and their market share has grown! When they both got up to speak about their decisions, their company’s performance, the alignment in their management teams and their commitment to changing the way the world eats, the passion and caring was oozing from them.

I know there are other small and medium-sized supermarket chains in America that have made a similar decision to focus on healthy foods and lifestyles. I can’t help but think about regional retailers in the Northwest, like New Seasons, Town and Country and Green Zebra. And of course, chains like Mrs. Gooch’s and Bread & Circus (both purchased by Whole Foods more than 20 years ago) that helped Whole Foods become a national natural retailer.

But what is different about Michael Teel and Raley’s is that this is a third-generation family business with a long legacy of being a middle market retailer – long before Aldi, Costco and Walmart. As the succeeding grandson, Michael quickly figured out that being in the middle is never a good strategy.

To me, it was truly an example of not only putting your money where your mouth is, but showing, real time, that you can do well by doing good.

My hat is off to Michael, Keith and their entire team for making a commitment to being a purpose-driven company and sticking to their commitment. And for helping change the way the world eats, one plate at a time.

Karen

 

I feel like the word “gratitude” has become the latest buzzword. Everyone is using it. And when that happens to a word or phrase, it can dilute its meaning or intention.

For me, showing gratitude means authentically being appreciative. Whether it is saying “thank you,” or writing a thank you note, or even smiling at someone with a twinkle in my eye and a nod to show that I appreciate them, it has to be authentic.

It’s not a go-through-the-motions kind of gratitude. You know what I mean: the mandatory thank you note you write after a job interview or after you receive a gift. It’s deeper than that. And if you are writing a thank you note, your choice of words can make all the difference in the world. Just last week, I attended a produce conference luncheon, during which the speaker surprised us all by giving us blank thank you cards. She instructed us to think of someone in our life that we are grateful for, and to write a thank you note. They then mailed them for us.

That was quite a thinking exercise for me, as I was forced to think hard about someone in my life that I was grateful for (and I didn’t want to choose the ordinary options, i.e., family members). I wrote to a dear friend of mine who has been incredibly supportive of me in a nonprofit we both are involved in. I wonder what her reaction will be when she receives my card. I suspect that it will be a surprise, that it will be appreciated and that she will interpret it as an authentic expression of gratitude.

And that’s what gratitude should be.

And on the other side, we have asking for forgiveness. I think it is even more challenging to admit you are wrong and ask for forgiveness. In my role as CEO of my company and a leader in my industry, for many years I really struggled to admit when I was wrong. And frankly, I was wrong a lot. I wasn’t very comfortable admitting when I was wrong, so I tended to make excuses or gloss over my errors.

But now, I find strength in saying the words, “I was wrong,”  “I made a mistake,”  “I don’t know.”

What if everyone on the planet was willing to admit when they were wrong and asked for forgiveness?  To say, “Darn it, I was wrong,” “I would love to hear how you think that should have been handled” and “I am open to your ideas.” Clearly we can all think of some people in public life who should admit when they are wrong.

But how about at work, or in our home life? Wouldn’t it make it easier if someone who was so passionate about their point of view, took a deep breath and said, “Wow – I was wrong,” “I need your help” or “I’ve never done this before and would appreciate your insight”?

So next time you are bubbling inside with frustration or angst, try asking for forgiveness, showing some gratitude and being open to a different perspective.

Karen

Several years ago, someone asked me if there was anything I would like to change about the produce industry. I didn’t even pause when I answered, “Change the grades and standards of fresh produce.”

Years ago, a system was put in place that basically meant only perfect-looking produce would be sold in supermarkets.

You can see the result by walking into any supermarket produce department. Every apple on display is the same size, looks identical and is blemish-free. The tomatoes are all red and identical in size (unless they are heirloom varieties or yellows). And that applies to almost all fresh produce.

As American consumers, we have come to expect perfect-looking produce because it creates a lot of appetite appeal. After years of conditioning, supermarket buyers believe that consumers will not purchase anything but those perfect-looking fruits and veggies.

Then came talk of sustainability, food waste and hunger. We Americans became almost instantly aware of the fact that, according to the USDA, 30 to 40 percent of all fresh food goes to waste somewhere in the supply chain (between farmers’ fields and consumers’ trash cans or compost piles).

Predictably, a few entrepreneurs started businesses to market the produce that was going to waste—that 30 to 40 percent that was not making it onto consumers’ plates.

Companies like Imperfect ProduceFull HarvestHungry Harvest and Misfits Market sprang up. Produce brokers and marketers launched lines of off-grade products. In France, one supermarket chain, Intermarche, even ran this memorable commercial in 2014 to promote its line.

As per usual, it made great headlines.

Five years later, just this week, I read this headline in our trade papers:

“Grocers Turn Away From ‘Ugly Produce’“

The article goes on to say many supermarkets are ending tests with ugly produce because customers aren’t purchasing the product as frequently as they had hoped. Some retailers reported inconsistent interest on the part of consumers.

Does that make sense? That consumers who are concerned about hunger and eliminating food waste would not flock to supermarkets to buy produce that is a little bit less than perfect in appearance, but has the same taste, flavor and nutritional values?

Obviously, I don’t have all the answers. Many factors could have affected the outcome, such as how attractive the packaging was, what educational tools the supplier offered to inform consumers, where the product was displayed, pricing strategy and supply consistency, just to name a few.

In doing some research for this blog, I uncovered this interview with crop scientist Sarah Taber, entitled “A scientist on the myth of ugly produce and food waste.” If you have time, I encourage you to take a few minutes to read her point of view; she calls bullshit, by the way.

Why do I think ugly and imperfect produce is being taken off the shelves of conventional supermarkets? Ugly produce looks great in highly curated shots on social media, but the far real version found on store shelves just doesn’t have the same appetite appeal. Consumers still shop with their eyes, which means it will take longer than four to five years for this to catch on. A program like this will require the supermarket industry to be patient rather than cater to the instant gratification consumers expect with new programs.

These imperfect produce companies are most likely ahead of their time. Based on my company’s 57 years of experience introducing new fruits and vegetables to American consumers, I know, for a fact, that it takes around 15 to 18 years for a new product to catch on. Think kiwifruit, dragon fruit and even kale. I spoke about the life cycle of new product introductions in my speech at trend conference #BittenLA in 2016.

I believe alternative channels need to be developed for less-than-perfect-looking produce. Why not sell that product to food processors or restaurant suppliers who are going to chop it up anyway? Trying to get conventional supermarkets to retrain their quality control inspectors, produce managers and management on what is acceptable condition is an unlikely recipe. Why not develop relationships with markets that are already selling cheap produce that doesn’t always look perfect? I recognize that it takes extra time to develop relationships with these alternative channels, but they seem the most practical path for getting imperfect product to consumers.

I predict that some companies will pull back from offering ugly produce, creating a dip in the product life cycle, but the desire for developing alternative markets to move less-than-perfect produce will continue. Call me in 10 years and I think you’ll find a whole new supply chain has been created and we have significantly less food waste.

And that’s a goal we can all support.

Karen

 

I think everyone can agree that walking on the treadmill (or using an elliptical trainer or recumbent bicycle) can be boring. After all, you are basically going nowhere. And the view can be pretty mundane, unless you are exercising next to a friend and can talk to each other.

So when my doctor told me I needed to step up my cardio exercise routine to eight days a week, I kind of freaked. I mean, it is so boring. He told me I need to do cardio exercise between 30 and 75 minutes a day.

Fortunately, that evening I was at a dinner party with a few friends. I was lamenting my newest assignment from my doctor. It must have been evident that I was trying to sort things out.

Thank goodness, my longtime friend Sue Parks was at the dinner. She pulled me aside and reminded me that she started the company WalkStyles, which offers integrated wellness programs to busy people who work for corporations.

Sue told me, “Don’t think of your doctor’s edict that you work out every day as a death sentence. Think of ways to make it fun!” I said, “Fun?” She recommended I get my iPad (I found it buried inside my home office desk) and download Netflix. (I have subscribed to Netflix for years, but honestly had never watched anything.)

She said to find a show or two or three that I like, then make my visit to the gym an opportunity to watch one or two shows from my favorite series.

OMG—I think I hit the jackpot with Sue’s suggestion.

I had already found a new, clean, modern gym at the beginning of January. Like many people, I find the fitness chains too crowded and not especially appealing. My new gym, Olympix in Long Beach, is right on the beach, which will be great in the warmer months. A large variety of equipment and plenty of open space sold me on it. Also, everyone working out there is serious, meaning they’re not sitting idly on the equipment texting or reading their emails.

So, the day after my doctor appointment, I took my iPad, along with my new wireless Apple AirPods (that offer incredible sound quality!) to the gym, opened Netflix and started watching shows. So far, I’ve watched “The Office,” “Grace and Frankie,” “Tidying Up” with Marie Kondo and “Parks and Recreation.”

Apple AirPods in their case, charging.

Sometimes I literally lose track of time. And even when I have a late night at work (after 6 p.m.), I actually look forward to my 15-minute drive to the gym to hop on the treadmill and watch the next show in my queue.

I never realized how the workout venue, its location and how crowded it is can affect how motivated I am to work out. Picking a brand-new gym, having a purpose (my doctor’s order) and some entertainment have actually made my workouts enjoyable.

And the benefits are showing. I’m sleeping better, losing a little weight and feeling less stress.

I would love to hear what motivates you to get your workout done!

Karen

It used to be if you wanted to get ahead in the corporate world and learn the ropes that you would find a mentor. Some (mostly larger) companies have formal mentoring programs, with detailed roles and responsibilities, programs and processes. You might be in a management training program. Or just new to a company. And if a formal mentoring program was in place, you might be assigned a mentor.

Or you might be a member of an organization where more senior members of your industry offer to mentor you (i.e., help you navigate your way up the corporate ladder).

For myself, when I first started in the produce business working for my mom, there were no formal mentors. My mom, who was my boss, was too busy running her company to formally mentor me. I watched how she handled things and followed suit.

A few years after I joined the company, I was fortunate that one of my clients took a special interest in me. He decided he was going to be my mentor. Dick was an executive with a large retailer and had a huge span of responsibility. In fact, he was one of my biggest clients and we talked every day.

I’m not sure how it happened, but he started to mentor me. I would ask his opinion or advice on certain situations. Sometimes I didn’t even ask for his advice—he would just give it. I feel very fortunate that he was there to help me navigate the produce industry. And over the years, as it turns out, both Dick and I have continued to mentor young people coming up in the business.

As I was sitting at a produce conference in Berlin, Germany, last week, I realized that mentoring has changed. It no longer makes sense to me to have a single mentor. Instead, what you really need is a personal board of directors.

Think about it. Does it make sense to rely on one person to give you advice about your entire career path?

Or is it more logical to think about those areas in which you want to grow and the variety of contacts you have available or need to meet in order to make progress?

For example, in the produce industry, there are so many things to learn. If I were a young person just entering it, I would want to have a “kitchen cabinet” of advisors, friends and mentors to share their expertise and opinions with me. I would not want to meet with them all at once, but I would want to check in with them periodically.

And I wouldn’t ask someone, “Will you be my mentor?” Instead I would say: “I am putting together a personal board of directors to help hold me accountable to my commitments and progress. You have expertise in XX, and I would like to touch base with you periodically to share my goals, ask you questions and get your insights.”

In my own company, I’ve had team members periodically schedule time with me (usually about 20 to 30 minutes) to get insights into ways they can grow professionally. I let them drive the agenda and it’s not usually about their current role. They are looking for suggestions on how they can make a difference, both in their personal and professional lives.

So next time you are thinking about looking for a mentor or being a mentor, try using the phrase “personal board of directors” and see if it changes the conversation.

Karen

It seems like every day when I open up The Wall Street Journal or listen to the news on my drive to work, I hear something about Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Jerome Powell and interest rates. I always take a personal interest in it because I was a director of the Los Angeles branch of the 12th District of the Federal Reserve Bank from 2005 to 2007.

I have written before about how I became a director. It was an amazing time of my life and meeting then-Chairman Alan Greenspan at a cocktail party at the Federal Reserve Building in Washington, D.C., is definitely near the top of my incredible experiences list. Greenspan made the words “irrational exuberance” famous.

During that visit, I sat in the office of Ben Bernanke, then a member of the Fed’s board of governors, and asked him about a book I saw on his bookshelf, “The Federal Reserve Bank for Dummies.”

It was during that time that Janet Yellen, Ph.D., was selected as president of the 12th District. I saw her twice during periodic board meetings held in San Francisco. Dr. Yellen was appointed by President Barack Obama in early 2014 to succeed Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, admittedly one of the most powerful and influential positions around.

So, I was very excited to learn that she would be in my area this week, as a speaker at City National Bank’s 2019 Economic & Investment Forum. Of course I wanted to hear all of the speakers at the forum, but I really wanted a chance to say hello in person to Dr. Yellen.

After securing a spot at the event, I had to decide how I was going to meet up with her to have a personal conversation. If you know me at all, you know I am determined. And I was definitely determined to be up close and personal with Janet Yellen.

The first thing I did was to arrive early for the event. I heard they were having more than 500 people in attendance, so I wanted to get a good seat. After getting my name tag, I immediately went inside the conference ballroom. At first it appeared that all the front-row seats had reserved signs on them. But because I went all the way to the front of the room, I was able to locate a partial row that somehow had no reserved signs. I plopped down my purse and scarf to save three seats for my colleagues and me. Right in the front row.

I then went on the hunt for the chairman of City National Bank, who would be introducing Janet Yellen. A longtime banker friend pointed him out to me and I made my way to him. I had not seen Russell Goldsmith for at least eight years since we ran into each other on a plane, but I pretended we were old friends and he played right along. I told him how good it was to see him, reminded him that he and I served on the Federal Reserve Board together and that I had actually corresponded via email with Dr. Yellen a few years ago and wanted to be sure and say hello to her.

Well, Russell was more than helpful and he told me how I could meet her. He told me that as soon as she exited the stage, to jump up and say hello. He pointed to the area directly in front of where I was sitting. Bingo!

So I listened and waited for two hours. I heard City National Bank’s experts in housing, internet research and media research talk about their favorite stocks and recommendations. I listened while Russell masterfully asked Dr. Yellen what she thought about the growing deficit, unemployment, China and the apparent new normal for interest rates. And finally, the event was coming to a close. As Janet smiled, waved and walked off the stage, I jumped up and almost raced up to see her.

It was like we were old friends. She remembered me and my family produce business. I asked about her husband and her son. She told me they were now living in Washington, D.C., and gave me her email address. After we hugged and took a photo together, I turned around to see dozens of people from the audience lined up to meet her. I smiled. She had to keep walking to catch her flight.

Sometimes it takes determination, planning and a laser focus to get what you want. Have you ever felt that way? You really, really, REALLY want something. And even if it seems impossible, you know deep inside that the only way you will get it is if you use focused determination.

Well, I got to see Janet Yellen. I wonder what else I can accomplish with that same determination. And you?

Karen

I remember my dad drinking a lot of coffee when I was growing up. Instant decaf coffee. The brand was Sanka and we always had a large jar of it at home. It was my job to boil the water in the tea kettle and make him a cup of Sanka, whenever he asked. Which was at least a couple of times a day.

That was the 1970s. Fast forward a few decades and coffeehouses like Peet’s and Starbucks popped up, serving espresso-based coffees with fancy names like latte, mocha Frappuccino and Americano that started to dominate the coffee scene. So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that instant coffee is back and it has a new name: VIA Instant.

I don’t remember when I discovered VIA Instant was offered by Starbucks, but over the years I’ve become a bit of a coffee snob, so I’d never tried it. Actually, my current favorite coffee is Lavazza Classico medium roast, which I make every morning in my drip coffee maker. Friends and other visitors to my home comment on how flavorful and fresh it tastes.

So you can imagine my surprise when my niece Rachel gifted me a box of VIA Instant French roast coffee packets last week. My first thought was, “Toss it.” Then I said to myself, “What the heck. I could at least try it.” And what I’ve discovered is that it is just strong enough and so fresh-tasting that I am going to make it my newest travel companion on airplane trips. Instead of being disappointed with airplane or hotel coffee, I am going to be asking for a cup of steaming hot water and making my own. Rather than searching for the next fancy Third Wave, indie coffee brew – good, old instant coffee reinvented is my new go to. Sometimes the best ideas can be so simple.

So thank you to whoever reinvented instant coffee. It’s amazing how much more appealing something is with a new brand, a new look and a more modern approach. And to think, it was right under my nose the whole time!

Karen

 

I go to a fair number of conferences where speakers are up on a stage (in front of hundreds or thousands). Over the years, I’ve noticed that the acceptable dress code for speakers has changed.

A few decades ago, male speakers always wore a suit and tie. Female speakers wore a dress or pantsuit. Both were formal in their dress. I suppose this was not only to signal that they were “pros,” but also because most of us attending conferences dressed in business attire. Back in the day, that may have included a suit.

I’ll never forget when I saw leadership guru Simon Sinek speak at a CEO business conference about 10 years ago. He was one of the first speakers I noticed that dressed more informally. In fact, I recall that he was NOT wearing a jacket. He wore jeans with a shirt (sleeves rolled up) and his well-known orange watch (orange is his favorite color).

Then I started noticing a trend at conferences—thought leadership speakers, who were comfortable with themselves, always dressed casually. It became obvious to me that they had nothing to prove to their audiences; they were comfortable in their own skin. So they dressed like they always dress, in their comfort clothes.

So Simon Sinek was part of my inspiration to change the way I dress when I attend conferences or do public speaking. You will almost 100 percent of the time find me in dark jeans. I feel it humanizes me. It makes me more relatable and approachable as a speaker.

Have you ever thought about that? What vibe do you give out with the way you dress? Do you want to be perceived as rigid or flexible? Approachable or aloof? Easy to talk to or set in your ways?

Especially in business, I think it’s an important factor to take into consideration when dressing for a meeting, event or conference.

I’ll never forget the day a few years ago when we had a visit from one of our growers. I had come to work a bit dressed up and my grower relations person gave me a look. I asked, “Should I go home and change into my jeans and boots before our grower arrives?” She nodded. Thankfully I live close to my office and ran home to change. Funny thing—when I was meeting with the grower later that afternoon, he commented to me, “I feel so comfortable with you, Karen. I had a meeting with someone from another company and they looked so uptight in their suit. I don’t feel like they understand me and my business challenges.” Those unsolicited comments just confirmed my theory: how you appear (your clothing and style) can influence a deal or a relationship. It can make you more relatable.

What inspired me to write about this? I was reading a paper (online) and noticed an executive was on stage at a conference talking about future trends and consumers. It didn’t make sense to me that the executive was dressed in a suit and tie. If he was talking about future trends, I think he should have been dressed like Simon Sinek. In jeans and rolled-up shirt sleeves. He would have looked like he was in tune with consumer trends.

So next time you are getting dressed to do public speaking or to attend a conference or event, think about how you want to be perceived. Wearing jeans might just be the right touch. Not to mention the fact that you will be much more comfortable. Who knows, maybe the next trend will be yoga pants that are disguised as dress pants?

Karen

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Well, I don’t. I’ve found that if I make radical lifestyle resolutions on January 1, I get frustrated with my progress and eventually give up on them. I know I’m not alone.

However, I did make a lifestyle decision that coincided with this new year. And that is, I decided to only consume a plant-based diet. No meat, dairy, eggs. Only plants (veggies, fruits and nuts). If you have been reading my blog for a while, then you will recall that I became vegan a few years ago. You can read about it here and here. What started out as an experiment for 30 days, which I chronicled in my blog, was so easy, and I felt so much better, that I continued for a year.

After a year, I slowly added back fish, dairy, eggs and occasionally meat and poultry. But I found that plant-based foods were where I got the most sensory pleasure, like the crunch from vegetables and the smell of the fresh fruits. And I recall how much BETTER I felt physically when I was vegan. All my aches and pains seemed to disappear. And people kept saying my skin looked better and I looked younger. Who can argue with that?!

So, what made me decide to go back to a vegan diet, after a hiatus of over five years? Maybe it was my cardiologist who suggested I become vegetarian a year ago. Or perhaps, I was influenced when I read the book “The Plant Paradox” during the summer.

Frankly, it was two things.

First, my coworker Valerie introduced me to another book “How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease” by Dr. Michael Greger. Dr. Greger shares research and evidence about how not to die from breast and prostate cancer, lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, suicidal depression and more. You can see the table of contents here.

Second, I recall over the years hearing anecdotally that vegans tend not to have the same incidences of diseases, like cancer, as compared to those who eat an omnivore diet. With that loop running in my head, I was clearly open-minded to what Dr. Greger writes about.

So, after watching multiple friends being diagnosed with cancer and other diseases, feeling myself become stiff and achy after long plane flights and sitting too long, I did my research (at my standing desk). It became evident to me that a plant-based diet was the healthiest choice for me. I wanted to feel better over time, not worse.

Honestly, it’s not that hard. I’m not a big animal-rights advocate, but it was easier for me to skip that part of my diet than I thought.

The hardest part was to make the decision. It’s kind of a mental thing. Once you wrap your head around managing your eating choices, then you just have to plan ahead. Believe me, lots of fruits and veggies are always available everywhere. Thank goodness that nuts are a plant-based food. I love my Brazil nuts and walnuts. It also helped that Valerie is still on the same path as I am. We compare notes every few days, and having a buddy to help reinforce your eating choices really makes them stick!

I realize that eating a plant-based diet is not for everyone. Perhaps you want to eat a plant-based diet some days and choose to try #MeatlessMonday or veggie taco Tuesdays (try these turmeric-roasted cauliflower tacos – you won’t miss the meat!).

Or you may read Mark Bittman’s book “VB6: Vegan before 6,” in which he talks about how he changed his lifestyle to eat vegan before 6 p.m. each day, and then a flexitarian diet for dinner. He lost a lot of weight and improved his overall health.

But no matter what, I hope you make a conscious effort to eat plenty of fresh fruits and veggies as part of your daily diet. It’s good for your body. Right now my must-haves are crunchy radishes and celery, black beans, mushrooms and spiralized zucchini.

Happy New Year! I will keep you updated on my plant-based journey.

Karen

 

I’ve been an Amazon shopper for many years. At first I really didn’t order anything but books, but when my daughter, Sophia, was in college and told me about the benefits of Amazon Prime, I signed up and started using Amazon more often.

It’s so easy. I might be sitting at home in the evening and feeling lazy, not wanting to drive to a bookstore, supermarket or electronics store. With a couple of clicks, I can order almost anything I want. However, over time, I started to notice a few cracks in the armor.

First of all, when I misplaced the charger for my iPhone a few years ago, my friend Michael surprised me by shipping me a new one via Amazon. I noticed it wasn’t made by Apple, but I thought, “What the heck.” I figured it didn’t really make much of a difference. That was until I tried using the charger in a rental car. My phone didn’t charge and I got a message on the dashboard letting me know my charger wasn’t working properly.

Since then, I’ve made certain to purchase official Apple charging cords. I couldn’t find them on Amazon, so I resorted to going to an Apple store.

Most recently, I purchased my favorite brand of shampoo and conditioner on Amazon. It was so easy to place my order at night on my computer and have it simply arrive at my home a day or two later. I thought: No more errands to run. Amazon will save me so much time.

But then I received the shampoo and conditioner, and started using it. I noticed the viscosity of both had changed. They were kind of runny. I really didn’t think much about it until I went to get my hair cut. I mentioned it to my stylist, who is fully trained in all things hair and a great resource for product recommendations. She pointed out that most brands of hair products have a shelf life. The benefit of purchasing products at a hair salon or beauty supply store is that they get rotated frequently, assuring that the product is fresh. Product does not sit on shelves for months. She said she had recently told many of her clients NOT to purchase hair products on Amazon, as there is no guarantee of their freshness.

So, of course, I purchased fresh product at the salon and used it when I got home. What a difference an expert’s opinion makes.

Have you had this experience with Amazon or any other third-party seller? If the product has some sort of perishability, you really can’t be sure it is fresh unless you purchase it directly from the manufacturer or in person. That’s just one of the reasons I started purchasing many products directly on a manufacturer’s website or at a store.

Who knows, maybe Amazon will start listing shelf-life or guaranteed manufactured dates on their website. But until then, I will be spending a little more time running my errands.

Happy New Year!

Karen

About four years ago after filing for divorce, I started seeing a therapist. Sometimes we need help sorting through big changes in our lives.

One day I was sitting on my therapist’s couch and I was visibly uncomfortable. My jacket didn’t feel right. Lois noticed it right away. She said, “You look uncomfortable. Why don’t you take off your jacket?” So I took off my jacket. Then my high-heeled shoes were uncomfortable. So she suggested I take those off too.

She asked me what was going on. I told her I had a lot on my mind at work and was super busy and preoccupied. Then I randomly made this comment to her, “You know, I always feel like I get more done when I wear my jeans and dress casually at work.” She asked me the obvious next question: “So why don’t you wear your jeans every day to work?”

I told her I just couldn’t. Honestly, I told her that I was the CEO of my company and CEOs don’t wear jeans to work. She, of course, pointed out the obvious examples of Steve Jobs and John Mackey. Then, my next line of defense was that I had a closet full of expensive dress suits, skirts, and high heels, so I would look the part of a CEO. I had to wear them.

She looked me straight in the eye and told me, “I want you to wear jeans to work every day. Period. You must wear jeans to work and dress casually every day until I see you in two weeks.” Yes, ma’am!

So I wore jeans to work every day. I wore jeans to work even when I met with a big client. (Admittedly, I am in the agriculture business, so it’s not a big stretch to wear jeans to a client meeting).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I went back to see Lois two weeks later, I was able to report to her how much more productive I was at work. I felt like a wave of freedom and flexibility had come over me. Not surprisingly, a few months later, I changed the dress code at my company, going from casual summer dress to casual dress all year long. I think everyone at my office was instantly more relaxed and productive.

Then last summer, I went to get my color wardrobe palette done. About every 10 years, I see Jennifer Butler (www.jenniferbutlercolor.com) to make sure the color and style of my clothes are most complementary to my eye color, skin tone, and hair color and texture. As we grow older, our colors become more muted and evolve. During this session, my colorist noticed a slight curl in my hair. She asked me about it and I revealed that I had naturally curly hair but had straightened it for the last 30 years or so. Jennifer suggested that I might want to wear my hair “natural,” i.e., curly, and darken it to my natural color (instead of having it highlighted)—to be more authentic.

I told her I just couldn’t. Honestly, I told her that I was CEO of my company and CEOs don’t have curly hair. I mean, people wouldn’t take me seriously if I let my hair go curly. (I had secretly hated my curly, frizzy hair since I was a child, so when the Brazilian straightening technique came out, I was hooked.) Well, Jennifer pointed out the obvious example of Shonda Rhimes, creator of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal“ who rocks curly hair 24/7.

So I took a couple of deep breaths and decided to see what it felt like when I wore my hair naturally curly. The next day I came into work with my hair curly (some coworkers didn’t recognize me!), and it felt great. I’ve never looked back. I forget about it when I run into a friend or business colleague I haven’t seen in a couple of years. More than one was startled as they didn’t realize it was me. I just fluff my curly hair and say, “Yeah, I went back to my natural hair.”

I am sharing these two stories because I think there are other people out there who are afraid to reveal their real selves. Their authentic selves. There are so many stereotypes of how we should look, how we should act, how we should be. So we develop this habit of being—imposters.

That’s what I felt like. I felt like no one would take me seriously as a CEO if I didn’t look and dress the part. And then I decided to be the real me. The casually dressed, curly-haired me.

And the most interesting thing happened.

Many, many women are now wearing their hair naturally curly. It’s like they were hiding before and now they’ve all appeared at once.

I also noticed that, at many business and social events, people were dressing in jeans, creating a more casual vibe. It’s a lot less stressful.

So, if you ever get that feeling of not being comfortable in your skin (or your dress), I can assure you that no one will judge you as an imposter. It’s much easier to be the real you. So try it!

Karen

I thought I had always taken good care of my teeth. That included going to see my dentist twice a year to check for cavities and have my teeth cleaned by a hygienist.

But a few years ago, after I decided to use Invisalign® to get my once-straight teeth re-straightened, I started to see a periodontist, a dentist who specializes in gums. My periodontist is Oscar Valenzuela. I see Oscar once a year and he takes measurements of the gum line on each of my teeth to determine if I have unusual recession of my gums. I know some recession is normal with age, but I learned that my over-zealous brushing technique actually caused additionally recession.

I remember my first visit to him. “Do you floss your teeth?” I said, “Sometimes.” Then I asked him, “So, how often should I be flossing?” He responded with: “You should only floss your teeth on the days you want to keep them!”

Got it. So I started flossing my teeth every night before I went to bed, right after I brushed my teeth.

That began my love affair with Oscar and his dental hygienist Mylene. After my first time cleaning by Mylene, she told me that she wanted to see me back in three months. Three months? It felt like punishment. She said that plaque builds up quickly and based on what she saw on my teeth, she wanted to see me every three months. I asked her if there was anything else I could do to reduce plaque.

She asked, “Have you ever considered using an electric toothbrush?” (I didn’t tell her that once I had a boyfriend who gave me an electric toothbrush for Hanukkah. When we broke up, I gave away the toothbrush.)

I asked her more about using an electric toothbrush. She said it was more consistent in applying pressure while brushing. Plus, some models have a timer on them, which ensures you brush for a full two minutes (30 seconds on each section of your teeth: upper, lower, inside, and outside). Two minutes of brushing your teeth with a manual toothbrush seems like forever.

So, I went to Costco and bought an electric toothbrush (the brand Mylene suggested, Philips Sonicare). When I started using it, I could not get over the super clean, smooth feeling of my teeth. They felt completely different, as compared to when I was using a regular manual toothbrush. Here are some toothbrush options.

Three months later when I went to see Mylene, she noticed the improvement. Nine months later, when Oscar re-measured the recession on my gums, he told me they had stabilized and improved. Within a year, I had graduated to visiting Mylene every four to five months.

And with all I have been learning about Alzheimer’s, there appears to be some sort of potential link between “plaque” in our teeth and “plaque” in our brains (which is what causes Alzheimer’s). Just today, I learned from my coworker Cindy that in her previous job at Wrigley’s gum, they had done research showing a link between gum health and heart health. Personally, I don’t chew gum for other reasons, but there are gum types which can help reduce plaque.

So, my recommendation is:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big smiles!

Karen

As we are now a week from Thanksgiving and finalizing exactly what we are going to cook and feast on for the holiday of thanks (myself included), I can’t help but share what I plan to serve for dessert at my Thanksgiving dinner.

First, a little background.

Obviously, I love vegetables. In fact, for a few Thanksgiving dinners in the last decade, I prepared and served more than 10 (yes, 10) different vegetable dishes. Admittedly, 10 was probably a bit much.

In the last few years, my daughters, Alex and Sophia, have joined me in my cooking adventure. So it’s become quite fun to hang out in the kitchen while preparing dinner. Each year we make a few family favorites—roasted root vegetables and Stokes Purple® sweet potato salad with chipotle dressing always make the list. And I always try a new way to make Brussels sprouts as they are the preferred green veggie at my house.

But dessert has always been a challenge. I’m not a big pumpkin pie fan, and frankly, everyone seems more interested in how many bottles of wine we drink (we line the kitchen counter with empty bottles and do a count at the end of the evening). But this year, my daughter Alex announced to me that she is making dessert.

Stokes Purple® sweet potato pie!

Admittedly, Stokes Purple® sweet potatoes are one of the top-selling items at Frieda’s. And as we were developing new recipes for them this year, we noticed that pies were really trending. So our chef said, “Let me give it a try.” She created a colorful and seriously delicious Stokes Purple® sweet potato pie.

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As you can see, it is colorful. And it’s a nice change from the conventional pumpkin pie. So I am happy to share the recipe with you and secretly hope you’ll try it for your family celebration next weekend. I would love to hear how it goes over.

Stokes Purple® Sweet Potato Pie Recipe:

Ingredients

1 9-inch frozen, pre-made pie crust, thawed

Filling:
2 large, baked* Stokes Purple® sweet potatoes (5-6 inches long), peeled and roughly chopped
3/4 cup coconut milk (from 15-ounce can full-fat coconut milk)
4 tablespoons butter
1 egg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
Seeds from 3-inch piece vanilla bean (or 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract)

Topping:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons maple syrup
Seeds from 1-inch piece vanilla bean (or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract)
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
Pecans, whole or crushed

Steps

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake pie crust 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in blender container or food processor, blend sweet potatoes, coconut milk, butter, egg, cinnamon, allspice, sea salt, sugar, and vanilla until smooth. If too thick to blend, add 1-2 teaspoons coconut milk.

When crust is done, increase oven temperature to 425 degrees. Transfer pie crust to wire rack; carefully pour in filling. Smooth out top with spatula. Put pie back in oven and bake 15 minutes. Then, decrease oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake additional 15 minutes. When done, crust should be barely golden and filling should look set. Remove pie and allow to cool to room temperature on wire rack. Cover and place in refrigerator to cool overnight.

Chill whisk and bowl from stand mixer (or regular bowl and whisk) in freezer at least 10 minutes. Pour heavy whipping cream, maple syrup, vanilla, and salt into chilled bowl and whip on high until peaks form, about a minute. It’s better to under-whip than over-whip! Store whipped cream in refrigerator up to 4 hours.

Before serving, allow pie to come to room temperature. Just before serving, whip topping by hand to make it extra fluffy. Top pie with maple whipped cream and pecans. Slice and serve.

*Note: For extra-creamy sweet potatoes, wrap in foil and bake the night before making pie. Store in refrigerator, still wrapped in foil, and use in recipe as directed.

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Wishing you and your family a holiday filled with gratitude, kindness and generosity. And plenty of leftovers.

Karen

This past Monday evening, my sister, Jackie, and I accompanied our mom, Frieda, to an event hosted by UCI MIND, the UC Irvine Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders.

Attending this event were more than 150 people in the Orange County community—most of whom would definitely be considered “seniors” (that would be over 60 if you attend the movies).

But, first, let me go back almost three years. My mom and I attended a talk at UCI, as part of a professional women’s weekend retreat. I had to attend a meeting during one of the talks. When I returned, my mom told me that she had decided to donate her brain to UCI MIND, when she passes. (Both my parents had decided many years ago to donate their bodies to science after their passing, in hopes they could provide insight into aging, etc.)

I have to admit that I teetered between feeling a bit surprised and not being surprised at all, as my mom has always been philanthropic and community-minded, with a lot of foresight. What she learned at that presentation was that UCI MIND was one of only 30 facilities in the country doing research to find a cure for Alzheimer’s.

In addition to looking for funding, UCI MIND was looking for volunteers for a longitudinal study. The team planned to study the brains and capabilities of people who were still alive, track them over time, then study their brains after they died. At that time my mom was 92 years old and in fine shape (both physically, and more important, mentally), so she would be a rare and special candidate for this study.

So, the team from UCI MIND came to our offices in Los Alamitos and disclosed to Mom, with Jackie and me in the room, what was involved. She would have to go in for a battery of tests every year. In addition to the normal cholesterol, blood pressure, EKG, and other tests, she would take a multi-hour test of her cognitive abilities. “Sign me up!” Mom said.

After that initial round of tests, Jackie and I accompanied Mom to UCI to hear the results. Frankly, Jackie and I both looked at each other, questioning how we would do on some of the memory tests. That’s when I learned the importance of getting at least seven and a half to eight hours of sleep a night. The tests explained for Mom what causes her, on occasion, to have trouble remembering names. We also learned that, for people her age, she performed above average in the professional decision-making arena.

Turns out our mom is in excellent health overall. Jackie is her testing buddy, so goes with her for the annual tests. Jackie is also interviewed to share her observations.

At one joint session with the UCI MIND team, I asked if they had done a video or commercial on the program. I mentioned that Mom was excellent on camera and very experienced. I thought her story would be compelling.

A few months ago, they contacted us because they wanted to interview and tape Mom as she explained why she decided to participate in the study for a video presentation. They did the taping the week Mom turned 95.

That’s where we went on Monday—to watch the screening of this testimonial video, which will be part of a call to action for the community.

Leaving A Legacy with UCI MIND: Frieda Caplan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: youtu.be; UCI MIND Website: mind.uci.edu UCI C2C Registry: c2c.uci.edu

In addition to seeing the video for the first time, we heard from Joshua D. Grill, Ph.D., the director of UCI MIND. Dr. Grill was so compelling! When asked how far along they were in finding a cure for Alzheimer’s, he compared the research being done to that for HIV/AIDS. He said the first few drugs that were discovered in trials decades ago did not make a significant improvement in the lives of HIV/AIDS patients. But over time, as more drugs were proven in trial, they were able to combine them into cocktails (multiple drugs used together). Now, in 2018, HIV/AIDS have gone from being a death sentence to being medically treatable conditions. Not curable, but people can survive for a long time.

Dr. Grill said Alzheimer’s treatment is moving in the same direction. That’s why they are looking for funding and people to participate in trials.

His expertise is in designing trials and the ethics of trials. He said if the trial’s design is flawed, the results will be flawed and useless.

I couldn’t help but think about how that applies to my business. How many times has someone had a “great idea” at my company and wanted to rush it through? The possible obstacles are not fully considered or we push through a project just to get it off our plate, rather than going through the details and having a cross-functional team to shoot holes in it. We all know how that ends.

So, back to UCI MIND. If anyone in your family has been affected by Alzheimer’s or dementia and they have an interest in possibly supporting or participating in the studies, I hope you will contact UCI MIND.

Our mom, Frieda, has always been a trailblazer in the produce industry. And now she is a trailblazer in finding a cure for Alzheimer’s. Pretty amazing, I would say!

Karen

 

Last week I wrote about my two-week vacation in Tuscany. What I didn’t mention was that a few days after returning, I left for a 10-day trip to Florida to attend two conferences.

My challenge was reengaging at work without causing frustration for me and my coworkers after almost a month’s absence.

If you work in an office or as part of a team, I’m guessing you have probably experienced this to some degree. You go on vacation and a lot of stuff happens while you’re gone. When you get back, you are either in the dark or feel out of touch and frustrated. And it is probably frustrating for your coworkers, too.

 

So I thought I would share what I did to make my reentry smoother:

  1. I returned to work on a Monday. So the Friday morning before, I sent an email to all my direct reports and asked them to email me by the end of the day a topline recap of what happened while I was gone. I wasn’t looking for a play-by-play, but rather enough information such that when I went into a meeting, I would feel caught up. I read the emails over the weekend.
  2. Sunday evening, I went through my emails (more than 600 of them), sorted by sender, then deleted all newsletters because many newsletters cover the same things from week to week. I deleted at least 50 percent of the rest because they were part of threads or I was copied on them. I’m still not caught up, but I know what’s in there. I got those 600 emails down to about 150 that need some action on my part.
  3. I got two good nights of sleep over the weekend (7.5 to 8 hours a night). I find I feel so much better and am in a better mood when I have enough sleep.
  4. When I got into the office, I made a point of checking in with everyone with whom I work with directly. The investment in a quick 5- to 10-minute conversation, asking, “Anything I need to know about?” and “Anything you need my help with?” brought most issues to the surface.

Spending that much time away from the office (only monitoring my emails, but not being obsessive about them) really cleared my head. I got a lot of sleep while I was gone and I feel as if I emptied all the “trash” from my brain.

Even though it is sometimes hard to disengage and take off time because you have so much work to do, I feel much more productive now that I’m back at work.

Maybe it’s time for you to start planning your next vacation.

Karen

I created my bucket list about 10 years ago. It has over 50 items on it. A lot of travel is on that list.

So, when my longtime friend, Paula Lambert, founder of the Mozzarella Company in Dallas, invited me to join her on a seven-day culinary tour of Tuscany, I had to pause. I asked myself, “What am I waiting for?” I checked my calendar and found that the end of September fit my schedule perfectly. I took a deep breath and mailed her a deposit check. That was almost a year ago.

Because of my busy work life, I didn’t give it a lot of thought until a few weeks before I left. It turned out I would be traveling with eight other people; I would only know my travel guide Paula. I decided to extend my stay in the Florence area to meet up with close friends who would be there. And I found a friend to help me plan what to pack.

My good friend Paula Lambert and me.

After seven days with complete strangers, two days with friends, and five days alone, I reflected on the trip while flying home. One thing I discovered, somewhat unexpectedly, is that it’s not that hard to travel alone. I do it all the time for business. Turns out it was quite fun to be on my own. I could set my own pace and it allowed me to meet some interesting strangers, who are now friends! And although I used to be one of those people who travel at an aggressive pace—you know, like five countries in six days—I now have a new philosophy on travel: Go deep into an area to get to know the people, the food, the environs, and the culture.

My culinary tour group enjoying dinner on our first night.

Here are some of the lessons I learned while in Tuscany:

We did a tasting on our first night of Laudemio Olive Oil of Tuscany. Raymond Lamothe and his companion Anarita. She was an amazing cook and charming guide! There are human size Black Roosters throughout the Chianti Region. Giacomo and Albano (left to right).

It’s been two weeks since I returned, yet the slower pace of Tuscany is still with me. I’ve noticed that I am not so impatient when I am waiting in a supermarket line. I take the L.A. traffic in stride. And when I dine with friends, I am not anxiously awaiting our next course or our check; last night, dinner with three friends lasted four hours.

Although I was ready to come home after two weeks in Tuscany, I am already thinking about my next trip. Perhaps Sicily or Sardinia?

Ciao!

Karen

PS My favorite photo was of this door, during a walking tour of the historic village of Certaldo.

Though I wasn’t able to watch Tiger Woods surprise the whole world by winning his 80th championship in Atlanta, the lessons from his journey have not been lost on me.

Tiger started young, learning to golf at the Cypress, California, golf course, which is only 50 yards from my office building. To say Tiger was a child prodigy would be an understatement.

From a young age, he became an athletic sensation and then he became overconfident, cocky, and eventually hit a brick wall.

I am a firm believer that what’s happening in your life can manifest itself in your body. So, if you’re thinking a lot, you might get a headache. If you are feeling a lot of pressure at work, you might start to have poor posture and “feel the weight of the world on your shoulders.”

So, I wonder if the troubles that Tiger had in his personal life manifested in his physical maladies.

After reading about his win on Sunday, I surmised these lessons:

  1. When you want to accomplish a goal, the most effective way to achieve it is through laser focus. Professional athletes like Tiger practice every day, at least eight hours a day, and have coaches to advise them (even when they are champions). Practice makes permanent.
  2. Don’t be overly confident to the point of arrogance. Winning easily doesn’t guarantee future success. Don’t assume your current success will continue forever. Being humble is a great attribute.
  3. Your professional success does not mean you automatically will have success in your personal life. It’s imperative to give the same attention to your personal life as you do to your professional life. (Many of us stumble in our personal lives simply because we don’t put the same type of energy and hard work into it.)
  4. Sometimes you must hit rock bottom before things turn around. Really rock bottom. Think of the personal and physical pain that Tiger suffered. Not to mention the public scrutiny and embarrassment. Most of us don’t have our lives played out and examined like Hollywood stars or athletes do. But we can hit rock bottom, just the same.
  5. When a goal or accomplishment is critically important to you, even after you’ve hit rock bottom, go back to No. 1 above.

Whether or not you play golf, have a lucky shirt color, or have had a physical or mental brick wall you’ve come up against, there are always lessons to be learned from other people’s experiences.

I took up golf about 18 months ago and I wrote about it in May and November of last year. I never appreciated that the game was not really played on grass. It is played in your head. And it really makes you think.

Karen

Recently I met Dan Buettner, the New York Times best-selling author and National Geographic writer of “The Blue Zones of Happiness.” I have since become fascinated with his discoveries for living a longer life.

In case you aren’t aware, blue zones are regions of the world where people live much longer than average (usually to over 100). The term first appeared in the November 2015 National Geographic  magazine cover story “The Secrets of a Long Life,” which Dan wrote.  He identified five geographic areas around the world where people live statistically longer: Okinawa (Japan); Sardinia (Italy); Nicoya (Costa Rica); Icaria (Greece); and among the Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, California. Based on empirical data and firsthand observations, Dan offers an explanation as to why these populations live healthier and longer lives.

I became aware of the “Blue Zones” book when we started marketing and selling our Stokes Purple® Sweet Potatoes in 2011. We started getting an overwhelming number of emails and phone calls from consumers who were going crazy to find our purple sweet potatoes. They told us that purple sweet potatoes were highlighted in Buettner’s book as the food people in Okinawa ate that helped them to live significantly longer lives.

Well, my dream came true when I met Dan in July. He spoke at the Organic Produce Summit in Monterey, California. I snuck my way into the green room before his presentation to say hello and tell him the impact his book had had on our company.

Then I heard him speak. He started his presentation by asking the audience to answer “yes” or “no” to the following nine questions. At the end, he asked us how many we answered “yes” to:

  1. Do we do some sort of exercise daily? It could be as simple as a neighborhood walk. The world’s longest-lived people are constantly moving. Every trip is an excuse for a walk. For example, taking the stairs vs. the elevator.
  2. Do you have a sense of purpose? Do you live for something beyond work? For example, do you have a purpose for waking up in the morning?
  3. Do you have a way to de-stress? The long-lived people have routines to shed stress. It might be meditation or prayer. Or napping.
  4. Do you eat until you are “almost full?” Okinawans remind themselves to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full.
  5. Is your diet mostly plant-based? Many centenarian diets are mostly plant-based with beans as the cornerstone of the diet and relatively small amounts of meat.
  6. Do you drink wine regularly? People in all blue zones drink alcohol moderately—one to two glasses a day with friends or food. Moderate drinkers tend to outlive non-drinkers.
  7. Who is in your tribe? Social circles support healthy behaviors. Okinawans create groups of five friends (“moais”), who are committed to each other for life. He showed photos of them sitting around a table, catching up with each other nightly.
  8. Do you have a faith? Not only having a faith, but attending a faith-based service four times a month, adds four to 14 years to life expectancy. The choice of denomination doesn’t seem to matter.
  9. How is your family relationship? Centenarians tend to put their families first, investing time and love in them. And they take care of their elders.

As Dan asked us all to raise our hands, many of us commented to each other about how we should rethink or modify some of our current behaviors.

I recalled that earlier this year I had changed my diet to mostly plant-based, using seafood and egg whites as my protein source (no red meat or poultry). I started a daily meditation practice a year ago and added hot yoga to my weekly routine this year. I recently reconnected with many of my close friends and make a concerted effort to allow time for my family every week. (I am quite lucky that I work with both my daughters, who indulge me with a morning hug each day.)

If you are curious about what it would take to modify your lifestyle (diet, exercise, etc.) to live a longer life (of over 100 years), National Geographic just issued a special publication entitled, “Blue Zones: The Science of Living Longer.” Part 1 is information on the five blue zones around the world and what foods and lifestyles are enjoyed there. Part 2 is how to create your own blue zones. Part 3 is about cooking in the blue zone with recipes and shopping lists. I purchased my items at my local grocery store.

I don’t know about you, but every year around my birthday, I think about my own mortality. This also makes me reflect on the lifestyle changes my parents made as they got older, and, for my mom, as she continues to get older. When I was young, like most people, I was more reckless and felt immortal.

Now I’m mindful of the choices I make and what impact they may have on my mortality: better-for-you food choices; more rest; more exercise; more enjoyment; less stress; smaller meals; sipping red wine; and enjoying long conversations with friends and family.

I plan to continue to make mindful choices to help create my own blue zone. Perhaps you will, too.

Karen

This week, Jewish people around the world are celebrating the new year, Rosh Hashana. It’s a big food holiday, and even bigger for the fruit business, as I learned a few years ago. Most observant Jews, especially in the New York  metro area and other big cities, strive to serve a new fruit on their holiday tables in the new year. It’s actually a biblical tradition.

Think about it. A new fruit? Yes, many of the kosher grocery stores in Brooklyn call us every year, trying to top each other with the selection of exotic fruits they feature during the two weeks before Rosh Hashana. It’s kind of fun. Two years ago, even the Wall Street Journal wrote about this phenomenon.

[youtube=https://youtu.be/IkRmJHTOVsI]

So, while most of us might think about serving peaches, grapes, berries, apples, or watermelon for a fruit dessert, observant Jews are looking for persimmons, dragon fruit, feijoas (aka pineapple guavas), and starfruit. And if they really want to go all out, they might share a jackfruit with the whole family—a jackfruit party!

For virtually all Jewish holidays, food is at the heart of the celebration. For Hanukkah, we serve fried foods like latkes (fried potato pancakes) and fried jelly donuts. For Passover, freshly grated horseradish is a must-have for the traditional Seder dinner.

But in just a week is the one holiday when we don’t eat. As a matter of fact, we fast from sundown the night before until sundown the next day, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. On Yom Kippur, you literally atone for your sins. I am not always good at fasting for Yom Kippur, but when I do, it allows me to be reminded of those who have suffered without food or other conveniences.

What I find most interesting about this time of year is the 10 days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. That 10-day period is one of prayer, self-examination, and repentance. We make amends with anyone with whom we have a disagreement. During this time, I consciously reach out to friends I may have had issues with. Maybe a family member that made me mad. Or have dinner with a long-lost friend. Sometimes I choose to email or text them to reach out. And just touching base is all it takes.

Even if you aren’t Jewish, have you tried reaching out to people you no longer talk to?

Wouldn’t it be kind to consciously think about those you don’t have the best relationships with and just reach out? Say hi. Meet for a glass of wine. Or have a phone conversation. Tell them something you like about them or what made you think of them.

So, on Sunday night for Rosh Hashana, I went to temple for the first time in a while. It was good to see so many old friends. The service is short, with many beautiful songs sung, the same songs that are sung at every Jewish synagogue around the world celebrating Rosh Hashana.

And when the service was over, as we exited, large platters of sliced apples with bowls of honey greeted us. Apples and honey. Did you know that is a tradition, too? Yes, for Jews whose families came from Eastern Europe, dipping a slice of apple in honey expresses hope for a sweet and fruitful year.

And I think all of us want that. A sweet and fruitful year.

So, to all my Jewish and non-Jewish friends, I wish you a l’shana tova (a good year) or l’shana tova u’metukah (a good and sweet year).

Karen

Last week was our August National Sales Meeting. A couple of times a year, we bring in our outside sales team together with our inside sales team, buying team, marketing team, and finance and management teams to share ideas and learn new things. We also do some fun things in the evening. One night, we went bowling—randomly selecting the teams so everyone had a chance to get to know employees from other departments.

During the three days, we had various presentations from clients and industry experts. We always ask for suggestions for topics to cover and training ideas. One of the members of the sales team suggested the topic of “growth mindset.”

What’s that? I really had never heard of it, so I started to do some research.

Essentially, having a growth mindset means that, with learning and dedication, you can be or do anything. In a growth mindset, “people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point,” according to Carol Dweck of Mindsetonline.com. “This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.”

The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset.

The old adage “You can’t teach the old dog a new trick” is what sums up the fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe that they cannot change, that “their basic abilities, intelligence, and talents are fixed traits,” says Dweck.

You can imagine that having a growth mindset would be key to growing in one’s career and growing professionally in a company like ours, where one of our core values is “Staying Curious.”

Our guest speaker started the day by asking our team: What do you think is a growth mindset? We went around the room and people shouted out their ideas:

When asked if attitude, skills, and knowledge were required to be successful within these qualities, our group said, almost 100 percent of the above qualities required a good attitude.

And that’s when I realized how brilliant my coworker was when she suggested the topic.

If everyone at our company realized it was within their own control to achieve their goals, with simply a change in attitude, or by having a growth mindset, the sky would be the limit.

Of course, we have heard sayings like “Attitude is everything” or “Visualize the glass as half-full.” But it came alive for me and everyone in our training room that day as our speaker took us through several group exercises. Who are the most successful people in their careers? Those with a positive attitude, a can-do attitude.

So, instead of talking about having a “positive attitude,” I’m going to start saying, “Great job of having a growth mindset!”

Love of learning and resilience can really create a mind shift. And sometimes, that’s what we all need.

Karen

A few weeks ago, I was having coffee with a friend, and she said to me, “I sure hope all these good deeds I am doing come back to me in good karma in the future.”

I was kind of puzzled by that comment because I think it’s important to be authentic when you do good deeds, not because you hope you will get something for doing them.

That is the essence of being authentic: Doing good because it’s the right thing to do.

Have you ever done that? You see someone who would benefit from your help, whether it is helping them unload their grocery cart at the checkout (because that giant bottle of water looks a bit too heavy for them to lift themselves), or giving some money or food to a homeless person. Have you helped a fellow businessperson connect with someone you know who could help them without getting anything out of it?

 

Have you had the chance to do a good deed lately? Or, were you in too much of a rush, working through your things to do or running errands?

I have found in this dog-eat-dog world, where everything seems to happen at warp speed, that there is even more satisfaction when you do something nice for someone with no expectation of recognition or reward.

It’s refreshing to think about others instead of yourself for a while.

So, when you are feeling stressed or rushed, why not take a deep breath, and do something good for someone else, even a complete stranger. You could be the person who makes their day a little bit better. And you may get that warm fuzzy feeling in your heart.

It’s called “kindness.” And I think we need a lot more of it this world.

Karen

With all my travels and running my business, I’ve tried a lot of things when it comes to physical relaxation. (And it seems I’m not the only one.)

Of course, I get massages. In fact, I used to ask my masseuse, Aaron, to text me on the first of every month to remind me to schedule a two-hour deep tissue massage. With long flights, walking through airports and standing in security lines, different hotel beds and pillows, a massage sometimes makes all the difference in the world for my stiff muscles.

I’ve also tried craniosacral therapy, which involves applying gentle pressure and manipulation to the joints in the skull, spine, and parts of the pelvis. From “Your Inner Physician and You,” I learned how proper alignment of the spine can help create a more relaxed and centered self. In fact, when a good friend of mine was having headaches and tension, I recommended she go to my CST therapist, Katja, for some relief. My friend now sees her on a regular basis. She said, “Even though I didn’t feel bad per se, I feel so much better after the therapy.”

When I was in Hawaii a couple of years ago, I tried Reiki (pronounced RAY-kee). Reiki is a healing technique based on the principle that the therapist can channel energy into the patient by means of touch to activate the natural healing processes of the patient’s body, and restore physical and emotional well-being. I like to say that my Reiki practitioner “moves the energy” in my body, focusing on whichever of my seven chakras needs attention. Sherrel rarely touches me, but I always find myself going into an almost meditative state during our hour-long session. I get up feeling mellow, calm, and centered.

And of course, almost a year ago, I started meditating daily. The 20-minute guided meditation each morning really grounds me for the day. As I have heard from other meditation practitioners, when you meditate regularly, you experience the ability to listen better, to be more present, and to find an inner peace.

OK, readers, if I haven’t lost you by now and you’re not thinking I’ve gone cuckoo with all this “woo-woo” stuff, I’d like to share my latest discovery with you.

Rolfing.

A few weeks ago, my good friends Mark and Vicky introduced me to Christopher, their Rolfing practitioner, whom they have been seeing for over 10 years. Rolfing is a form of deep tissue massage that helps realign your muscles to improve movements and posture to relieve aches and pains, and creates an overall sense of well-being.

So, this past Monday, I went for my first session. Christopher asked me if anything was bothering me that day. I told him my left ankle seemed out of sorts. He worked on the muscles all over the left side of my body. My forearm. My calf. My rib cage (which was apparently out of alignment). I wore a sports bra and yoga shorts so he could see my breathing and my muscles. He did a little work on my right side, but said it is part of Rolfing to do small areas at a time, so the body can adjust.

Christopher told me that many people describe Rolfing as body muscle sculpting. Through soft tissue manipulation and movement education, Rolfers affect body posture and structure over the long term. Unlike massage, which often focuses on relaxation and relief of muscle discomfort, Rolfing is aimed at improving body alignment and function.

The results: I find myself standing straighter and taller. Breathing seems easier. All the tension is gone in my shoulders and neck. And of course, my ankle does not hurt.

The only limitation after the Rolfing treatment is no weightlifting for 24 hours. I’ve scheduled my next appointment for next Monday. I’m looking forward to another session of getting in alignment.

If you travel a lot like me and want to get rid of the aches and pains, you’ll do whatever it takes to feel well. I hope you’ll give these alternative therapies a shot. You might find just the right touch and come out feeling amazing.

Karen

I don’t know about you, but for me there sure seems to be a lot to worry about these days.

To start with, I worry about getting through my things-to-do list, preparing for my upcoming meetings, if I’m getting enough sleep, and if am I doing enough for the people on my team. On a larger scale, I worry about global warming, politics, and the Supreme Court. All of these can be a bit stressful and, at times, overwhelming.

That’s one of the reasons I enjoy listening to audio books while I drive. I’ve written before about how Audible has become my best friend and how I love to read, or rather, listen to, autobiographical, self-improvement, and business books, and occasionally a novel. Listening to audio books transports me to a different place even on my short 15-minute commute home each day.

So my friend Tristan asked me if I had read “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. I admitted that I had heard of Eckhart Tolle, but I had not yet read the book. (In 2008, a New York Times writer called him “the most popular spiritual author in the United States.” So, there you go.)

“Whatever book you are reading right now, put it down. You have to read “The Power of Now” right now! It is incredible,” she said.

On to Audible I went. Eckhart actually narrates the book himself, and that’s always a special treat when the authors do their own reading, to hear all of the personality and memories through their voices!

Eckhart opens the book by telling his personal story of his struggle with depression until the age of 29 when he had a spiritual awakening. Born in Germany, Eckhart is a spiritual teacher living in Canada. He is not identified with any particular religion, but he has been influenced by a wide range of spiritual works.

After his personal story, the book is a Q&A between the publisher and Eckhart. I think the idea is that the questions which are asked are the same questions you might ask yourself.

I have to admit, Eckhart has an interesting voice and style. I had to turn up the volume in my car, since he speaks so quietly, with a mild accent. I replayed some of what he read many times as it was so thought-provoking for me.

So, I wanted to share one line that really got my attention:

“Nothing ever happened in the past; it happened in the Now. Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now.”

I played that over a few times.

Source: Flickr @ I Woz Ere

Think about it. Everything happens in the now. So why worry about the past or the future? Stay in the now, and enjoy the moment. It takes away a lot of the stress.

For example, this morning, instead of stressing about my to-do list as I walked up to the office, I slowed down to notice how beautiful the morning was and that we had new plants added to our water-wise landscaping. I felt much calmer. Or when I started to get anxious about not hearing back from a contact, I refocused on what I was working on, rather than worry about getting a response as it is literally not up to me. I had almost forgotten about my earlier concern when I got that response back.

We all really should stop and smell the roses. We’ll all be a lot less stressed if we do.

Karen

Two days ago, I got a text from my sister, Jackie, who runs our company operations.

“We started the day with a major water leak in the men’s bathroom; we ended the day with a pipe breaking in the other side of the office. I checked, and I should have known, Mercury goes retrograde tomorrow.”

Mercury retrograde began July 26 and will end on August 19.

For longtime readers of this blog, you know all about my experiences with Mercury in retrograde in 2014 and 2017. Long story short, because of its orbit around the Sun is faster than ours, three or four times a year the planet appears to move backwards in the sky for about three weeks. According to astrology, Mercury is the planet of technology, equipment and communications, and when it goes into retrograde, everything seems to go out of whack.

Have you been experiencing any odd happenings within the last few days? Computers not working? Things breaking around the house? Poor communication between you and co-workers or your spouse? Contract negotiations not going well? That could be because Mercury is doing a moonwalk.

Jackie and I try to mark on our calendars when Mercury is going retrograde. During those times, we avoid computer upgrades and installing equipment, and are extra careful with communication. We have come to expect flight delays, dropped calls and miscommunication. We have learned to be more patient and forgiving when people around us are short-tempered during the following few weeks.

But what’s unique about this particular session of Mercury in retrograde is that Mars is also in retrograde! Mars is the planet of energy, action and desire. It went retrograde on June 26 and it will continue through August 27. Thankfully, it only goes retrograde about once every two years.

Now when Mars goes into retrograde, your plans may go a little haywire or your romantic life is unsatisfying and you feel like you can’t get anything done. Any time any planet goes retrograde, you might ask yourself, “How much is this going to mess up my life?” Well, with both Mars and Mercury in retrograde, the answer is “moderately to intensely.”

If you are curious at all about how the cosmic vibes affect you, I’d encourage you to see how these two retrogrades are affecting your astrological sign at the moment. And if you think the whole thing is hooey, that’s ok too. I’m not going to disagree with you while Mercury and Mars are in retrograde.

During this period of great tension all over the planet, perhaps it’s a good time to take deep breaths before reacting. To anything.

Oh, and my text back to my sister was:

“No surprises there. And Mom had a water leak at her house today too! Things happen in threes, right?”

Karen

Ever wonder what it takes to launch an app? Or what the inspiration is for someone’s idea for an app?

Well, I got to hear firsthand how it all happened when I was attending my sister Jackie’s birthday party last month.

I was seated next to Conrad, a friend of Jackie’s from Texas, and he enthusiastically told me about an app he launched just three days earlier. It’s called Wait Check.

The Inspiration

Conrad and his girlfriend went to their favorite nightclub in Austin, hungry and ready to boogie. But the club was at capacity, and they had to stand in line, 30 people deep. They would only let people in as people left. In his low blood sugar state of hunger, he fantasized about an app that would have allowed him to check with people already at the club or in line to see how long the wait was.

His girlfriend responded, “Great Idea! Now just pitch it to someone you know personally, trust with your idea, and who has the entrepreneurial skills to make it materialize!”

The Trusted Partner

Conrad knew immediately whom to ask: his friend Javier, a local successful businessperson. Javier was on board as he related to the frustration of waiting at restaurants and saw how an app would be the simple solution. They agreed that to meet the market’s need the app should focus on restaurant wait times, but include nightclubs’ too. It would be real-time and exclusively customer crowdsourced. It would be like “WAZE for GRAZE.” Let’s outsmart restaurant traffic together!

This is what Javier shared with me about his thought process:

“When Conrad approached me with the original idea, I thought it had some merit. But I thought that app would only be useful for the segment of people who regularly go to clubs. If we expanded the app to focus on restaurants, we would have a much broader audience. And if we could send those people a push notification once they entered a restaurant, we could prompt them to share wait times with other users.

“So I did some research to see if there were any other restaurant wait time apps on the market, and there were some but none that worked very well. Most of the existing apps are subscription-based and require member restaurants to enter wait times. The primary problem with that model is that very few restaurants participate and the information is not always accurate or in real time. None of them crowdsource for the actual wait time. So for various reasons, people really don’t seem to be using those apps. If we could also design a simple user interface and an app that was easy to use, we thought we might have a winner.”

Search for Developer

Javier set up meetings with three different app development companies in Austin.

App Company No. 1 had a lot of impressive terminologies and a slick presentation, but with a ridiculous price tag that would have to be doubled for each Apple and Android platform.

App Company No. 2 was super exciting because the owner/developer really listened to their concept and even added to it by suggesting estimated wait times based on existing Google datasets. Also, the developer loved the idea so much he said he was interested in developing the app for a stake in the business!

App Company No. 3 was full of vague, opaque explanations with nothing concrete to back up claims.

Surprise! They chose the second company.

Concept to Beta

Conrad got the idea in June 2017 and spoke to Javier within the week. After selecting the developer, they were able to do beta testing in March 2018 and did a soft launch on June 6, 2018—just last month!

My Takeaways

Of course, I’ve downloaded the app and started using it! But I’ve learned so much more than just finding out about a nifty app:

  1. Your original idea may not end up being your final idea, as it is important to brainstorm with others to figure out what the real need is and how big the market is.
  2. The idea person (right-brained) should not be afraid to partner up with someone with business experience (left-brained). Someone who runs a business probably knows the ins and outs of contracts, negotiations, and strategy, a complement to the idea person.
  3. It takes a while to go from idea to launch. It’s always better to take time to beta test (even if the idea isn’t technology-based) and work out the bugs. That’s why so many companies do “pilot tests” or market research. When you think you have a fantastic idea and want to launch it right away so you don’t miss the opportunity, a year can seem like a long time. Over 90 percent of new products fail, so testing is useful.

I want to say, “And the rest is history,” but we’re not quite there yet! I know Conrad and Javier are doing marketing and figuring out ways to monetize their app. They would love your feedback. Feel free to reach out to them at info@waitcheck.com.

Karen

Ask for what you want: That’s one of my favorite pieces of business advice. In fact, I use it often when I give speeches or mentor people. It actually applies to your business life and to your personal life.

Just last week, I was on the phone with a colleague who works at a local university. We were brainstorming ideas to get younger alumnae involved in the dean’s advisory council. So I suggested that we ask for what we want.

In the quarterly university magazine, why not run an ad?

Are you an alumnae? Are you under 50? Is your area of interest agriculture, fashion, or architecture? The Dean’s Advisory Council would love to talk with you about joining us.

My colleague’s comment was: Wow, I never thought of asking directly for what we want.

How many times when you deal with a vendor or a customer (or in your personal life, with your significant other) do you hope they’ve taken that “mind-reading” class? I mean, you know what you want, but you hesitate to ask directly for it. Or actually, you never even think of asking directly for it.

I’ve used this piece of advice so many times that it’s not unusual for me to get an email from someone that starts with: “I know you believe in asking for what you want…”

And if you’re on the other side of this conversation, it’s kind of refreshing to have someone ask you directly for what they want, instead of wondering where the conversation is going.

Another approach I often use is: “It never hurts to ask.” This is a great one to use when you want to try something new.

For example, in business, perhaps you are thinking about asking for a price increase, free samples, or a special discount. The last time I used this was when I was at a local running store. It advertised a 15 percent discount on shoes. After I selected a pair to buy, I happened to comment on the Garmin watch the sales rep was wearing. It turned out it had the features I was looking for. He told me the price.

And then, I asked for what I wanted: “So, do I get the same 15 percent discount that I am getting on the shoes?” He told me “no,” the discount didn’t apply to that.

And then I asked, “Well, do you think I can get the friends and family discount?”

Well, guess what? He gave me a 10 percent discount!

If you think this doesn’t apply to you or would never work, I’d also like to remind you about the time I asked my friend about going to the Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholders’ meeting, which I did get to attend. And when I asked another friend about becoming a director of the Federal Reserve Bank, which I did become in 2005.

Remember, not only should you ask for what you want, but you should be mindful that it never hurts to ask!

Now, you all know about my bucket list item of meeting Nike founder Phil Knight

Karen

I think we all know that when we pull an all-nighter or don’t get sufficient sleep (fewer than five hours), our performance and decision making the next day are not up to par. Some of us walk around feeling tired pretty much all the time, while saying, “I can sleep when I’m dead.” Well, lack of sleep is more harmful to your health than the day-to-day results.

Three years ago, I learned about the link between getting enough sleep and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease during a meeting at the University of California, Irvine. The presentation highlighted the work being done at UCI MIND: Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders.

UCI Mind is doing research which involves testing and monitoring people of all ages to see how their memory changes over time. This extensive research maps the participants’ brains and brain functions.

In one of the presentations, a doctor who is doing the primary research told us it is important that people get at least seven and a half to eight hours of sleep each night. Why that number? That is the amount of time it takes for the human brain to “clean out” amyloid plaques. In lay terms, amyloid plaques are goopy stuff in the crevices of our brains. When we go to sleep, our bodies naturally clean out all the goopy stuff, effectively clearing the toxins from our brains. And that takes about seven and a half to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. If we do not get enough sleep to complete the “cleansing cycle,” then the goopy toxin remains. And it is that buildup of amyloid plaques that causes the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Click to read more about how our brains “self-clean” during sleep every night.

 So you can imagine what I did immediately after I listened to that doctor.

Yep, I decided to begin monitoring my sleep. I started going to sleep earlier each night. Early enough that it allowed me to set my alarm for eight hours after I went to bed.

It was an adjustment. No more late nights watching television. I put on my orange sleep glasses, do my reading, and get a good night’s sleep. I moved many of my early morning meetings back an hour or two, so I could complete my sleep cycle.

And you know what happened? I started feeling better, sharper when I first woke up, and I had more consistent energy all day long.

When I was younger, it was always fun to brag about how I burned the candle at both ends. I would stay up late and get up early. Sometimes I would exist on three to four hours of sleep. If you’re one of those people who almost wears as a badge of honor how little sleep you can function on, I would encourage you to read this.

It is doubtful that adequate sleep will eliminate the chance of memory issues. There are many other factors like genetics and inflammation in your body. (I will share some insights on this in a future post.) But the number of hours of sleep you get is 100 percent within your control. I encourage you to start monitoring your sleep. Go to bed earlier and feel better.

Good night!

Karen

I attend a lot of events each year. Big events. Small events. Events in an auditorium. Events in a classroom setting. Events with a keynote during a meal. And I’ve seen a lot of masters of ceremonies, moderators, panelists, and speakers. All with different speaking styles and public-speaking skills.

Nothing drives me crazier than speakers who are ill-prepared. And I don’t mean just scrambling to get their speech together at the last minute. I’m talking about people who know they have to give a speech and yet do not put in the work to learn anything about public speaking.

You know the signs. Mumbling. Speaking softly. Monotonous. Rushing through things. A lot of “ums.” Reading the notes instead of speaking. Not making eye contact with the audience. Using jargon not familiar to the audience.

Not doing your homework about your audience, not practicing beforehand, or just plain ol’ not learning how to publicly speak before your speech: To me that is an ill-prepared speaker.

I would like to offer what I’ve learned over the years, as both a trained speaker and a member of the audience, on how to get the most bang for your buck at your next speaking opportunity.

Me speaking at Bitten LA conference

Nail down the time

Pro tip: It’s never “as long as you want,” even if that’s what they tell you. Ask the organizer differently: “What’s the optimum amount of time? Five minutes? Fifteen minutes? How long did your best speaker ever talk?”

Know your audience

Get clear on your topic and who the audience will be. Are they C-level executives? What is their job function: buying, selling, HR? Is it a mixed group? Maybe you’re there to speak as a sponsor of the event. If you talk about your new product, does that even apply to your audience? Is anyone present the decision maker on buying your product?

Practice, practice, practice!

First, outline what you are going to talk about, then fill in the blanks. Time yourself while saying it out loud, preferably in front of a mirror, multiple times. If you are given 15 minutes, don’t ramble on for 20 minutes. Edit your remarks until you are a little under your time limit.

You can use your notes while you practice. I type out every single one of my speeches, no matter how short it may be. I use at least a 14-point type, triple spaced, and I number the pages. These steps make it much easier to rehearse and give my speech. When you have that down, practice in front of a few people and get their feedback.

Slow down, pause, and breathe

Speak more slowly than your normal speed. You may think you’re not going that fast, but in public speaking, you probably are. Slow it down so your audience can absorb what you are talking about.

Also, pauses are not a bad thing. Don’t feel the need to fill the silence. Take a beat at the end of sentences and breathe. Not only does it calm your nerves, but it gives the audience a moment to catch up and pay attention as well.

Don’t skip the sound check

Get to the venue early to do sound and technical checks before guests start arriving. That’s when you stand at the podium you are going to be presenting from and adjust the microphone so you can be heard. Get the host or a coworker to stand in the back of the room to verify that you are loud and clear. If you’re using a PowerPoint presentation, make sure you run through every slide.

Smile and stick to your script

Give the presentation or remarks that you rehearsed. Don’t ad lib! You got this.

Take a few deep breaths before you begin, find someone in the audience to make eye contact with, and smile. Smiling at your audience will make the audience smile back at you, and you can connect with them that much more.

Follow these steps, and you’ll get compliments on your presentation, and reduce the number of people texting or reading their emails during it!

I didn’t make up all these pointers on my own. Early in my career, I met the late Judith Learner, a former newscaster from Milwaukee and a professional speaking coach. I hired her to work with me for over a year. She videotaped me multiple times while giving presentations and I had to watch myself during the playback. Nothing breaks you of bad habits—flipping your hair, adjusting your shoulders, filling the silence with “ums”—better than seeing yourself on camera! Plus, I had a professional right there pointing out every one of my flaws and opportunities to be more polished.

I used to get so nervous before I gave a speech. Now, I actually look forward to it, thanks to Judith for having been a great teacher and mentor.

I hope that my pointers can help you the way Judith helped me. I’d love to hear whether these suggestions help you with your next speech. Good luck!

Karen

So, the first question is: Who needs business cards? The second is: When should you carry your business cards with you?

The answers are: everyone and everywhere.

Two groups of people look at me cross-eyed when I say this—students and the recently retired. So I have a few recommendations for both.

Students: If you are looking for a job or an internship, how is your potential employer going to get your contact information so they can offer you a job if you don’t have a business card? They are not going to write it down. And they may not want you to text it to them as that would mean giving you their cell phone number.

Recently retired: It cracks me up when I ask you for your business card, and you look at me like I’m crazy, and say, “But I‘m retired. I don’t need a business card.” How are people going to reach you? We don’t have your personal cell phone number or email address because we’ve only used your work contact info, even though we’ve become personal friends.

Both of you: Order yourself a stack of business cards. Vista Print has business cards for just $10. You can also pop by your local office supply store or even Costco. (Students: If you want something with more creative flare, try Moo.)

Make sure the font is easy to read. Include your cell phone number and email address. Students don’t need to include a mailing address, but the recently retired should.

And both groups need to have a respectable Gmail address like firstname.lastname@gmail.com or something that matches your professional personal brand. You can have that email address forwarded to your current, not so professional, email address if you don’t want to give up your old accounts. (Students: Definitely let go of your SoccerSux@hotmail.com or QTPie1994@CableProvider.com type of email addresses.)

Another email address option is a forwarding address offered by your college. Many offer one free so you can put yournamehere@alumni.yourcollege.com on your card with pride.

And, yes, take your business cards everywhere.

I cannot tell you how many times in the last month I have been at a social event, or even a work event, and I’ve met someone I want to be in touch with. You wouldn’t believe how often I’ve heard: “Oh, crap. I don’t have my business cards on me!” So I give them my card and they promise to send me their contact information, which they do about 50 percent of the time.

Just imagine: You are at a social event and you meet someone who would be a great contact for your next career move, for your business network, or who could support a charity that you love. And, oops, you don’t have any business cards on you. How disappointed would you be to miss that connection?

I always have at least three to four business cards in my wallet and in just about every bag I use—even a tiny evening clutch. Keep a few in your cell phone case. Leave some in your car. These cards have never failed to come in handy. You never know when you will meet someone interesting!

Next time you are getting ready to leave your house for anything, even a grocery run, check your wallet for business cards. You will thank me later.

Karen

About four years ago, I stopped watching the nightly news.

It seemed like no matter what channel I turned on, the only news was about the floods, the fires, the murders, corruption, and bad behaviors. It was just so depressing.

And the news magazines and papers I used to pick up at airports when I traveled weren’t much better.

While still keeping up with daily news briefs, I started reading more books, listening to most of them on Audible, and I still subscribe to a few magazines that keep me current on innovation and thought leadership.

Once in a while, on a whim, I pick up a few new magazines during my travels. They provide a bit of balance to my “always reading work publications” credo. This time around, I ended up subscribing to O, The Oprah Magazine.

The June issue arrived with the headline, “Are you ready for some good news?” I was intrigued enough to turn the pages.

The opening paragraph really got my attention because it felt like the author was in my head.

“If you’re feeling like the world is tilting on its axis, like the center cannot hold, like this country is hell-bound in the proverbial handbasket, you’re not alone.

But is it possible that reports of our impending doom have been greatly exaggerated? Why, yes it is!

In the interest of helping you sleep better tonight, we’re about to debunk a few of your most urgent worries…and give you…hope.”

Some of the issues explored in the multi-page article:

Yep, that pretty much sums up many of the things on my mind, and on the minds of many people. But to my delight and surprise, the information I read shed a positive and hopeful light on every one of those subjects.

What would happen if more networks, newspapers, and publications spent more time talking about how we can fix things, or make positive change, vs. fearmongering, or telling us about all the terrible things going on?

If they don’t or won’t change, then we have to find publications or media that will do that, and stop supporting the ones that won’t.

If you want to read about and hear good news, you can find it, but you may have to look in new places.

And that’s the positive change I chose to make. Many others have as well, which is probably why so many people are sharing positive messages on social media.

Positive messages make us feel good. They make us do good. And they promote more kindness in the world.

Let’s do more of that.

Karen

Like everyone in America, I was deeply shocked, saddened, and devastated last Friday to hear the news that there was yet another shooting at a school. This time in Santa Fe, Texas, where 10 students were gunned down and 13 more were injured.

The news took the wind out of me. I don’t know about you, but I felt helpless.

Two days later, with the shooting still fresh in my mind, I attended the annual Women Against Gun Violence luncheon, just as I have for almost 20 years. Founded by my friend Ann Reiss Lane, a former commissioner of the Los Angeles Police Department, WAGV was celebrating its 25th anniversary at this event.

As she tells it, Ann was inspired to start WAGV while serving as a police commissioner after she received a call from feminist Betty Friedan, asking, “What are YOU going to do about the NRA’s campaign to sell guns to women?”

In response to Betty’s call, Ann and a few of her L.A. friends gathered acquaintances, family members and others for a three-day conference to examine the sale of guns to women, and so much more. They ended up starting WAGV to reduce gun violence in Southern California.

These luncheons are always filled with surprises and inspiration. I remember the WAGV luncheon I attended when then L.A. Police Chief Bernard Parks got up to tell the story that every time someone was killed in Los Angeles while he was chief, he got a personal phone call. One morning his phone rang. He told us what it was like to learn that a very young girl had been shot and killed. That young girl was his granddaughter.

At this year’s luncheon, I was surprised to see a 9-year-old girl go up to the stage with her father.

Her name is Madison Rude.

Madison takes the stage

Madison told the story of when she and her dad, Steven, were at Barnes & Noble bookstore a few months ago. Passing by the magazine rack, she noticed more than 20 magazines promoting guns, photos of guns, guns sales, etc. She asked her dad why Barnes & Noble was selling gun-oriented magazines and displaying them at eye level where young children could see and pick them up. He didn’t have an answer.

A slide from Madison’s presentation

So they discussed it, and when they got home, Madison wrote a letter to the CEO of Barnes & Noble asking him to move the magazines. And then she waited. She never got a response. She actually called and emailed his office multiple times over the next few weeks, but never heard anything back.

But when they went back to that very same Barnes & Noble several weeks later, Madison noticed that almost all of the gun-oriented magazines had been moved to another display area out of the sight of young children. She asked the manager why the magazines were moved. The manager didn’t know.

At this point in the presentation, Madison told the audience that there were postcards at each of our tables pre-addressed to Demos Parneros, CEO of Barnes & Noble. She encouraged each of us to take one, sign our name, and mail it to Mr. Parneros.

When Madison got up in front of over 360 people at the WAGV luncheon, I was inspired and moved beyond measure. I realized instead of being scared and doing nothing, she took action and spoke up.

I think that’s called being an activist.

I’m sure that everyone in the audience that day was thinking the same thing I was. The same thing they thought when they saw Emma Gonzalez, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, speak at a rally following the senseless shooting at her high school.

These young people will speak up and fearlessly confront the most difficult issue with courage and conviction.

Watch out world. They’re coming to change everything.

Karen

Madison and Steven

Three weeks ago, my youngest daughter, Sophia, and I took a trip to New Zealand and Melbourne, Australia. I had a conference in Melbourne to attend May 2 to 4, so to maximize that long distance, I added about 10 days of holiday time to the trip. And it was her birthday, so it was the perfect birthday gift.

Kia Ora, Auckland!

(Kia ora means “hello” in Māori.)

We only had five days in New Zealand. The last time I was in Auckland was in 1991. The country was in a deep recession, and Auckland was quite a sleepy town. My, how times have changed! Auckland is now quite crowded, yet still very clean, and it seemed as if there was construction everywhere.

Also everywhere were these big owls! “The Big Hoot” campaign is a street art and fundraising project for New Zealand’s Child Cancer Foundation. Custom-painted owl sculptures are installed all over the city, telling unique and meaningful stories from the New Zealand community. At the end of this month, they will be displayed together one last time before being auctioned off to raise funds for the foundation.

By the way, the owl happens to be Sophia’s favorite animal!

After two days in the city, we were off to explore the north island. The most fun we had was our day trip to Hobbiton. If you are a fan of “The Lord of the Rings” or “The Hobbit” books and movies, then you will recognize these photos. This is the set where Lord of the Rings was filmed, about two hours southwest of Auckland. It was a rainy day, which made the place even more magical.

G’Day, Melbourne!

Only a four-hour puddle jump from Auckland, we landed in Melbourne, Australia. We quickly learned why Melbourne has been voted “The Most Livable City in the World” for seven straight years. The city is extremely walkable. The people are incredibly friendly. And it is refreshing that there is no tipping (gratuity), so good service is the norm!

We did a few tourist things like visit the botanical gardens and take the hop on-hop off bus around town. But my favorite thing was trying to decipher what people were saying to me.

An Australian accent is one thing, but Aussie slang is a whole other language!

After our afternoon meeting, our hostess said, “It’s time to frock up!” Frock up? Apparently, that means dress up. And then, when they were referring to other parts of the country, I heard “Tassie,” which is short for Tasmania, and “Brissie” for Brisbane.

When I got home, I did some research because I’d heard so many new words! Here are some of my favorites:

So, listen, mate. Sophia and I had a bloody good time Down Under. Our days were chockers and we didn’t get bitten by any mozzies. We were quite stuffed by the end of our 12-day trip, and I didn’t have a chance to crack onto any blokes.

Good on ya, mate!

Karen …& Koala

 

In my job, I travel often. Mostly cross-country, for a few days at a time. Adjusting to the time change from West Coast to East Coast is not usually a big deal. I can get by with a little less sleep and a lot more coffee during my trip.

However, when I travel out of the country, I am always a bit stressed about how I am going to adjust when I arrive at my destination, so that I’m fully functional. And then of course, I have the same concern when I return home.

A few months ago, I realized that I was going to travel to South Africa and Dubai in mid-March, then head to New Zealand and Australia in late April. On previous trips, Advil PM was my friend, and I took a pill when I boarded my flight to ensure a good, restful trip. I oftentimes took one each night I was gone to be sure I slept.

However, I’ve read lately about the negative effects of Advil/ibuprofen (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug or NSAID) and decided I was no longer going to take them. So, what was I going to do instead, since both these trips were certainly going to challenge my ability to adjust quickly to a 9-hour and a 19-hour time change?

I had heard that many people take melatonin to assist them in adjusting to time changes when traveling. Melatonin is a natural hormone made by the body’s pineal gland. It helps your body know when to sleep and wake up. I had taken melatonin capsules before, but they never worked for me.

But I was determined to use a natural method to assist me with my sleep management. So, off to the natural food store I went. Sitting right next to the capsules were melatonin drops. I remembered hearing that when you let drops sit under your tongue, the body absorbs the active ingredient more quickly.

So, I bought a small bottle of melatonin drops. Then I remembered my orange-tinted, blue-light blocking glasses. One of the ways to wind down at the end of the day is to wear the glasses for about an hour before bedtime. When I’ve done that, I’ve found myself getting drowsy rather quickly.

So, that’s what I packed on my first trip to South Africa. And they worked like magic. When I was ready to sleep, I put a few droppers worth of melatonin under my tongue, put on my orange-tinted glasses for about 30 minutes, and I quickly fell asleep. On my flight, I actually slept for seven hours! Each night during my stay in Capetown, I followed the same routine and I slept great the entire trip. I returned from Melbourne, Australia, this past Sunday morning feeling fully rested as I used the same routine during that trip too.

In case you’re wondering if this might work for you, I shared my routine with my co-worker Allen before he left on a business trip to Thailand. I checked with him when he returned and he was thrilled with what a difference it made in allowing him to sleep during his flights and adjust to the time change.

With so many of us exploring our bucket list by traveling around the world, I encourage you to order some orange-tinted glasses and get a bottle of melatonin drops. They will make your travels so much more enjoyable.

Bon voyage!

Karen

About four months ago, I received an email from my daughter Alex:

The son of a friend of a friend is a third-year medical student who has a one month rotation at our local Los Alamitos Hospital. Do you know of a place where he could rent a room for a month?

As I pondered the email, I thought to myself—I live by myself in a multi-bedroom home. I’ve had interns stay with me before. Should I open up my home to a complete stranger?

After all, if my child were a third-year medical student and needed a place to stay, I would think it was awesome if a friendly family offered a rent-free home to stay in.

It took me just a few minutes to decide to offer that Nathan stay at my house.

We texted a couple of times and spoke for a few minutes the weekend before he moved in. Up until that point, I had never met him in person.

What a nice guy, and what an awesome experience for both of us!

Nathan

Nathan is 25 years old and studying to be a doctor of osteopathic medicine at Western University of Health Sciences. In their third year, medical students do month-long rotations at various hospitals to experience a variety of medical fields. His first rotation while living with me was in internal medicine. He actually ended up staying another month to complete his next rotation in surgery.

I haven’t lived with anyone for a few years, so it was interesting to get up in the morning and have someone join me for coffee and breakfast.

The best part is when we meet at home in the evening and talk through our day. I find his stories about various patients interesting. During his current rotation, his descriptions of surgeries he’s witnessed intrigue me.

During the last two months, we’ve also talked about how important bedside manner is. And how you talk to a family after someone passes away (fortunately, he is quite empathetic). And how frustrating it is to work with a doctor who is ridiculously impatient and demanding.

Nathan will be moving out this weekend; I think we are both a little sad. He is paying for his entire medical education himself, so he has expressed immense gratitude for his stay at my house gratis. For me, it was a gift to spend time with a young person at the very beginning of his career, and to be reminded of the fun of having a housemate for a short period of time. (I still appreciate my solitude, which I use to breathe deeply and decompress from my daily toil.)

If you ever have the chance to host a student for a few weeks, I highly encourage it. In addition to helping them by providing a safe, clean, friendly place to stay, it is a way for you to step outside your normal schedule and circle of friends.

In August, I will be hosting up to four students for a week, while the International Maccabi Youth Games are held in Orange County! I’m excited to have the energy of students in my home again.

Karen

In the summer after my sophomore year in college, I was working on the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market for my mom. Early one morning, this guy came by with a group of Japanese visitors. He told me that he had a tour set up of the market, but the tour guide never showed up. So, he decided to direct the tour himself! When he came to our stall, I didn’t know who he was, so I tried to sell him some kiwifruit!

It turns out that guy, David, was a graduate student at the University of California, Davis, in the Agricultural and Resource Economics department. That was the same college I was attending in the same major.

That was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between David and me. When he graduated from UCD, it was I who drove him to the train station so he could ride the train across the country to catch a ship in New York and sail across the Atlantic to England for his post-graduation trip through Europe.

David ended up moving to Seal Beach, California, a few miles from where my parents lived, and we would occasionally have dinner together. Then he started an insurance agency and over time, he became our company’s insurance broker.

When he got married, I was at his wedding. (His wife’s name is Karen, so I would always be known as “the other Karen.”)

As we had children, our families spent Memorial Day together each year. And whenever David came to my office for our annual insurance renewal, we always went to the local Original Fish Company restaurant, often discussing politics. He was the only person I ever openly talked politics with.

A little over two years ago, David called to let me know he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Ever the optimist, he told me his prognosis was good. Over the months, we checked in via phone or email for updates on his treatment.

Eight months after his diagnosis, he was ecstatic that he and his youngest son were able to attend my daughter Alex’s wedding. It seems like David was always at our family’s life-cycle events, bat mitzvahs, a wedding, fundraising dinners, birthday parties, and more.

About 10 days ago, David and I spoke on the phone. He told me “he was running out of runway” and we reminisced about our fun conversations over the years. I could tell he was in a lot of pain. When we hung up, I had tears streaming down my cheeks, as I knew that was our last conversation. And this past Saturday evening, I received a message from his family that he had passed away at age 65.

I have never experienced the death of a close friend before. So many of us will experience this more and more, so I wanted to share a few of my revelations and learnings:

I know each person reading this will experience the passing of a dear loved one in the future. We all experience death in our own way. My memories are filled with happy thoughts of our first meeting back on the Los Angeles Produce Market and our silly conversations over the years. Although tears may be running down my cheeks, my heart is happy knowing that I made the time to have that last conversation and nothing was left unsaid.

As a Jewish saying goes, may his memory be a blessing.

Karen

Last week, I had the great fortune to travel to Capetown, South Africa. I was invited to speak about marketing fresh citrus in the United States to Summer Citrus from South Africa, a collaborative of a large group of South African citrus growers, along with importers, government agencies, and a few retailers.

My total in-flight time was 24 hours, plus an eight-hour layover in Dubai. With South Africa being nine hours ahead of California and my long journey in mind, I decided to arrive a few days early to adjust to the time change and do a little sightseeing.

I went to South Africa to educate a room full of enthusiastic growers about the U.S. market. What I didn’t expect was that I would in turn be educated in so many ways about this wonderful, beautiful country. I don’t know why I waited so many years to go to South Africa!

Worth the Wait

Although South Africa always seemed like a galaxy away, I prepared myself for the long flight. With in-flight movies and a few long naps, the trip did not feel as long as I had feared. Capetown alone is worth the trip. The city is beautiful, and people are super friendly and welcoming. With 40 percent unemployment, tourism is a big part of the economy.

Capetown reminds me of the San Francisco Bay area. The most dramatic sight to see is Table Mountain, a flat-top mountain, which looks over the city.

Table Mountain

Robben Island

Capetown also has Robben Island, where people used to be incarcerated; it’s similar to San Francisco’s Alcatraz Island. The most well-known prisoner there was Nelson Mandela. I highly recommend taking the ferry ride and the two-hour tour.

Our guide Derrick

The prison tours are conducted by former prisoners. Our guide was Derrick, arrested at age 18 and released when he was 23. He is now 51. His personal story and the stories he shared of what it was like to be imprisoned there were chilling. This visit was a life-changing experience for me.

Hop on an Adventure

Getting around Capetown is easy with both the City Sightseeing bus and the MyCiti bus that you can hop on and off. It’s a great way to see a city and get the full perspective with the audio tour in your own language. I was traveling alone, so I was free to get off at any point and just explore. Got some great photos as I toured the city.

And There’s Wine!

South Africa is well-known for its wine and I did get a chance to visit a winery in the wine region, Franschhoek. Sadly, due to an oversupply of wine production, many wineries are having a difficult time, so some have now opened restaurants on their premises to attract visitors. I was able to enjoy an amazing lunch at Maison Estate.

My beautiful dessert at Maison Estate

Six hours were not enough time to enjoy Franschhoek! I would definitely recommend a day or two for that region.

What a view at Maison Estate in Franschhoek region.

On my return trip home, I was able to spend about 24 hours in Dubai. That was an experience! The airport is state of the art and the city is immaculate. The world’s tallest building is the Burj Khalifa there. At night, the way it lit up looked like Paris meets New York City!

Of course, I had to visit the wholesale produce market while in Dubai. Surprisingly, it felt familiar, though I had never been to Dubai or this market before. As we walked through it both at noon and then again at 6 p.m. (it operates almost 24 hours a day), my colleague kept warning me about the forklifts, pallet jacks, and loose produce on the floor. I told him, “Hey, I grew up on the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market. This feels like I am back home!”

 

My final meeting of the day was also at the produce market, upstairs in a well-lit office. As I looked around the room. I realized there were two Jordanians, one Englishman, and an Indian who lives in Thailand. And then there’s me, a Jewish woman from California. Yes, this feels exactly like the melting pot of Southern California.

As much as I loved my 12 days in South Africa and Dubai, it sure felt good to climb into my own bed at home in Southern California. But I have to be honest: I’m already thinking about my next trip to South Africa. Perhaps a safari?

Karen

I’ve always had a fear of hot yoga.

Over the years, I’ve had friends tell me how amazing it is to do yoga in a room with a temperature over 100 degrees. I’m pretty sure my fear came from hearing that the instructor locks the door and you cannot leave during class, even if you are overheating.

At least that’s what I recall hearing.

Actually hot yoga, sometimes known as “Bikram yoga,” isn’t only about the temperature; it’s also about humidity. In some practices, it is an attempt to duplicate India’s climate―in a controlled environment―to induce copious sweating during 26 poses.

A few weeks ago, my daughters, Sophia and Alex, took a hot yoga class together. Afterward they told me how great it was. As you know by now, I’m a tad bit competitive. So when Sophia offered to take me to a hot yoga class, I said, “of course, I’d love to” with complete confidence. I did not share my previous fears with her.

In 2017, one of my goals was to take yoga. I took a dozen or so classes, so I know what the moves are. I figured hot yoga wouldn’t be much different, just in a significantly warmer room.

As it turns out, the room is between 97 and 101 degrees, depending on the time of day and the number of people in the class. Warm, moist air is pumped into the room, encouraging you to sweat. A lot. When the room got too stuffy, the instructor did open the door briefly to let in a cool breeze from the hallway. The heat simply encourages your muscles to warm up more quickly and adds to your flexibility.

The fact is hot yoga was not as awful as I thought it would be.

Admittedly, I did get a little lightheaded during my first class. I’ve now taken three classes. And I am hooked!

I learned a lot from my hot yoga experience.

First, my expectation of the experience was not quite accurate. How often do we exaggerate something in our heads, which causes us not to experience it?

Second, I leveraged my competitive nature to force myself to try something I had avoided for decades.

And finally, that which I feared became something I like.

Are there things in your life that you have been afraid of, but once you put your toe in the water and tried them out, you found that you enjoyed?

Hot yoga is definitely on that list for me.

Thanks to my daughters, I pushed through my fear and now experience it with joy and pleasure.

Think about those things in your life that you fear. Perhaps it’s being alone or being in a relationship. Maybe it’s applying for a position that you don’t think you’re qualified for or changing careers. It even could be talking with someone or stopping an ongoing conversation. Is there someone in your life that pushes your buttons―in a good way―who might help you?

Maybe it’s time to confront your fear. I did, and I am happy I did.

Karen

On Tuesday evening, I found myself trekking into Westwood, 37 miles away from my house, through the infamous Southern California traffic, to attend a roundtable at UCLA. It was hosted by the deans of the UCLA Anderson School of Management and the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Was sitting in traffic for an hour and a half worth it? Absolutely.

Judy Olian, Ph.D., is dean of UCLA Anderson School, and Willow Bay is the dean of the USC Annenberg School. Even with their well-known crosstown rivalry, they came together for a noble cause: a roundtable discussion about the unique challenges faced by women entrepreneurs.

Twenty of my fellow businesswomen from Southern California and I sat around a giant conference table and listened to other great women share their stories.

To put things in perspective, Suzy is 30, Kelsey is 32, and Jane is 59.

From left to right: Judy Olian, Willow Bay, Suzy Ryoo, Jane Wurwand, and Kelsey Doorey.

Kelsey and Jane talked about the challenge of explaining their business model and securing investors. Most investors are male, so getting them to understand a business that serves women almost exclusively is a challenge. Suzy educated us on what she looks for when investing, what a “cap table” is, and why she asks how many women are in one.

As I sat at the table, I watched the other 20 women take in the “new world of business talk.” Most of the women sitting with me were older than Jane. Cap tables, VCs, e-commerce marketing, deal sheets, and pitches were not in their lexicon when they started their careers. But they could see right in front of them that the exciting world of business and the world in general are changing. And both are decidedly more female.

I believe it was coincidental that this roundtable was held in March, which is National Women’s Month. And today, March 8, is International Women’s Day.

All I can say is that I was incredibly inspired to hear firsthand from women who are fearless, have a vision for success, and are paying it forward to create the new economy. It doesn’t matter if you are male or female, a mother, father, son, or daughter. We need people with fresh ideas, who are disruptive, create jobs, and help ensure the innovative and responsive business environment which will keep the U.S. growing and thriving.

It’s exciting and it’s time.

Karen

This past weekend, I participated in my second “Race on the Base,” a community event here in Los Alamitos—where I grew up and where Frieda’s is based.

The event on the Joint Forces Training Base is well known for its reverse triathlon race, 5K walk/run, and 10K run. Organizers added an evening fun run for kids on the night before a couple of years ago. Triathlon competitors run and ride their bikes on the actual airfield and swim in the Aquatics Training Center.

Me and my coworkers Oakley and Matt after the 5K Walk/Run

When I was in Stockholm, Sweden, in May for an international women’s conference, I was pleasantly surprised when a former Olympic athlete noticed “Los Alamitos” on my name badge. She asked, “You’re from Los Alamitos? I’ve trained there at the Base!” Up until then, I didn’t know the women’s national water polo team trains right here at the aquatics center!

One of the best photos I took on Saturday morning before I started my 5K, was of the sky, of all things. They say it never rains in Southern California. But in Los Alamitos, if often rains parachutes! And what a sight.

The Base sits on more than 1,300 acres and employs more than 850 full-time people and more than 6,000 National Guard and Reserve troops. It was formerly operated as the Naval Air Station, which also includes the Los Alamitos Army Airfield. Not a lot of people know that when Air Force One lands in Southern California, it will oftentimes land in our backyard! Even the Blue Angels have been hosted here for air shows.

Some of my local farmer friends grow strawberries and cauliflower on the Naval Weapons Station in Seal Beach, just a few miles down the road. (They lease the prime agricultural land from the government.) They often talk about the helicopters and fighter jets going in and out of the Base as the Army reservists and National Guard units train.

Many of the people who live in our community are employed at the Base. At lunchtime, it’s not unusual to see men and women in military uniforms in our local restaurants, and we all know they are reservists or active duty, serving our country.

A couple of times a year, the Base opens to the community. One is for a Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular before which you can set up your picnic on the fields, then watch a professional fireworks show. And the other, of course, is Race on the Base. These events really bring us all together: residents, businesses, and the military.

I always diligently talk about our Base with visitors. Can you tell that I’m very proud of my community?

Karen

This past weekend, I attended TEDxRiceU, an independently organized TED event at Rice University in Houston, Texas.

If you’re not aware, TED is a nonpartisan nonprofit started in 1984 and devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. Smaller, local events have sprung up all over the country as the TED organization shares its name and guidelines so others can put on TED-type talks, each of which is called a “TEDx.”

Why did I go to TEDxRiceU?

My friend Lisa Helfman was one of the speakers. Lisa’s day job is as the director of real estate for a large Texas-based grocery chain. Like many of us, she is also a mom (of two young boys, ages 9 and 12) and is constantly balancing the demands of her career and her home life. But her talk was about Brighter Bites, the nonprofit she founded, and how it’s gone national.

Lisa and Dr. Shreela Sharma, co-founder of Brighter Bites

Lisa told the captive audience that before starting Brighter Bites, her body was completely out of balance despite her healthy and happy appearance. She was throwing up daily from stress headaches, eating bad food, and drinking so much Diet Dr. Pepper that she convinced her firm to add it to the soda fountain offering.

So she joined a co-op to add more fruits and vegetables to her diet. As she started to eat more fresh produce, her kids did as well. And she did start to feel better and less stressed. One day, at a birthday party, her son said, “Mom, do I have to eat that cake? It’s too sweet. Do they have grapes or blueberries?” True story!

That conversation with her son inspired her to start Brighter Bites in Houston in 2012.

The mission is to create communities of health through fresh food. As a nonprofit, the company delivers fruit and vegetables into families’ hands through their kids’ schools, while teaching them how to choose and use a different kind of fast food. Brighter Bites now receives funding to serve families and schools not only in Houston but also in Dallas, Austin, New York City, Washington DC, and Southwest Florida.

That was indeed a great story. But that’s not the whole story.

Lisa’s TEDx message was titled “The Virtuous Cycle of Caring.” She spoke about how by caring for herself, it inspired her to care for others. And caring for others, telling her story every chance she gets, and listening to the stories of the beneficiaries of Brighter Bites caused her to feel better physically and mentally. Lisa was actually caring for herself more, as a result of caring for others.

You would think that because it was her story, one she is incredibly passionate about and knows intimately, she could easily do an extemporaneous 18-minute talk from a few bullet points on an index card.

Wrong.

You see, Lisa had set a personal goal for herself three years ago to be invited to do a TED talk.  She dreamed about it. She talked about it. It was on her goal list. Then, without her knowledge, Lisa’s staff submitted an application and nominated her to give the TED talk!

When Lisa was invited in November by Rice University to give one of only seven TEDx talks at the event, she got very serious about it.

First, Lisa brainstormed with her management team and board of directors at Brighter Bites on the right story to tell. Should it be about how her personal journey inspired her to start a nonprofit? How almost every single person she told her idea to connected her to potential sponsors, donors, and supporters? How she was introduced to one of the country’s leading epidemiologists who does research on how food consumption can change behavior and health, and ultimately help control and reduce the country’s obesity epidemic?

Then Lisa worked with her marketing agency to put together her slides and hired a speech coach to work on her delivery. She practiced multiple times a day for weeks, making small tweaks as she went to perfect the talk.

You may think that her preparation was overkill, but that’s because you don’t know Lisa like I do.

Have you ever felt like you practiced too much for a presentation to a client or for a speech? I doubt it. Most of us wish we had more time to practice! We especially wish we had a co-worker or colleague who would sit in front of us and critique our message, our style, and our slides.

I can tell you after watching Lisa’s delivery on Saturday afternoon that her preparation paid off. People queued up afterward to tell her how inspiring she was!

Not only has Lisa done a great job of taking care of herself and her children, and recognizing that she could leverage her passion to start a nonprofit that would benefit other families, but her intense professional approach to her once-in-a-lifetime chance to make a great first impression has helped spread her story across the U.S.

Lisa at TEDxRiceU. I’m so proud of my friend!

I admire Lisa for creating her own Virtuous Circle of Caring through Brighter Bites. And I’ve been inspired by her willingness to “date TED exclusively for six weeks” so she could be the most memorable and polished presenter.

We should all be a little more like Lisa.

Karen

P.S. TEDxRiceU recorded all the presentations and they will be made available on Facebook within a few weeks.

A few months ago, I shared my latest obsession with Audible, which offers an alternative to reading paper books. Essentially, it’s the most recent version of “books on tape.”

I have loved reading since I was a child. In fact, my first paid job was as a page in my local library! But as my life got busier and the time available to actually read (without falling asleep) diminished, I was ecstatic to be introduced to Audible as a way to use those long commutes up and down the Southern California freeways in a positive way.

But what to “read?” I am not a great fan of mysteries, and I did not want to listen only to motivational messages and self-help books. So I asked my friends for their recommendations and started paying attention to book reviews.

To be honest, biographies and autobiographies have always been my favorite kinds of books. To get inside the head of someone I admire or to learn about their lives from the inside out has always intrigued me.

I have listened to 15 books since I first subscribed to Audible last September, and I have found that when authors narrate their books, it’s as if you are truly inside their heads. The way they read their books, the inflection of their voices, and how they pause make the book feel like you are one-on-one with the authors.

So, let me tell you about my two latest findings.

First, spaceships. Or rather, the International Space Station. I was flipping through my Costco magazine a few months ago when I noticed that an autobiography of an astronaut was featured: “Endurance” by Scott Kelly.

Scott literally “talks” about his life’s journey, bouncing between the past and the present in alternating chapters. For example, as a boy, he was not the best student. But after reading “The Right Stuff” during college, he became determined to become an astronaut. Of course, he talks about his 340 days aboard the International Space Station—and his twin brother, Mark Kelly (whose wife, politician Gabrielle Giffords, was shot in Arizona in 2011), who is also an astronaut.

Scott’s book is captivating and eye-opening. He shares his innermost thoughts and feelings about his marriage, his kids, his family, NASA, Russian cosmonauts, you name it. Scott tells it like it is, complete with swear words!

And now, tennis shoes.

I haven’t always listened to my mother, but like me, she is a voracious reader. A few months ago, she said, “Karen, you MUST read ‘Shoe Dog’ by Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. It is the best book I have ever read!”

I thought, really mom? The best book ever? I think you’re exaggerating. But she kept saying it. Since I had run out of books to listen to, I thought, what the heck, let’s give it a go.

The introduction was read by Knight, but the rest of the book was read by two-time Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz. And boy, he sounds almost as if he has become Phil!

For me, this book had everything going for it. It was an autobiography. It was about a business person. There were plenty of challenges, inspiration, and conflict, plus many business lessons. It was a love story. And sadly, at the end, when Phil writes about losing his oldest son during a diving incident, there was extreme sadness and raw emotion.

What did I enjoy most about Phil’s story? He was passionate about running (he ran track in college), then he took that passion and turned it into a business idea—distributing running shoes manufactured in Japan. No matter what obstacle he faced—lack of money, need for personnel, challenging and lying competition, creating a new market that hadn’t existed before—he ignored them. (Gee, doesn’t that sound like somebody we know?)

Coincidentally, Phil turns 80 next week; he is ranked by Forbes as the 28th richest person in the world. He is humble and passionate. His willingness to share his story was probably cathartic in some ways, but for me, it was truly inspirational.

By the way, “Shoe Dog” may be the best book I have ever read. You were right, Mom.

Karen

P.S. Meeting Phil in person is now on my Bucket List!

A few weeks ago, I was in Hawaii on vacation. One of my great pleasures on the islands is tasting all the tropical fruits grown there. Although I sell tropical fruits for a living, the truth is that nothing tastes like a ripe fruit, right off the tree.

So, after a lunch in Hilo, we decided to walk through the local farmers market on the main street through town. In California, when I go to a farmers market, I see lots of strawberries, tomatoes, citrus fruit, and avocados. In Hilo that day, I saw mounds of starfruit, guavas, lychees, chayote, rambutans, and, alas, one of my favorites, mangosteens.

I have such fond memories of mangosteens. When I was in high school, my mom imported the first mangosteens from British Honduras, now called Belize. I remember taking some samples of the dark purple, hard-shelled fruit to school; everyone looked at me like I was crazy as I showed them how to “squeeze” the hard shell and the amazing white flesh appeared. It was like a soft, tender fruit salad. After that first imported shipment, the USDA announced that the fruit could no longer be imported due to agricultural restrictions; many tropical fruits pose a threat to California agriculture as they are hosts to damaging pests.

Currently the only fresh mangosteens we get on a consistent basis are from Thailand and they have to be irradiated due to agricultural restrictions. Just recently we have been able to import them from Mexico.

But nothing rivals my memories of eating my first mangosteen back in high school. That was until my recent day in Hilo.

As we waited for our plane to arrive to take us to Maui, we tore through the bag of mangosteens. As you can see, we made a bit of a mess. A yummy mess!

And in case you’re wondering about the medicinal qualities of mangosteens (aka the Queen of Fruits), it is the outside shell that is used for its possible curative properties. The shell is dried and ground up to use as a supplement. Personally, I am satisfied with just the amazing flavor.

Next time you are in Hawaii, I encourage you to buy a dozen or so fruits. You will be surprised at how sweet and refreshing they are. But don’t try to bring any home to the mainland as there are strict penalties for smuggling fresh produce to the mainland U.S.!

I guess I’ll just have to go back to Hawaii soon for my mangosteen fix!

Aloha,

Karen

I’m sure I am not the only person who feels like her email inbox is being flooded daily with an overwhelming number of solicitation, informational, and junk emails, interspersed with important email communications from clients, suppliers, friends, etc.

And let’s add in there all the newsletters and media sources that feel like they need to keep us up-to-date on the latest “breaking news” multiple times a day.

For me, it’s over 200 emails a day.

Which is probably why “sort by sender” and “delete” are my two most used functions in Outlook.

Sometimes there is information I want to know about. But honestly, I don’t have time to read every single email I receive. And I just hate leaving items in my inbox, in the hope that I will go back and read them, because as my inbox continues to fill up, I ultimately, eventually delete all those “really wanted to read, but didn’t have time” emails.

Enter: Paper newsletters and magazines.

Or rather, “RE-enter.”

Remember when magazines, newspapers, and newsletters were the way we got all of our information? This was before the internet and emails, before Huffington Post and BuzzFeed. We read the daily paper newspaper from our community or region. We subscribed to magazines like Time, People, and Sunset.

And then, as the digital world expanded, the end of the paper-based news economy was predicted. There would be no newspapers and magazines would disappear.

That kind of happened for a while. But now, it seems to me that “everything old is new again.”

With the digital flooding in my inbox, I now look forward to the real paper magazines, newspapers, and newsletters I receive. I can read them at my own pace, whether on a long flight, at the nail salon, or on a leisurely Sunday morning with a cup of coffee.

And I don’t think I’m alone. In my own (produce) industry, I’ve noticed that while I continue to receive dozens of emailed breaking news items daily, it is the paper monthly magazines that get my attention the most. The glossy, color periodicals that arrive on my desk are the ones that I am able to thumb through when I am on hold. If an article is interesting and I want to share it―I rip it out and route it to my colleagues.

So, if you do any kind of communication for your business, social club, or church, I’m not sure you should have a 100-percent digital strategy. Perhaps you should consider the old-fashioned way of keeping people in the loop and send a paper newsletter. You might be surprised at how many of your customers, friends, and colleagues find it refreshing.

Comic from Poofytoo.com

Who would have thought that paper would ever be a challenge to digital? I’m sure other surprises are coming too.

Karen

On the last day of my week’s vacation on Maui, as I was getting ready for my morning walk, the Emergency Alert went off on my phone at 8:05.

I glanced at the message, and heard the echo of the alarm going off on every cell phone of the hundreds of people, attending a medical trade show, who were in the same outdoor lobby area as me.

It became surreal when I read the words, “Ballistic Missile Threat” and “this is not a drill.”
Almost immediately, my cell phone rang. It was my daughter, Alex, calling me from our hotel room on the ninth floor. “What do I do, Mom?”

“Get your clothes on and take the stairs next to the elevator and I will be standing at the bottom of the stairwell.”

The only thing that went through my mind at that moment was September 11, 2001. What did the people who survived do if they were in the Twin Towers? (They immediately made their way to ground floor of the building.)

She was down the stairs and next to me in what seemed to be seconds.

I’m sure you’ve seen the posts on Twitter, Facebook, and in the news. Actually, we both were checking Twitter constantly to get some sense if this was really happening.

We were with hundreds of people on the bottom floor of a very large hotel. There was no screaming, no rushing, no panic. We saw young moms and dads holding their infants tight, with bottles and diapers in tow. We saw people struggling to get their pants on, as many rushed out of their hotel rooms with their clothes in hand. We did see people crying and many people calling their families and loved ones. The hotel staff directed us into ballrooms, which were large and “safe” (still not sure what that means). Everyone stayed amazingly calm.

So, what do you do when you learn that a ballistic missile is headed toward you? As it turns out, not a whole heck of a lot.

It’s not like you can go to higher ground, like when there is a tsunami warning. And none of us was aware of any shelter-type areas in the hotel (although I figured the stairwell would be the safest and most secure).

It was over in about 20 minutes when the hotel staff announced that they had checked with the Maui Police Department and there was no missile threat. About 15 to 20 minutes after that, we got an Emergency Alert text telling us there was no missile threat and it was a false alarm. Those first 20 minutes flew by. Our hearts were pounding.

But most interesting was what I observed after the “all clear” sign was given.

All the business people went back to work. Our hotel was the home base for a medical trade show, so everyone went back to their booths.

I took a walk along the beach path and walked by four or five hotel pools, which normally would be surrounded with people sitting on beach chairs. There was no one at first. Then, within 45 minutes, all the chairs were filled. I overheard parents talking to their young children, saying things like, “it was OK to be scared.”

I also noticed for the rest of the day that there was an air of calmness, civility, and patience. I realize that I was in Hawaii, where everything is usually calmer than on the mainland, but even the tourists were nicer.

It’s like what happens at Christmastime…everyone is just nicer to one another. All of us strangers had faced a seemingly dire situation together that morning; it had bonded all of us on the island. So everywhere we went, people were nicer, patient, and considerate.

When Alex and I were driving to the airport, we debriefed on our morning. These are the things we discussed:

What I learned? Life is short. Do the things you want. Tell the people you love and care about that you love and care about them.

And, yes, I do plan to return to Maui later this year. No threat of a ballistic missile is going to keep me away from the beautiful skies, the warm beaches and ocean breezes, and the amazing food.

Aloha,

Karen

Alex and me on our way to Maui

As I am writing this, I am aboard a flight from Houston, Texas, back to Orange County, California. My first business trip of the year started on January 2 and took me to Ohio, where the temperature each morning was 4 degrees. Thankfully, my gloves and thick winter coat kept me insulated from the freezing cold.

Sometimes, the dramatic change in the weather from one place to the next when you are traveling on business can affect your attitude. You know what I mean—you can be a little testy, grouchy, and not a lot of fun to be around.

Can you imagine what it must be like for flight attendants—especially during this first week of the year when non-business travelers are making their way back from their holiday vacations, and students are headed back to college, and one of the worst storms of the decade is blasting the Midwest and East Coast?

So, as I made my connection in Houston and boarded my flight home to Orange County, I did what I always do when I board the plane and said hello to the flight attendant. I could tell she wasn’t having a great day. Many flights had been canceled. When I jokingly asked about getting coffee, she let me know right away that she hadn’t even set up the galley yet.

Based on her response, I wasn’t expecting a lot on this flight home.

As the flight attendant came down the aisle shortly after the flight took off, I asked for her name.

“Althea,” she said.

“That’s a beautiful name!”

She then asked for my name, which kind of surprised me.

About 30 minutes into the flight, I was startled out of my reading when someone said, “Karen, did you say you wanted some coffee?” I mean, who knew my name on this flight?

It was Althea.

“You caught me off guard, Althea!” She giggled, and she had that smile on her face for the rest of the flight.

We connected just by knowing each other’s names. And that is all it took to change someone’s attitude.

How often do you sense that someone you are interacting with is having a bad day? Like a server at the restaurant, a checker at the grocery store, the person parking your car, or even a complete stranger in line ahead of you who is grouchy or grumpy. Do you check them off as being rude and act grouchy right back at them?

The next time you encounter those people, I would encourage you to stop for a moment and perform a small act of kindness. I’m not talking about things as dramatic or expensive as those “SoCal Helpful Honda People,” springing acts of kindness across the region from giving away free pumpkins for Halloween to helping a military member get home for the holidays. (They talked about some of these acts on their radio spot. I think it’s a brilliant marketing campaign!) I’m talking about just simply treating everyone as a person. Look them in the eye, smile, say, “have a great day,” and mean it. Find out their name. Pay them a sincere compliment or thank them for their service.

These days, there are a lot of angry, grouchy people out there. People who are having a bad day for a variety of reasons—and it’s not just the weather. I do know that being kind and making a personal connection with a complete stranger can be a game changer for them and for me.

The Dalai Lama said, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” So, why don’t we start the new year with being kind, and making it our New Year’s resolution? Smile at everyone you see even if you don’t know them. Ask strangers their names and make them feel important.

Oh, and Althea did get me some coffee after all!

Karen

I don’t know about you, but this year just flew by for me. Thankfully, the great thing about being a blogger is I can recall most of the things that were on my mind this year as I wrote them all down!

Looking Back

It has been gratifying to see people’s reaction and responses to my posts here. And when I repost on LinkedIn, I get a real-time sense whether what I am writing about is relevant.

To Hug or Not to Hug” is my most read and shared post of 2017. Soon after that post, the big Hollywood misconduct story broke, and people who discovered my post later were surprised that I would write about that in this climate. When I wrote it, I wanted to talk about how important personal, and sometimes physical, connection has become in this age of impersonal communication technology. Interesting turn of events, isn’t it?

Another interesting and controversial topic I wrote about last year is The Unexpected Question About Cannabis. It’s the hottest California crop right now and a very timely subject to discuss because it’s going to be legal in California in just a few days.

Even more polarizing was my recent post about Non-GMO Madness. It’s good to understand different points of view and get all the information we need to make an informed decision.

The next popular post was Lessons from Billionaire Stewart Resnick. My key takeaway from Stewart is that you have to spend time on things you don’t like in order to do the things you really love. It is clear that this message resonates with many of you.

It also became clear to me that we are all getting bored with our fitness routines when I posted Why I Quit My Gym. Just so you know, I’m still changing things up as I go.

I’m also thrilled that I got to share one of my all-time favorite books with you. I hope The Five-Second Rule That Changes Everything is also now one that you follow.

Looking Forward

As we reflect on the past year and give some thought to what we want to do in 2018, I am happy to share what I’m thinking for the new year:

Spend time with my top 5 people. As my dear friend Jack Daly advised, think about the top three to five people (besides your family members) who you spend the most time with. Are they “upping your game, adding to your life?” Or does hanging out with them feel like an obligation? I’ve decided to only spend time with people who are positive, add to my life, and I truly enjoy. No more obligations!

See the country…and the world. I already have trips planned this year to visit the Grand Canyon, Maui, South Africa, Australia, Panama, and Italy. There is no time like the present to work on that bucket list!

Golf more. I have been enjoying golf since I picked up the clubs earlier this year, so I want to do more of that. And the best part is being outdoors and being with friends.

Hug! You already know that I’m a hugger. And I will keep hugging people when I see them!

Allocate some private time for myself every day. Whether it is first thing each morning when I meditate or when I journal at the end of the day, making quiet time for me is an important part of work/life balance.

Source: Woodbourne Designs LLC on Etsy

Happy New Year, and may 2018 be the best ever!

Karen

I noticed a dramatic decrease in the number of holiday cards I received at work this year. This could be due to people trying to be more mindful of the environment by using less paper, trying to save money, realizing that sending out cards en masse for business may be out of date, or all of the above.

Whatever the reason is, I’m happy fewer cards are sent. Let me tell you why.

In business, I do not understand sending a holiday card to a supposedly important client, when there is nothing personal about the card. You know what I mean.

The inside of the card is pre-printed with the sending company’s name or logo, which may or may not include the names of the owners or the employee who sent it. And don’t get me started on adding digital signatures!

Although mail-merged, printed address labels are obviously impersonal, I can understand the efficiency of that method. But digital signatures?

If I’m an important client of a company, how important do I feel if I get a pre-printed card that looks like it was ordered from a card company from 20 years ago with a digital signature and no personal message? Not at all, that’s how I feel.

There is no personal relationship here with this card someone picked out of a catalog from a greeting card company they’ve been buying from for years. Nobody stopped to ask, “Does this still make sense to send these cards?”

Going with digital cards doesn’t make it much better either. A “happy holidays” email blasted out to a mass email list may have a clever image of the staff or product, but it doesn’t have a personal note from whoever is sending it. Just what I need for the holidays, another impersonal email taking up space in my inbox.

These days, people want a personal connection. In today’s world, where we can be overwhelmed and deluged with mass emails and robo-calls, it’s nice to receive a personal message, especially during the holidays.

Everyone should make their own decision on whether they want to invest the time and money to send out holiday cards. My only request is to think about what message you are sending with your holiday greeting choices.

For me, it has always been that personal touch. For business, I send my contacts personalized emails, one person at a time. If it’s a close relationship, I text them and sometimes we end up chatting on the phone after.

As for my personal greeting cards, I’m old-fashioned. I hand-address my holiday cards. Yes, I could have printed labels, but it’s important to me personally to address them myself because as I address them, I think about each person and send my loving thoughts to them. It’s an intention I make with each and every card I send.

If you do decide to send out a holiday card or email, consider adding a special touch to your greeting by making a donation to a charity in honor of your friends and colleagues. It could be to their favorite charities or a cause of your choice that you know they’d support.

Keep it real this holiday season!

Karen

Non-GMO vodka? Really?

When I saw this ad, I realized it’s finally time to blog about GMOs. I have been putting off writing this post for many years because GMOs are a controversial subject. And that is mostly because many people do not know the facts about GMOs. So I will share some of what I know and what I’ve learned so far, in hopes that you will be more enlightened to make your own decision about them.

First of all, what is a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) when it comes to crops? GMOAnswers says this:

Genetic engineering, also referred to as biotechnology, allows plant breeders to take a desirable trait found in nature and transfer it from one plant or organism to the plant they want to improve, as well as make a change to an existing trait in a plant they are developing. Some examples of desirable traits commonly transferred include resistance to insects and disease, and tolerance to herbicides that allows farmers to better control weeds.

Clearly, GMO is a scientific term, stating exactly what it is—a genetically modified organism. I’m sure a roomful of scientists didn’t think that one day the term GMO would be used when referring to consumer goods, especially food.

The words “genetically modified organism” sound scary from the get-go. So it does not surprise me that most people react negatively to the term, even if they don’t know what GMO stands for. (“Something that has to do with genetics?” is what I usually hear.)

Furthermore, it didn’t help that in the earlier days of GMO science, there were stories going around about scientists putting the genes from fish into vegetables, causing concern for people who have fish allergies. Some of those stories are still going around today.

Here are some facts about GMOs.

Currently only 10 crops in the U.S. have been genetically engineered (using precise plant breeding) and are commercially available. They are corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, one papaya (the rainbow variety from Hawaii), some squash, one potato (less-browning), and one apple (non-browning Arctic variety). Some of these items only have one cultivar, like the Arctic apple, which was created using genetic engineering, meaning that the rest of the varieties were not genetically modified.

What bothers me most about the term GMO is that an entire industry has sprung up around the frenzy, such as the Non-GMO Project, which claims to verify products for being non-GMO even when, in fact, those products don’t include any of the 10 crops listed.

A prime example is the vodka shown above in the ad. While some vodka is distilled from potatoes, Ketel One is made with wheat. Oh, excuse me, it’s “non-GMO grain.” Since wheat is already a non-GMO crop, this really isn’t anything to write home about. Yet, the company decided to jump on the non-GMO bandwagon and make a claim that makes the consumer wonder about other brands of vodka.

I personally don’t think that’s right.

Even though our media seems to thrive on scaring viewers, or inciting worry and filling people with doubt, I get mildly annoyed when I see “Non-GMO Verified” on foods that are simply outside of that category.

Now, the website GMOAnswers I cited from earlier is supported by many seed companies that fund research in seed production, which may include genetically engineered products. I also know that there are many forms of breeding, of which genetically engineered is just one. There are old technologies like natural breeding, and some very new technologies like gene editing with CRISPR/Cas9.

I know that the technological advances being made in food production and agriculture can help us grow more food to eradicate hunger on the planet, producing plants that are disease-resistant or drought-tolerant, or plants that can thrive on over-salinized soil or that contains additional nutrients. For example, Golden Rice is genetically-modified to contain beta-carotene to fight vitamin A deficiency in south and southeast Asia. And with the way that the Cavendish bananas we know and love are suffering from a catastrophically devastating disease, GMO may be the only way to save the world’s crop.

In contrast, there is an ever-growing movement toward nutrient-dense foods, dealing with mineral depletion in our diet, and more organic food production, which is wonderful and affordable for first-world countries that have plenty of disposable income.

So, what can you do? Educate yourself. Know that just because you read it on the Internet does not make it the truth. In doing research for this post, I found websites that had clearly incorrect information on them, information that was written with a hidden agenda to promote their products, their brands, and their lifestyle.

Next time you see “Non-GMO Verified” on a product package, I hope you will see if the product is one of the 10 crops listed above.

Also, by definition, anything that is USDA-certified Organic cannot use GMO crops.

Disclaimer: I am not unilaterally for or against GMOs. I am in favor of knowing all the facts from both sides of the conversation and forming one’s own opinion. Eyes wide open.

Karen

I’m a coffee drinker. Actually, in some ways I am a bit of a coffee snob. At home, I’ve switched from my beloved Peet’s coffee (which I have brewed every morning for at least 15 years) to my new favorite, Lavazza Classico medium roast. It’s not quite as strong as Peet’s, yet very rich-bodied.

But occasionally, especially in the evenings, I like to have a cup of tea. Especially when I am cold.

I’m pretty boring with the tea—Lipton’s black tea and hot water.

But last week, while visiting a tea-drinking friend, I was introduced to a much more sophisticated form of the home tea experience.

Enter the Breville One-Touch Tea Maker.

You can watch a four-minute YouTube video about how the One-Touch Tea Maker works.

Here is a quick recap of what I learned about tea: Different types of tea (black, green, or herbal) require different temperatures of water and lengths of time for steeping. Who knew?

 

As someone whose tea experimentation has revolved around ordering Earl Grey or English Breakfast tea when I am out and only drinking Lipton’s when I’m home, I was intrigued with what is known as “The Art of Tea.” I never considered that different tea types might have optimal flavor when brewed at difference temperatures. Or that steeping time would have such a tremendous effect.

But then again, I am a coffee drinker. I do understand the difference between Robusta and Arabica coffee beans and that you grind them differently depending on whether you have a drip coffee maker, French press, or pour-over cone.

I actually do have a Nespresso machine, a large French press, and my tried-and-true Capresso coffee maker, all sitting on my kitchen counter. And an electric kettle that I bought last year for making my evening tea.

But now, after watching the One-Touch Tea Maker, with its basket being slowly lowered into perfectly heated water, I can see how tea drinkers would enjoy their own specialty tea-brewing accessory to make their tea experience as enjoyable as my early morning coffee-brewing ritual.

So, if you have a close friend or loved one who just loves tea, you may want to splurge and get them a One-Touch for Hanukkah or Christmas. Or maybe for yourself!

Happy tea drinking!

Karen

One of my goals this year has been to see if I like playing golf. (I wrote about this in an earlier blog.)

I found an instructor, bought a set of clubs, and have been periodically going to the driving range to practice. For some reason, I had it in my head that I needed to keep practicing for a while, before I should head out to play actual golf on a golf course.

And then my instructor had to take a break from teaching, and I got busy with other things. So it’s been a couple of months since I’ve hit the ball. But last weekend, I went to visit friends in Prescott, Arizona, and when they heard I had taken up golf, they arranged for us to play a round.

Needless to say I was a little nervous. In addition to the fact that I hadn’t hit a ball for two months, I also had never played a full round of golf before. Thankfully my friends were easy going, and we didn’t have to keep score.

At the end of the afternoon, as we were heading off to the last hole, I realized I had gained a few insights:

  1. It’s a good idea to take a practice swing before hitting the ball. It loosens you up and helps set the pace for your next swing (the real one). This is the same as other parts of your life, sales, for example; it’s always a good idea to practice your sales pitch before your actual presentation to get the right pace.
  2. Don’t wait too long between your practice swing and the actual swing – if you stand there too long, you will tense up, concentrating and thinking so hard. The same thing can happen in sales. If you are concentrating too hard to make a sale, or give a sales pitch, you can cause tension in yourself. It’s better to breathe deeply, relax, and do a quick run through before your presentation. Then, with the same rhythm, speak to your actual client.
  3. If you only practice (like go to the driving range) and never jump in and play (a round of golf), you won’t fully appreciate the entire golf experience. In sales, I would equate this to the person who spends an enormous amount of time preparing for a sales presentation, tweaking every slide, considering every possibility that will come up in the conversation, rather than using the information she has and enjoying the sales conversation.

In life, and in sales, just like in golf, there are hills and valleys in the conversation, sand traps, fast greens, and trees in the way. But the key is to use all the clubs you have in your bag, admit when you’ve lost a ball, enjoy the scenery, and at the end of the day, be grateful, not frustrated with the experience.

Thanks to my friends David and Paula Lund for so many life lessons on the golf course.

Happy golfing and Happy Thanksgiving!

Karen

My friends David and Paula My high school friend, Paula and me

I attend a lot of events. Many are for business, like the one I attended in San Francisco earlier this week—#BrandStorm. About 200, mostly strangers, gathered in a giant ballroom listening to interesting speakers and then moving to meal functions and breakout sessions over two days.

Just before the second day’s morning session, many people were taking their seats around the room, arranging themselves at the round tables for 10. And I noticed something. I immediately put my things down, grabbed my coffee, and started moving around the room, saying hello to a few industry friends and familiar faces. If I didn’t know someone at a table, I smiled, and then introduced myself and asked them to do the same.

But what I noticed was that no one was doing the same thing. No one.

PHOTO CREDIT: Flickr/Gauthier Delecroix

I realize I am an extrovert, and a morning person, so this kind of thing is kind of in my genes. But it really struck me that not a single other person in a room of about 200 was introducing themselves. Everyone seemed to be checking their email or looking over the program. And this was a marketing conference, so it would make sense that people would be introducing themselves and getting to know others. And that’s when it hit me. “Networking” has almost become a bad word.

It used to mean a way you meet new people, but now it’s become work. Like, it takes a lot of effort and you may have to try really hard. It may not seem natural or authentic. You may appear to be working the room.

My blog post last week, “To Hug or Not to Hug,” received almost 8,000 views on LinkedIn alone, more than three times as many as most of my blogs. I sense that the message of physical touch really resonated with people.

The lack of networking at #BrandStorm and the reaction to that blog have made me realize that in this day of email overload, the need to be available 24/7, and our apparent inability to “unplug,” people really do want connection. Physical connection. Personal connection. Emotional connection. We crave them all.

So, I’ve decided that instead of using the word “networking” and having that visual image of working the room, we should call it “connecting.” Connecting makes you feel differently. It’s not work. It’s personal. It’s satisfying. It’s sincere.

As we move into the holidays and attend many social events, keep in mind that you will be able to connect with people. And hopefully that will bring a smile to your face!

Karen

PHOTO CREDIT: Flickr/Greentech Media

Have you noticed that it is not entirely unusual for people in business to hug each other when saying hello or goodbye? Back in the day, when we had a business meeting, we were all very formal, and shook hands before and after meetings. We would never think of hugging someone we do business with. Hugs were reserved for family members and very close friends.

But I’ve noticed that it has become OK to hug people in business and I think it says a lot about what’s going on in the world today.

I think all of us need a hug every once in a while. In this time of being Facebook “friends” or LinkedIn “connections,” it’s hard to know who is really your friend and who is just a connection (formerly referred to as an acquaintance). With so many people in business working remotely or from their home offices, it’s hard to feel connected to your work colleagues. And if you travel a lot, or just have a long commute, it’s equally as hard to feel connected to your family.

So what do you do?

One of my coworkers, Oakley, used to ride a commuter bus to work in downtown Los Angeles. Five days a week, she rode on the bus with the same group of strangers. Over the years, they got to know each other. Now, many years later, they have all changed jobs multiple times. And they have an annual reunion dinner because they became actual friends! Their bond? Riding the bus together, first as strangers.

For me, I’ve noticed some unintended consequences of connecting with industry work colleagues via Facebook. As I see photos of their family vacations, life cycle events, or personal challenges (like running a marathon), I feel more connected to them. Now when I see them at an industry event, I know quite a bit about them (based on their posts) and suddenly there is a personal connection. Instead of shaking their hands, I find myself hugging them and asking about their family, their new child or grandchild, or home. It’s amazing how connected you feel when people open up and share what’s going on in their personal lives.

Photo Credit: Flickr/Kashmut

I still do shake hands with new business colleagues or acquaintances. But after a nice meal together, I find myself saying goodbye with a hug, more often than with a handshake. And I’ve noticed the same thing happening with both women and men. I see a lot of guys do that “chest bump” hug that doesn’t look entirely sincere, but provides the same affectionate bonding.

How do you feel about this? Do you find yourself only shaking hands with people you meet, or have you found the same thing going on? That a hug is more satisfying? It provides a different kind of connection, one we all need.

So, in this day of pervasive working remotely, commuting two to three hours a day, or finding your closest friends are your Facebook friends, I give you permission to hug people, instead of just shaking their hands.

I think you will find, like I have, that the personal, tactile connection is deeply satisfying and grounding. And helps you get through the day.

Hugs,

Karen

Last Saturday evening I was invited to a gratitude party for L.A. Compost. “Gratitude Party.” What a great way to thank your supporters in a non-pretentious way. And the price of entry? Make a donation of an amount you feel comfortable with to support L.A. Compost!

Getting there was a bit of a driving adventure as it was located in a warehouse/gallery in a small neighborhood near Dodger Stadium (Go, Dodgers!). Even though it was only about 20 miles from my house, it took an hour to get there, weaving through the neighborhoods of South Central L.A. It actually wasn’t too far from Chinatown and DTLA (downtown LA), and the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market where I worked after college.

The founder of L.A. Compost, Michael Martinez, greeted the small group of 80 people shortly after I arrived. His story was so inspiring. Originally from Los Angeles, he ended up as a Teach for America school teacher in Miami-Dade, Florida. During his time as a teacher, Michael was astounded that the young people he worked with didn’t know where their food came from. He helped the students, their families, and the community create communal gardens at the school. He remembers the kids getting so excited to see broccoli and other vegetables growing that they actually fought over who would get to eat the food!

Me with Michael of L.A. Compost

When he relocated back to Los Angeles, and with the passion that obviously percolated while working for Teach for America, he decided he wanted to make a difference here in SoCal. So he founded L.A. Compost, a nonprofit that began by working with four schools to lead students in composting waste from cafeteria kitchens. Michael also oversees compost and garden hubs at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles and the University of Southern California, where he runs school and community workshops.

L.A. Compost has grown and now helps set up composting hubs around the greater Los Angeles area.

The gallery where the event was held was filled with various pop-up displays demonstrating how composting works and highlighting a few other organizations. Two of the pop-ups really caught my eye.

Imperfect Produce offers home delivery of misshapen fresh fruits and vegetables that would normally not make its way to consumers. Its business model is, essentially, to seize the rejects! Imperfect Produce, an actual company, and other organizations are finding ways to reduce the amount of wasted food by making it “sexy” to be ugly, misshapen, and dimply. (Conventional supermarkets and club stores typically insist on consistently sized and pristine-looking produce, and will reject it for blemishes or marks that really have no effect on the eating quality.)

Next to Imperfect Produce was a pop-up for L.A. Kitchen, which was started in 2015 by Robert Egger (who also started the famous DC Central Kitchen). Robert created a teaching kitchen, reclamation center for wasted food, and feeding facility for low-income senior citizens all rolled into one. It’s really brilliant. Gather up the food that would normally go to waste and give it to the hungry.

What was so interesting about these two organizations is that they explained to me how they find themselves working together. If Imperfect Produce has fruits and vegetables it does not get orders for, it is donated it to L.A. Kitchen, which then processes the fresh produce into food and meals for the hungry. And if L.A. Kitchen has excess fresh produce, it oftentimes allows Imperfect Produce to market it.

If you’re reading my blog, chances are you have never known hunger. However, whether you know it or not, you probably live in a city or county that does have extreme hunger. Many times it is camouflaged. People are ashamed to say they are hungry. Through my work with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County, I have learned that even in my own county thousands of people (many of them young children, entire families, and seniors) experience food insecurity every week.

Many of us do what we can to help alleviate hunger. We provide canned food during a food drive or we write checks to food banks and other organizations who provide food to the hungry. We may volunteer at a food kitchen during the year or during the holidays.

But how many of us will make it our personal mission, our career or avocation, to find solutions to help feed the hungry? To educate people on how they can personally make a difference? To literally walk the talk?

I say that Michael Martinez is a pretty amazing guy to find such a holistic way to create and promote healthier lifestyles. He has partnered with existing organizations (like Imperfect Produce, L.A. Kitchen, and others) and continues to use his training as a teacher to educate young people on how to make healthy choices and create a healthier planet.

Like many, I recycle at my home and in our office. I’ve thought about composting at my house, but was talked out of it by friends who said, “It can be smelly.” After attending Michael’s gratitude party, I think I need to do further investigation into composting. Perhaps that will help me with my next big project: a home garden!

Karen

In May, I attended the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska. It was exciting to watch and listen to the Oracles of Omaha (Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger) answer questions about their investment decisions.

But even more exciting and intellectually stimulating was what I experienced the day before when I attended an invitation-only meeting of global business leaders. There were about 100 of us in the hotel meeting room and during the course of the day, a variety of participants got up and talked about trends, leadership, their life’s journey, and more. They came from all over the world: Oman, Australia, California, Iowa, and Switzerland, to name a few.

At the end of the day, our host and facilitator stood in front of the room and asked people to share their main observations: takeaways and “aha”s.

Meditation was on the top of the list.

Yes, meditation had been mentioned by many of the leaders and CEOs in our group. Honestly, I was quite surprised to learn that so many of the world’s business leaders practice meditation. Common threads in their comments were that it was a way to create calm in the day, to give them time to get centered, and to get rid of distractions, and it helped create some inner peace.

After I traveled home from Omaha, I kept thinking in the back of my head—I really want to learn to meditate.

A few months ago, one of my personal advisors suggested I take at least 10 minutes every day to sit still and be quiet. Like many of us in business, I feel like I am constantly on the hamster wheel of life and the only time I stop is when I roll into bed at night. Go-go-go. That’s what it’s always felt like. It was nearly impossible for me to think about sitting still for 10 minutes and not doing anything. But I did try it. I was inconsistent, but I started to do it on the weekends when I was home alone. And sometimes when I got home at night, I would make a conscious effort to sit quietly in a dark area of my house and do nothing. It felt weird at first, but then it got better.

Then, about a month ago, a friend of mine told me she had started meditating. And I said, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to meditate.” She said she uses an app on her phone and she shared it with me (there was a free trial).

So, I downloaded the app, got up a little earlier the next morning and listened to the guided meditation (for 20 minutes total). What I liked about this guided meditation is that Oprah gives a 1- to 2-minute overview, then Deepak Chopra shares a 2- to 3-minute insight. Then he gives you a specific mantra and peaceful music plays for 13 to 14 minutes as you repeat the mantra to yourself.

And then I would start my day.

So, I’ve been meditating for four weeks and this is what I’ve learned:

  1. I actually look forward to my meditation time. I used to be rush-rush-rush in the morning, but now I take my time. The meditation actually sets my intention for the day.
  2. I’ve noticed that I feel more calm and clear at work. More focused. Not so distracted.
  3. I am sleeping better at night.

A couple of days last weekend, I had the time to meditate a second time in the afternoon. I re-listened to the same meditation as in the morning. I felt energized and clearer. I found myself getting excited just thinking about meditating a second time on the same day.

In casual conversation with two male acquaintances over the last few weeks, both told me they had been thinking about meditating as well. I shared the link above and both of them, business executives, are trying it out.

Many Fortune 500 CEOs use this mindfulness practice: Rupert Murdoch, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Ford, and Arianna Huffington, to name just a few. Harvard Business Review published this article about the trend in 2015.

Many meditation apps are available. Check out headspace.com and calm.com for starters. If you’re wondering if meditation is for you, just think about it. And if you already meditate, I would love to hear from you.

Namaste,
Karen

October 5 was National Kale Day! Woo-hoo!

Last year, I wrote about National Kale Day and about how it started. And how it seemed that everywhere you turned, you would see kale being featured as the new “it” food. It’s an ingredient in salads at fast casual restaurants like McDonald’s and Chic-Fil-A. And all sorts of snack companies, like Brad’s Kale Chips, have popped up.

I attended an industry luncheon this week where kale was a featured ingredient in the salad. Honestly, a salad made with just chopped kale, diced beets, and feta cheese left me a little cold (and hungry). I found it unappealing. And I’m in the industry!

I’m guessing that many consumers are feeling the same way when food companies take a popular food and try to insert it into their menus every way possible.

What was appealing about kale in the first place? It was the dense nutrient content (vitamin A and fiber), plus the natural healing properties of cruciferous-type vegetables. But no one really wanted to EAT kale—because it’s so fibrous and chewy—so they juiced it.

And I think that’s what started the “kale craze.”

Photo: Flickr/Noelle

My first real exposure to the health benefits of kale was when I watched this TEDx talk by Dr. Terry Wahls at TEDx Iowa City 2011. The talk is entitled, “Minding your Mitochondria.” In a nutshell, Dr. Wahls was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2007. She quickly declined, began taking doctor-prescribed medicine, and did chemo, but she declined further to the point that she was wheelchair-bound and could barely move on her own. Thankfully, due to her curiosity and her research training, she found a different way to treat her MS. In fact, if you take the 18 minutes to watch to her TEDx talk, you will see the role that kale (and other nutrient-rich greens, berries, vegetables, plus grass-fed meats) played in her almost 100 percent recovery.

Yes, you read that correctly—her almost 100 percent recovery.

If you are concerned about food allergies (including dairy and gluten), arthritis, asthma, fibromyalgia, dementia, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, MS, Parkinson’s, to name a few, then I highly recommend watching this 18-minute, life-changing TEDx talk.

After watching it multiple times, I am more compelled than ever to have a kale-based green drink every day and to increase my consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. For my health and vitality.

So, yes, this week we celebrated National Kale Day! Do yourself and your family a big favor, and have some kale.

Karen

I am a lifelong learner. I love to attend seminars and workshops, and read online content about self-improvement, marketing trends, entrepreneurs, business, food, and all sorts of things. And I’m a magazine reader, but for some reason I had gotten out of the habit of reading books.

Actually, I do have a book on my nightstand, but it’s like a sleeping pill. I start reading with great intent, and within five to seven minutes, my eyelids get heavy and I find myself dozing off.

But it has been frustrating for me because I have always liked to read. Actually, my first job when I was 15 was in our local library; I filed the books back onto the shelves when they were returned by the library patrons. I recall checking out two to three books every week; they all looked so interesting.

I even joined a book club about 10 years ago, but found that most months I wasn’t able to read the entire sleeping pill, I mean book, and eventually I quit the club.

But I still love books!

People have always talked about “books on tape,” but since my commute to work is 4.4 miles, I didn’t think they would work for me.

And then I discovered Audible, an audio subscription service from Amazon. My coworker Hazel had mentioned Audible to me, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around listening to books on my short drive each day.

Then, I was taking a class and my instructor assigned a book for us to read. It was only available on Audible as it is out of print. So I went online, subscribed to Audible, and downloaded the app. I was thrilled that my first book was free, and the monthly subscription is less than $15. You can download one book of your choice each month.

I figured that one book a month was more than plenty and perhaps it might help me read the stack of books I have on my list.

Was I wrong! I didn’t realize exactly how much I do drive, and I went through that first book within a day (it was only an hour long). I then downloaded a fiction book I had missed reading in my book club a few years ago, a Pulitzer Prize winner that everyone had raved about. Even though it was more than 10 hours long, I found myself spending a few extra minutes parked in my garage each day listening to the end of the chapter. Finished that book within a week.

Now, I’m hooked! In the last six weeks, I have listened to five books (some fiction, some self-improvement). Whereas I used to dread those long drives by myself to meetings in downtown L.A. or south Orange County, I find I now look forward to having an hour or more to listen to my books.

Occasionally Audible sends me access to free best sellers and other promotions. As I think back to my treks to the local Barnes & Noble bookstore, I recall my great intentions of reigniting my voracious reading habit, only to have that stack of books on my nightstand grow. I also lost interest in lugging those heavy books on business trips (I fall asleep faster on airplanes than I do at home, so it was a lose-lose proposition for me).

If you love to read, or used to love to read, and the thought of not having a crook in your neck—from looking down at a book or a small screen—is appealing, I encourage you to try Audible (or podcasts or Spotify, and there are others). It changed my life. And it may well change yours!

Karen

Blue Apron. Hello Fresh. Purple Carrot. Plated (as of this week, now owned by Albertson’s). These are just a few of the meal kit companies that have created a new business model.

What is a meal kit? A meal kit is all the fresh ingredients and seasoning you need to make a meal, all measured out exactly to the recipe provided. Everything is in one box, delivered to your door on a schedule of your choosing. Depending on the service, you can choose the menu you want to cook or you can request a surprise menu.

Basically, you are ordering all the ingredients to make a good tasting “gourmet” meal, except you don’t have to go shopping or even leave your home or office. Every single ingredient is individually packaged with the exact amount the recipe calls for, so there is no buying four ounces of fresh dill when you only need one small sprig. Everything is pre-measured, eliminating the risk of over-seasoning your meal or forgetting a spice.

A Blue Apron meal kit

It sounds kind of fun, right? I think so too, but I have never ordered any of the meal kits because of my busy travel schedule.

Fortunately, a few weeks ago, I ran into Terri Langhans, a high school pal who is also a world class speaker and author. Terri has tried several of the meal kit services, so I asked her about her experiences so far.

My first meal kit wasn’t mine. It was my neighbor’s, and she dropped it off on her way to the airport to attend a family funeral. Inside the big box were three smaller boxes, about the size of skinny shoe boxes, each containing the ingredients for a meal that would serve two people. It was like unpacking a box of birthday presents from Grandma, before Amazon was invented.

“How great is this!?” I thought.

Answer: Very.

For me, a focus group of one, meal kits aren’t about eating healthy, controlling portion size, discovering new recipes or being able to recycle the packaging. It’s all about less stress and more fun around meal planning and preparation.

After a day of dealing with a never-ending To Do list, I doubt that I’m the only one who dreads having to answer the “what’s for dinner?” question. Even when I’m the one asking. What do I have in the fridge? Something from the freezer? Nah, no time to defrost. Are there any leftovers that haven’t grown fur? I don’t want to stop at the store. Isn’t today Meatless Monday? How much is left of that salad bag from Costco? Popcorn’s a vegetable, isn’t it? I guess I better go to the store. Yikes, I need gas. And wine.

I can certainly relate to that!

Open the box. Read the recipe. Follow the directions which have been simplified for even the newest of cooks can follow. For example, the recipe card doesn’t assume you know what sauté means. It would more likely say, “While the vegetables roast, heat a pan on medium heat. Add olive oil (already pre-measured in a packet). When the oil shimmers, add chopped shallots and cook, stirring occasionally for 2-3 minutes. Do not let them brown.”

All that detail means that not only does everything come out cooked perfectly, to temperature, but everything comes out at the same time. Again, less stress, more fun.

The next night, I arrived home to find hubby and two of our friends assembled at various “work stations” in our kitchen. They were wielding a spatula, a chef’s knife or parchment paper, according to which section of the two remaining two recipe cards they were assigned. The oven was pre-heating, everything was in its place, including an open bottle of wine.

“Hi, sweetheart!” hubby said, handing me a glass. “We’re having a dinner-making party.”

After the meal, we went online and created two new accounts, ordered our menus and made a date for the next dinner-making party. This time it would be BYOB. As in Bring Your Own Box.

After reading Terri’s comments, I’m seriously planning on ordering a meal kit next time I have a few friends over for dinner. And to make it even more fun, I think I’ll ask them if they want to help cook!

Karen

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It’s an auspicious week.

At sundown on Wednesday, September 20, the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, will begin. The celebration of the Jewish New Year is observed for 10 days and will culminate with the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, starting at sundown on Friday, September 29, and ending the next day. Right in the middle is the autumnal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere on September 22. That is the day that the daylight and night hours are virtually equal.

Several traditions surround the Jewish New Year.

One of my favorites is the tradition to try a new fruit in the new year. That tradition is never more evident than in New York and Los Angeles, where large neighborhoods of Jewish consumers clamor to buy the weirdest and most unusual fruits they can to help bring in the new year. My company, of course, has great fun with this, as we ship huge truckloads of exotic fruits to New York City every year in anticipation of the holiday shopping rush. Last year, the Wall Street Journal even did a story on this, including this video.

This year, some of the top sellers have been:

Jackfruit Dragon Fruit Cactus Pear Kumquats Kiwano (Horned Melon) Cape Gooseberries

Another tradition is that those 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a time for reflection and forgiveness. I always interpreted it to be the time to reconcile any differences or disagreements and to settle any issues with friends, family, or coworkers. Even if you’re not Jewish, it’s a great time to make peace and settle any issues and make amends.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is a day of fasting, so Jews around the world choose to take the time from sundown to sundown to be humbled and appreciate all the suffering and sacrifice that our ancestors went through during difficult times. Even if we are not able to fast completely, many of us spend the day at our temples or in a quiet place. My favorite part of the day is the break-the-fast dinner, usually hosted at a friend’s house. We all bring our favorite dishes and break bread together. It’s the perfect way to finish the celebration of the new year—with close family and friends.

Autumnal equinox is a special time as well. It signals the official beginning of fall, when the leaves outside are turning from green to orange and red. We decorate our homes with dried corn and gourds, and the weather cools down. With cooler weather, we start baking squash in the oven and cooking root vegetables for meals, instead of serving spring and summer asparagus, and cold salads.

Even when you walk into your produce department, you’ll see the difference. Produce managers across the country do their fall resets right after Labor Day, building big displays of hard-shelled squash; peaches and nectarines are replaced with even bigger displays of apples and pears.

As you enjoy this time of year, whether you are officially celebrating the Jewish New Year of 5778 or just want an excuse to try some new fruits, it’s a great time to pause, reflect, and set your intentions for a time of prosperity, peace, and friendship.

L ’Shanah Tova (that’s “for a good year” in Hebrew),

Karen

A few months ago, I decided I couldn’t be the only person on the planet who is mystified by these two terms: “Bitcoin” and “Blockchain.” So I started doing some research by asking some of the geeks and nerds I meet to explain them to me in layman’s terms.

I’ll start with Blockchain. I was at an AgTech (agriculture technology) conference two months ago and was chatting with a millennial attendee. Seena Amidi of Silicon Valley’s Plug and Play Tech Center, which is billed as the world’s largest startup accelerator and corporate innovation consultancy, seemed pretty savvy, yet down-to-earth. So I asked him, “Can you explain Blockchain to me—in English?”

Without skipping a beat, he explained it like this:

He said Blockchain is a 100-percent secure way to store information (kind of like encryption, but it connects all pieces of related information). Pieces of information are stored in individual blocks; once entered into the block, it cannot be altered. It is time-stamped and linked to the previous block. It’s almost impossible to hack. Multiple people can add related information in a new block.

I asked him what the applications might be.

He gave me the example of a company like mine, storing the names of vendors and the food safety information associated with each individual vendor. As part of a Blockchain, we can share select parts of the information with customers when needed. For example, we can let them access the food safety information on our suppliers, but they can’t access other, proprietary information that is stored in the Blockchain.

Well, that totally makes sense in the business world. All businesses have many types of information to store. Depending on who they need to share the information with (vendors, customers, the government), using Blockchain could save time and prevent redundancies (having to enter information in multiple places).

For non-business users, a perfect application is a person’s medical records. Multiple doctors can enter information into the Blockchain; it is time-stamped and cannot be altered. The patient can access the information, but it is completely secure. An article in Forbes Magazine earlier this year has an excellent explanation of Blockchain.

Photo Credit: Flickr/Zach Copley

Bitcoin is actually a digital currency. I know it’s hard to imagine a currency that does not have paper bills or coins, and exists only on the Internet. But that is the essence of Bitcoin. And a lot of people think it is worth something and could be a big part of the future. I found some pretty interesting articles about it. Here is one of my favorite articles. The value of Bitcoin is determined by how much people are willing to exchange it for. There are already many businesses around the world that accept Bitcoin, including a Subway restaurant in Pennsylvania!

So, how do you buy, track, store, and spend Bitcoin? Blockchain. When Bitcoin was conceived, a secure way to record the transactions on a “ledger” was needed to eliminate the chance of redundancies or double entries. Thus, Blockchain came into being.

So, now you probably know just about enough about Blockchain and Bitcoin to carry on a conversation at a cocktail party. And just in case you are wondering, the way the Bitcoin system was set up, there can never be more than 21 million bitcoins and the current value of one bitcoin is $4,493.99.

There you go!

Karen

During this past week, I attended two Farm to Table dinners. After reading about Farm to Table dinners and writing about them and never having the opportunity to attend one, it was interesting to attend two in one week. And they were so completely different.

The genesis of Farm to Table dinners is an extension of the popularity of local farmers markets. Consumers love connecting to the growers of their food. It humanizes the eating experience, which is why consumers will pay more money for produce with a shorter shelf life.

It’s about the experience, not the efficiency or convenience.

My first Farm to Table experience was at a fundraiser at Rancho Los Alamitos, a local historic site in Long Beach, to benefit its educational programs. Several ranchos (or homesteads) in and around the Long Beach area of Southern California have been preserved as historical landmarks. Much like the 21 historic California Missions that span the entire coast from Basilica San Diego de Alcala in San Diego all the way up to Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, the Ranchos are a big part of the history of the early California settlers. As you can see, it was a beautiful evening in a delightful setting.

Photo: Jennifer Herbig

The chef of the evening was Paul Buchanan of Primal Alchemy, who is completely passionate about discovering local farms and foods and creating masterpieces that his clientele can enjoy. Paul has an impressive resume, having worked in some of the best known kitchens in Southern California: Campanile, Wolfgang Puck, Water Grill, and Pascal’s in Orange County, to name a few. As you can see from the photos of the evening, our dinner was set outside on the grounds of Rancho Los Alamitos, where 300 patrons dined at long, glorious tables, draped with white linens, and decorated with bouquets of fresh herbs and russet potatoes with small flags inserted in them as table signs.

Every course was served family style. And between the salad course and dinner, Russ Parsons, former food editor of the Los Angeles Times (whom we refer to as the “Mayor of Long Beach” as he knows E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E), did a quick interview with Chef Buchanan.

Photo: Jennifer Herbig

The food had amazing flavors and it was dazzling to have all this food come out at perfect temperatures arranged perfectly on platters. The long tables were conducive to easygoing conversations and a leisurely pace. Quite different from a normal dinner at a restaurant where we always seem to complain about the pace of the meal, or lack of it.

My second Farm to Table dinner was held at an outdoor restaurant, The Farmhouse in Corona del Mar. It is a new, on-site restaurant at the famous Southern California landmark, Roger’s Gardens. If you enjoy gardening and landscaping, this is the most inspirational place ever.

The occasion for this dinner was because my friend and favorite Southern California chef, Alan Greeley, recently closed his landmark restaurant, The Golden Truffle. All the local Orange County chefs, who were mostly trained and supported by Alan during the last 30 years, got together to have a “Bon Voyage Celebration.” As a testimonial to Chef Alan’s popularity, an email went out to his patron list and within two days, the dinner for 150 was sold out! In fact I had to pull a few strings and text Alan to get a ticket for myself!

When I arrived on Monday evening, it was a who’s who of the Orange County culinary scene with famous chefs, and food writers and journalists.

Photo: OC Weekly

Chef Alan’s friends prepared an incredible four-course meal which was more like eight courses since every course included two dishes! Thai goat curry. Grilled Wagyu beef wrapped in gem lettuce and carrot kimchi. Coos Bay silver point oysters. Watermelon radish carpaccio. Seared ahi tuna. And so much more. Dessert was over the top with three options for everyone.

The menu (front and back) from Chef Alan’s celebration dinner at Farmhouse

Just like the first Farm to Table dinner I attended, white linen tablecloths and family-style seating and serving plates abounded. The simplicity of the décor was magical. The Farmhouse overlooks the entire Roger’s Gardens property, so it felt like we were in a forest.

Photo: OC Weekly: Vegetable carpaccio

What I learned most about the Farm to Table experience is that it is all about the food and the farms and ranches it comes from. The location, ambience, and décor all contribute to telling the story, connecting you to the foods you eat and the people who lovingly produce them.

And it couldn’t get more farm-to-table than dining al fresco with trees as your awning and a cool evening breeze as your soundtrack.

Even though a Farm to Table dinner might have a heftier price tag than a conventional dinner at a restaurant, and it might take a few hours from start to finish, I would encourage you to put the experience on your bucket list. It certainly made me slow my pace and take in the entire experience.

Bon appetit!

KarenSave

It all started when I gave a speech last month to a group of local women entrepreneurs. Whenever I speak to an all-female group, I feel comfortable sharing one of my “secret weapons,” as women seem super-interested and open to it.

And that is my color palette.

I’ve written before about how I have been working with a colorist since the early 1980s. Jennifer Butler’s expertise is in helping people look their best by wearing the colors, patterns, and textures that make that person look their best. In her studio in Los Angeles, she has more than 10,000 color swatches that she uses to select the perfect colors and textures to match a client’s eye color, hair color and texture, and skin tone.

Over the years she has also added the dimensions of personality and energy to her color consultation, which give insight to her clients about their season. (In personal color analysis, people are often assigned a “seasonal” color palette, meaning a particular group of colors related to that season.)

For the last seven years (since I last had my color palette done), I’ve been a “Tawny Spring.”

So, after my speech, I thought it might be a good time to revisit Jennifer to see if there have been any changes to my color palette. That Saturday morning as I was getting ready to drive to her house, I had second thoughts. Maybe there was no reason to see her. I was certain that there really hadn’t been any major changes in my coloring. But I did have a gnawing feeling about the fact that during the past couple of months, each time I went shopping and tried on colors and styles that were on my palette, they no longer felt good to me.

So I walked into Jennifer’s house a few minutes before our consultation. She was just concluding a workshop with other clients, but I saw her when I walked in and smiled at her. I could tell from the look on her face that she didn’t recognize me. Once I said my name, she caught herself and said, “Welcome.” After we chatted for a few minutes, we moved into her studio. That’s when she shocked me.

“Karen, you have become a Summer,” she said. “And actually I did not recognize you―you have changed so much.”

Now that may not sound like a big deal, but when you have been dressing like an energetic, cheerleader-type Spring for a long time, hearing that you are now a “twilight, full of grace” Summer is quite a shock.

For the next three hours, I watched Jennifer select an almost completely different color palette for me. My eyes had darkened. My skin was pinker. She encouraged me to darken my hair back to its original color, so it would complement my skin and eyes.

Here is my former palette, when I was a Spring. You can see that the colors are brighter.

Here is my new, Rose-Bronze Summer palette.

As she selected my new colors, Jennifer noticed a few hairs around my face were a bit curly and asked me about that. That’s when I reminded her that I have naturally curly hair, but have been straightening it and blow-drying it straight for more than 30 years. I told her that when I was a young girl, people made fun of my curly hair; they called me names. There were no happy memories associated with curly hair.

That’s when she made a life-changing comment: “It seems that you are in a period of personal transformation and authenticity. Perhaps you might want to consider wearing your hair natural.” That was a pretty heavy thing to hear. But since my divorce was final seven months ago, I’ve felt like I’ve been in a period of self-reflection. And I could not get the thought out of my head about what it would be like to be the real me. Curly hair and all.

So, I took a deep breath on Monday morning and went to work with my naturally curly hair, dressed in colors from my new palette. People in the office did not recognize me. They asked me what I did to my hair; my answer was “Nothing. This is my natural hair!”

As a matter of fact, since all three of our summer interns have naturally curly hair, we had a Curly Hair Day in the office. It was empowering for all of us as we gathered for our photo!

It’s been more than two weeks now since I decided to be me. The real me. The authentic me.

I’ve had friends comment: “You look fantastic, happy, and like a different person.” Other friends, when they see me, say nothing. (I think they are in shock that I have dared to go natural.) Just this morning, several of my work colleagues commented that I look so happy, thinner (that was a plus!), and more calm, like a totally different person.

Are you asking yourself, “Am I wearing the colors and styles that make me look my best?” Or are you thinking, “I can’t afford to have my colors done. I’ll have to get rid of so many of my clothes.” I encourage you to check out the videos, before-and-after photos, and information on Jennifer’s website.

While it can be scary to buck fashion trends and peer pressure, finding out what your palette is and dressing accordingly can be an amazing thing for your self-esteem, your personal confidence, and for your success in your career and personal life. Being authentic in how you present yourself makes a phenomenal difference.

Left: Me, dressed as a Spring, being someone who I am no longer. Right: Me, dressed as a Summer, my authentic self.

Karen

OK, we’ve all read about the solar eclipse coming up on Monday, August 21. It will be the first time in 26 years that a total solar eclipse has been visible from the United States.

Many people are flocking to Portland, Jackson Hole, and St. Louis to experience the moments of daytime darkness in person. For me, I know I can view it online, and that will suffice.

What’s really on my mind is to share some insight I’ve gotten into why so many people, including some heads of state in particular, are acting so darned weird right now.

Here is the context, thanks to Gahl Sasson of Cosmic Navigator, a good friend of mine:

A lunar eclipse, the most recent of which happened on August 7 in Aquarius, is kind of like an Old Testament version of Valentine’s Day. It’s a great day to spend with friends and lovers. It’s also the time to end a relationship that isn’t working and to say goodbye to a personality trait in yourself that you don’t want anymore. “Overall, since it is an eclipse and lunar, you might feel [overly] sensitive and emotional,” Gahl says. “The werewolf in you might come out, so please be careful with your reactions.”

Mercury is in retrograde until September 5, mainly in Virgo (Read more on my previous blog about Mercury in retrograde). “Right between the eclipses, when the energies are the most intense, the planet of communication and negotiation is going on a vacation,” Gahl says. He warns of unnecessary perfectionism and criticism, and recommends not signing legal documents, making big purchases, or starting important projects.

Monday’s solar eclipse takes place in Leo. Gahl says “something significant” will happen in the U.S. with “long-lasting effects… Most likely it will quicken the fall of political leaders, CEOs, and other powerful leaders. You can say that the biggest economy [on] the planet is going through an open heart surgery.” On the other hand, it’s a good day to start something related to “love, children, happiness, sports, and entertainment,” he says.

This all makes perfect sense to me as I’ve been reading the news of companies replacing their leaders (Wells Fargo Bank, Uber, and Mondelez, for example) and potential changes in countries’ leadership around the world. It’s easy to get overwhelmed.

But then, I had a feeling this was coming. I believe that the change in energy in the universe has an enormous effect on everyone. So, if people are acting a bit tense, moody, or it seems like your communication’s been haywire since last week, you can just blame the cosmos!

Karen

P.S. It seems obvious, but  do you really understand the difference between a lunar and a solar eclipse?

In a lunar eclipse, the earth casts a shadow on the moon. At least two lunar eclipses happen every year.

Credit: NASA

In a solar eclipse, the moon casts a shadow on the sun. And of course, even during a solar eclipse, we should never look directly at the sun. Solar eclipses happen once every 18 months.

Credit: NASA

Last month I visited some dear friends on Bainbridge Island in Washington. Each morning, my friend Liliana would make us breakfast. Before breakfast, we would sip our coffee, sitting around in our bathrobes and chat about the day.

But I noticed that before she had her cup of coffee, she sipped on a mug full of something else. I was curious, so I asked her about that practice.

She told me she drinks a cup full of hot bone broth every other day, first thing in the morning.

Bone broth?

Liliana assured me that there are some health benefits to bone broth. So I decided to do some research on my own.

According to this article in Shape magazine, drinking bone broth can help with joint pain; create a healthier gut and stronger bones, hair, and nails; improve sleep; and more.

In researching a little further, I found even more information from one of my favorite spiritual and healing authorities, Louise Hay. Wow―who knew?

It is starting to make sense to me. What’s the classic “bone broth?” Homemade chicken soup. When we get sick with a cold, that’s the classic dish we’re told to consume. Perhaps that’s why some refer to chicken soup as “Jewish penicillin.” Supposedly, sipping on hot chicken soup, the homemade version made by simmering the bones and carcass of a chicken, along with onions, celery, and carrots, will hasten your recovery.

By the way, broth and stock are essentially the same thing. Some describe stock as being more viscous from the collagen that seeps out of the bones during long-term cooking. Bone “broth” has become the trendy name, even though it might actually be closer to a traditional stock.

From healing your gut (something we should all be concerned with), to getting natural collagen to make us look younger, to the rich, satisfying savory flavor that comes from sipping the broth (or enjoying bone marrow spread on toast at a special dinner), I definitely am intrigued with my newest discovery.

It seems as if I learn something new every day!

Karen

I’ve noticed a lot of companies are updating the look of their packaging. Sometimes it’s the sign of a company truly trying to better resonate with consumers.

Driscoll’s old label (left) and new label (right)

Other times, I wonder if they got a new marketing agency that said, “It’s time for a brand refresh,” but it didn’t make a discernible difference.

Or an already successful brand has new features and benefits to highlight.

Angie’s old branding (yellow) and new (purple)

And other times, some old-school brands say, “What the heck, we’re staying with what we have.” Which I respect.

So when I saw the trade ad for Bragg organic dressings and marinades, it caught my attention.

I’ve written about Bragg before, as its apple cider vinegar has become quite the popular ingredient in the latest elixir, a healthy “cocktail.”

And I love Bragg’s products. And they definitely stand out at the grocery store, not because they are attractively packaged with the latest graphics, but rather because they are unique-looking. Distinctive.

And that distinctive look is also authentic.

I did a little digging on the company’s website, which resembles its packaging, and the story of Paul Bragg and his daughter Patricia is filled with passion, conviction, and a genuine concern for health. It was refreshing to read their homey stories and testimonials from ordinary people, peppered with endorsements from Katy Perry, Clint Eastwood, and a few others.

So next time a marketing agency or your new marketing person suggests you need to refresh your brand, redo all your packaging, or more, step back and think about the motivation behind that.

I think the authenticity of your brand is most important, even if you break all the rules with your look, like my friends at Bragg Products. Sometimes, just when you are getting tired of the look of your packaging or your logo, it’s about the time that consumers are starting to recognize it.

Karen

I don’t know about you, but I feel like everyone is throwing around the word “disruption”—it’s the newest buzzword. If you want to get someone’s attention in an interview, mention “disruption” and/or “innovation,” and you’ll definitely get it.

People use the words as if they are interchangeable, meaning the same thing. But they really don’t. They are related in that they are about change, the perception of change, and being open-minded.

What’s an example of “disruption?”

To me, the ones that we can all relate to are the iPad and iPhone, introduced by Apple. When they first came out, they revolutionized the mobile tablet and smartphone industries. I remember when my co-worker Todd was telling me that on his new iPhone he could use his fingers to enlarge an image. I recall thinking, “Why would you need to do that? Who would use that function?” Of course, now I use it all the time, especially with photos.

“Innovation” on the other hand is usually referring to something more incremental. For example, with each iteration of the iPhone, the camera quality has gotten better, you can self-edit, colorize, and etc., right on your iPhone. I would characterize that as innovation versus disruption.

But the real issue at hand is that every single industry is facing a constant stream of innovation. Of interruptions. And of disruptions. As a business owner, I can tell you that it’s kind of hard to keep up.

I know that in my own company, I am attempting to look into the future to provide tools and processes for my teams to help me explore what changes we need to make inside the company, and at what pace. I’ve always believed in the “Ready. Aim. Fire.” approach, as compared to “Ready. Fire. Aim.”

Here is some food for thought:

Speaking of iPhones and disruptive change, a few years ago, I read the biography “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson. Although it is well over 500 pages, I found so much inspiration and information while reading that book that I could not put it down. Steve Jobs was so creative and an out-of-the-box thinker. And of course his management style was well-publicized.

A few weeks ago, I heard a speaker do a presentation on “The Lost Interview of Steve Jobs,” which was done in 1995 by Robert X. Cringely for the PBS documentary “Revenge of the Nerds.” Only 10 minutes of the 70-minute interview were used in the film. The original tapes were actually lost in shipping. It was not until 2011 after Jobs died, that the film’s director, Paul Sen, found an old VHS copy of the original unedited interview—in his garage.

I had the opportunity to view a few clips of the interview. Remember that in 1995 the internet was just beginning to be a household word. (I remember that, when my company launched our website in 1996, we were one of the very first in our industry to do so.) I highly recommend watching “The Lost Interview” (you can get it here). It’s a great place to get inspiration for your new innovative idea. You will see a completely different side of Jobs and hear him describe what has now become the omnipresent Amazon, iTunes, and other disruptors.

So back to the phrase, “disruption versus innovation.” I recommend you don’t use those words lightly.

And don’t forget, incremental innovation is oftentimes the most prevalent form of progress.

Karen

Image from Leyla Acaroglu’s “Disruptive Design” e-book

I am a second generation Angelena, born and raised in Southern California. Even though I have lived here all my life, I discovered a part of L.A. that I never knew was there.

And that is the amazing Metro rapid transit system, based out of Union Station, in downtown L.A. (or, as it is now referred to, “DTLA”).

Even though the most frequent complaint about Southern California is our lack of a rapid transit system, you can see from this diagram that we apparently do have an amazing system. In fact, LA Metro is the third most comprehensive system in the country.

I was intrigued when I received an invitation to attend a Metro Art Tour this past Saturday. Apparently, in addition to six Metro rail lines and almost 100 separate stations, some real artistic treasures are contained inside the actual Metro stations.

So, off I went on Saturday morning to meet a small group at Union Station. For some historical context, the L.A. Union Station was built in 1939 and is the largest railroad passenger terminal in the western United States. It is widely regarded as “the last of the great train stations.” The station’s combination of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, Mission Revival, and Streamline Moderne styles makes it one of L.A.’s architectural gems. It has appeared in many films.

“City of Dreams, River of History” mural by Richard Wyatt, 1995, at Union Station

I’ve been to Union Station many times, mostly for events. But as a passenger, I was impressed with how clean the station is, and at 11 a.m. on a Saturday, just how many Angelenos use it. You can learn about the many well-known artists and the artwork they provided to the station here. If you’re an art student or art lover, you would have a field day walking through the station.

So, our group jumped on the Red Line and headed to Hollywood. After a 15-minutes ride, we got off at Hollywood/Vine (probably the most famous intersection for visitors to Hollywood). As we took the escalators up, we found ourselves staring at the famous Pantages Theatre and an impressive section of sidewalk filled with “Stars.” But it was actually the inside of the station that got my attention.

View of Pantages Theatre from Hollywood/Vine Metro

The walls contained tiles that made it look like a Hollywood stage with big, thick curtains. The large poles were decorated in tiles that made them look like palm trees. The ceilings were covered completely with empty film reels! They even had two movie cameras from another era on display! And of course some of the floor tiles were yellow (reminiscent of the Yellow Brick Road); on the walls were hand-painted tiles of characters from The Wizard of Oz.”

Interior of Hollywood/Vine Metro Station Good Witch Glinda tile at Hollywood/Vine Metro

At the Vermont and Sunset Station, which is near many major hospitals and the famed Hollywood sign, the décor was enhanced with floor tiles highlighting medical and scientific symbols, and one wall showcased a particular astrological constellation.

“Ecliptic/Illume” installation by Michael Davis at Vermont/Sunset Metro Station

Although our tour was only of those two stations, our guide gave us a brochure that showcases all of the Metro stops. I am already planning to find an excuse to ride the Metro to get from Long Beach to DTLA to Santa Monica sometime soon.

If you happen to find yourself coming to Southern California, Metro Rail Tours are offered on the first Saturday, Sunday, and Thursday of each month.

While you’re parked at Union Station, I recommend that you walk across to Olvera Street, part of the historic district of El Pueblo de Los Angeles. The popular area has many mercados, restaurants, street vendors, and some of the most delicious and authentic Mexican food around.

Now I – and you – know how to bypass most of the traffic in L.A.! Take the Metro and catch an Uber, Lyft, or taxi to your destination.

Karen

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This week, I traveled to Portland, Oregon, because a friend of mine from the East Coast visits Portland each summer to teach a food industry business class at Portland State University. The added benefit to him is he gets to hang out in a super cool area for a couple of months. I usually only get to see him at industry events. Because it’s just a two-hour plane flight, a few weeks ago I proposed that I go up there to have dinner with him and his wife. He suggested I join him as a guest at his business class. So, it was a two-fer.

I didn’t really have any expectations of Portland, especially since I was going to be there for about 24 hours. Was I ever unexpectedly delighted!

The first thing I noticed were the greeters at the airport. These lovely people stood in the corridor as you transitioned between the arrival gates and moved toward the baggage claim. They were saying, “Welcome to Portland!” Obviously if you had a question, you could ask them. I then noticed signage as I exited the terminal: “Portland is rated Best Airport in the USA” since 2013.

As I arrived downtown at my hotel, I felt a little less stressed than usual. Everyone I had encountered seemed so pleasant and happy. And that experience continued throughout my stay.

It was a gorgeous, warm evening, so we dined outside in the courtyard of my hotel. And the next morning, as I drove around the city visiting a few grocery stores (of course I visited grocery stores!), and headed back to the airport, I found myself feeling “chilled out.”

I don’t watch much TV, so I have never seen “Portlandia,” but I am aware that Portland is a mecca of great food places, microbreweries, and lots of amazing wineries. I’ve always heard that Portland is a special place, but I didn’t expect to experience something so special during a 24-hour visit. I noticed a slower pace than L.A. and other cities. Lots of trees and greenery, and many small businesses.

Photo Credit: Flickr/David Wilson

I guess Portland just left me with a happy feeling.

What if every place you traveled to was welcoming and made you feel special…and ultimately happier?

And in the business world, what if the sole purpose of the company you worked for were to make its employees and customers happy? What would have to change? How would you have to change?

My experience in Portland actually reminded me of a recent book I read: “Delivering Happinessby Tony Hsieh of Zappos.com. (Read about my recent visit to its headquarters here.) At the end of the book, Tony writes, “Even though this book will serve as a handbook for future Zappos employees…I wanted to write this book for a different reason: to contribute to a happiness movement to help make the world a better place.”

It’s interesting how your attitude and expectations can affect your experience, whether traveling or working.

Karen

“My hope is that through his book, established businesses will look to change the way they are doing things, and entrepreneurs will be inspired to start new companies with happiness at the core of their business models…and more and more companies will start to apply some of the findings coming out of the research in the science of happiness field to make their business better and their customers and employees happier.” – Tony Hsieh, Zappos.com

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During a recent Agriculture Issues Center meeting at the University of California, Davis, (I serve on the center’s advisory board) I was fascinated with a short presentation about bees by one of the Davis ag researchers. She and her graduate student gave a short synopsis of their work and then asked for questions.

I couldn’t get my hand up fast enough. I asked what I thought was the most obvious question:

“What about colony collapse disorder? You didn’t talk about the bee shortage.”

Their answer was a bit shocking to me: “There is no shortage of bees.”

What? With all the press over the last 10 years, I really couldn’t believe what they were saying. So, after the meeting, I did some research and spoke to the director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center, Dr. Daniel A. Sumner. A highly respected researcher and spokesperson, Dan has been quoted numerous times in the Wall Street Journal, LA Times, and dozens of other publications.

Dan started by telling me that he continues to work on this issue because the news media (and even some of the scientists) have gotten the broad supply-and-demand story so mixed up. He told me the number of bees has gone up not down in the past 10 years. The cost of pollination has fallen, while demand has gone way up (with more almond acres). Demand up but price down is a sure sign that supply is now much more available than a decade ago.

I also learned that much of the supply of bees is trucked around the country to move from growing area to growing area, as most of the bee population in the U.S. is used to pollinate crops (with almonds being one of the top users). Very few are used for producing honey. During the short presentation, I learned that many bees start out in North Dakota, are trucked to California for almond pollination season, then are moved to other parts of the state and country, depending on the need for bees.

Here is a chart showing the types of crops that use bees for pollination, with the time of year and pricing.

If you’d like to know a lot more about “bee-conomics,” here is a recent article published by Dr. Sumner and the professor who spoke to us, Dr. Hyunok Lee.

So what did I learn from this experience?

Well first of all, I learned that just because something is reported in the news or is on the internet, it does not make it true. We all know that the news media is oftentimes looking for sensational stories that pull at our hearts or make our stomachs turn. I learned the importance of asking questions and doing more investigating.

I was also reminded of how interconnected and resilient agriculture is. The fact that almonds are one of the fastest growing crops in California is no secret. But all I ever heard was how much water it takes to grow almonds (the drought, water shortages, etc., have been hot news topics for years). But who knew that it takes an average of two hives per mature acre of almonds and there are now almost a million acres of mature almonds in California.

It’s good old supply-and-demand economics (which I studied in college). And that’s where the resilience comes in.

With constant talks of drought, water shortages, urban sprawl, Amazon buying Whole Foods, Walmart buying Jet.com, and McDonald’s relevance in the future, I know for sure that our industry is resilient. Farmers will always produce food. They will always find a way to fill the demand and the fact that we now enjoy a global economy just gives us more opportunities and options.

As for the bees, it was good to know that there is no bee shortage. I wonder what else isn’t true that is reported by the press?

Karen

Last weekend, I attended a cooking class conducted by my favorite longtime local chef, Alan Greeley. Alan is well known in Orange County as the chef-proprietor of The Golden Truffle restaurant in Newport Beach. Earlier this month, he announced that after 37 years, he is closing up shop in August. Turns out he is moving to Sarasota, Florida, to start a new chapter in his life. The local paper did a nice story on Chef Alan and the history of The Golden Truffle. (Alan also helped us develop our favorite recipe for our Stokes Purple Sweet Potato a few years ago.)

The first time I dined at The Golden Truffle, I noticed all the framed photos of Alan with Elton John. I learned that Alan was once invited to make dinner at a local executive’s house. He rented a giant tub, filled it with ice, and created an amazing display of fresh seafood, plus prepared some amazing dishes. Turns out the guest of honor that evening was Sir Elton John, and a lifelong friendship was born. Rumor has it that whenever Elton John is in SoCal, he has Alan deliver some of his famous curried pies, always quite popular with the British.

So, when I received an email that Chef Alan was conducting his last ever Father’s Day Barbecue Cooking Class, I signed up immediately. I got there early, walked straight to the back of the restaurant, and found Alan. After a big hug, all I could say was, “WTF?” (You have to know Alan…the “f” word is one of his favorites. He frequently peppers his conversations with it, so it was quite natural for me to say that.) He let me know that his longtime love, who worked by his side for many years, had moved to Florida, and it just wasn’t as much fun without her. So he’s moving to Florida to be with her.

When the class started, there were about 50 of us there, all longtime restaurant patrons and friends of Alan. We were all poured a lovely glass of Listel Rosé and Alan started talking. He often referenced his favorite barbecue cookbook.

He started the class by explaining the difference between barbecue and grilling. According to Alan (and I took this verbatim from his notes):

Barbecue is a whole day social event. You show up early, light the fire, start drinking, gambling, playing cards, be sure you have a case or two on ice, do more drinking, a little nooky if you can pull it off, take a small nap, shower to wash off the smoke, prep the food, have a fresh drink, and it’s time to eat.

Grilling is a 1-2-3 hour affair. Pour yourself a drink if no one does first (if you invite the right guests, they will pour it for you). Light the grill, add some asparagus, steak, fish, etc. No clean up, no hassle. Eat.

As you can tell, Alan is a lot of fun and has a great sense of humor.

I also learned a lot of helpful hints from him during the hour he spoke to us:

■ He said not to barbecue in linen or cotton clothes because you will never get the smoky smell out of them.

■ The best barbecue is a Weber because you can control the air flow. He said it’s all about air flow (with a Weber, you don’t have air leaks). He said the Big Green Egg is a Weber on steroids.

■ He told us that the reason you need to allow a whole day (and lots of alcohol) when you barbecue is that the key is not to rush it. It takes time. He laughed while recounting some of his friends calling him during a barbecue and complaining to Alan that “the food wasn’t done yet. It didn’t cook fast enough.” Alan says you cannot rush barbecue. It’s all about heat, smoke, and going slow.

■ He talked a bit about cold smoking (Scandinavian style), and how to brine meat or poultry. I learned that while adding salt to veggies (like eggplant) will leach out the liquid, when you brine meat, it actually causes it to absorb liquid, thus making it more tender.

He did tell a few barbecue jokes; here’s the only one that was G-rated:

The definition of Tennessee BBQ: Chase a pig up a hickory tree. Light the tree on fire. Have dinner.

After an hour of sharing his secrets to great barbecue and giving us a behind-the-scenes tour of his custom-built smoker (outside behind the restaurant), we all sat down for a lovely lunch of brisket, pulled pork, barbecued potato salad, smoked salmon, cherry tomatoes with dill, and peach melba for dessert. And lots of Listel Rosé.

I know I have about six more weeks before the restaurant closes and Alan drives across the country. So I’m sure I will be back a few more times to share a glass of wine with him and let him decide what I will have to eat. It was at my first meal at The Golden Truffle over 15 years ago that I experienced not ordering off a menu, letting the chef decide what was best.

If you find yourself in Orange County soon, I highly recommend a meal at The Golden Truffle. Bon appetit!

Karen

Chef Alan Greeley and me

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Like many, I had developed a regular workout routine, which involved going to my local gym, open seven days a week. With that came a regular annual or monthly fee.

The gym also offered classes (which I admit I tried on occasion), including cycling, Zumba, yoga, aerobics, etc. It also has a large variety of weight machines, free weights, racquetball courts, a steam room, etc.

And that worked great for me for many years.

Except when it stopped having an appeal for me. I started to dislike the stinky smell, the old equipment, the marginally motivated people who were in the gym, and honestly, I felt surrounded by staleness. I wanted to try something new―mix it up a bit.

A few years ago, my co-worker Bailey started talking about Orangetheory Fitness, a new workout place she’d found. Classes are one hour long, you wear a heart rate monitor, and your heart rate, along with calories burned, is displayed on multiple computer monitors on the walls. A coach guides you through a combination of high intensity cardio and weight training, while fast paced music plays. It sounded way more fun than trudging into my local gym with that awful smelly sock aroma, surrounded by a mix of other people with mixed agendas for their workout plans.

So I tried it. And, I have to admit, since I’m a pretty social person and am energized by being around younger people, it actually made it more fun for me to work out in this environment. I also found I was getting a much better workout. Plus, everyone there seemed as motivated and energetic as I was.

You may have heard of other exercise options that are now available, such as Peloton, which allows you to have a “private indoor cycling” studio in your home, and connects you to Peloton’s content and user network via Wi-Fi.

Welcome to the new economy and yet another disruptor to an existing business model.

We all know it’s important to have a healthy lifestyle, which includes exercise, healthy eating choices, plenty of rest (I now strive for at least seven and a half hours of sleep a night), and reducing stress.

The great thing is that there are many options available for us to create a customized healthy lifestyle. My healthy eating choices can come from the conventional grocery store or I can subscribe to Blue Apron or Purple Carrot and feel like a gourmet cook.

And I can do my exercise in the comfort of my home with a virtual class (Peloton), or take a walk on the beach or on a hiking trail in the local mountains, or step up the intensity at a local fitness venue like Orangetheory. Or if I choose, I can stay with an older business model and join my local gym.

That’s the great thing about the new economy; there are so many options available to us. For everything we do.

For me, I chose to quit my local, conventional gym and try something new. I attend Orangetheory classes three to four times a week, am trying out a local yoga studio, and take an occasional hike in the mountains. And who knows, in a few months, I may want to change it up again. But the great thing for me is that I have broken out of my rut of the same-old, same-old and feel more inspired and energetic.

You may want to consider quitting your gym too!

Karen

P.S. Here is a photo of two of my favorite coaches from Orangetheory, Kristian and Megan.

For years, I have fantasized about learning to golf. But I never had time. So, whenever I attend a produce conference and there is a golf tournament, I always feel a little regret in that I cannot participate. Golf in business is a great way to spend quality time with others, including customers.

So this year, I decided there are a few things I want to do now that I am an empty nester. On top of that list was to see if I like golf.

I was careful to set my intention to find out if I liked golf vs. deciding to absolutely learn it.

So, a couple of months ago, I was at breakfast with a produce friend and I casually mentioned that this year I wanted to see if I liked golf. He immediately told me that we have a mutual friend, who recently retired from the produce industry and is a great golfer. As a sideline, he is teaching golf! He shared his contact information with me.

Shortly afterward, I was on a business trip and had the opportunity to play nine holes with a few colleagues. Turns out, I can hit the ball (apparently, that is not always normal during your first-ever round). And, as luck would have it, one of my co-workers had a brand-new set of golf clubs his wife had never used, and he gladly gifted them to me.

So, I was set. I had a set of clubs. An instructor. All I had to do was buy a golf glove!

I’m not very far into learning golf: I’ve had a couple of lessons and hit about 500 balls at the driving range.

But my biggest learning thus far is that there are many parallels between golf and work:

Golf Clears Your Head 

Golf is time-consuming. It can take 5 to 6 hours for a full round. While some people complain that golf takes too much time, I see these hours as a time to myself to get away from the daily grind. Sometimes you need to step away from your work to clear your head. That “white space” of not thinking about work helps us be more focused when we return to our desks.

Concentrate on the Game

Just like in business, whether you are in sales, finance, operations, or marketing, when you are working you need to not be distracted by non-business things or it affects your performance. You must leave your personal issues at the door. When you are getting ready to hit the ball, you cannot be thinking about anything else but the game at hand.

Get a Grip

Literally! During my first two lessons, my instructor spent a lot of time reiterating how important it is to correctly grip the club. Not too tight. Hands in the correct position. In business, do we have the right tools and are we using them correctly? Or do we take shortcuts? Do we prepare for meetings in the same disciplined manner each time, or do we rush through (because we’ve done it many times before)?

Find a Coach

I knew when I wanted to learn golf that I needed a good teacher. I interviewed a few people, and price was not the deciding factor. I wanted someone with experience, who was patient and had a track record of coaching other players. All great athletes have a coach. Just because they have won or have a lot of experience, that doesn’t stop them from hiring the best coach possible. It should be the same in business. I recently hired a business coach to help me be a better CEO. Having a coach helps (especially if you are open to brutally honest feedback).

Practice Really Does Make Perfect

I guess this is kind of obvious in golf. Practice, practice, practice! But how many of us practice at work? If we are in sales, is the first time we give a presentation in front of the customer? Or do we practice ahead of time? It doesn’t really make sense to practice on the customer, does it?

As I continue my golf journey, I’ve noticed that I get frustrated with my performance sometimes. And it’s usually because I am not concentrating on my game. Or I was not visualizing what I want to happen. Or I got distracted by something around me.

And I sometimes get frustrated at work. It’s usually because I am not concentrating. Or I am not visualizing what I want to happen. Or I get distracted by something around me.

I’ve decided I do like golf. And the lessons I’ve learned are some that I did not expect.

Karen

Here is me golfing on a recent business trip.

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Last week I was fortunate to spend time in Stockholm, Sweden. I was attending a global conference of women leaders from around the world.

Although it was not possible to meet all 650 women personally (although I did my best), I did have a chance to interact with many of them. Several sessions updated us on Africa, the United Nations, Populism vs. Nationalism, and much more, but the most interesting session for me was on unicorns.

In addition to being a mythical animal, I learned that the term “unicorn business” refers to start-ups with a value of more than US $1 billion. When Cowboy Ventures founder Aileen Lee coined the term as a label for such corporate creatures in a November 2013 TechCrunch blog post, just 39 of the past decade’s venture capitalist-backed U.S. software start-ups had topped the $1 billion valuation mark. Now, Fortune counts more than 80 start-ups that have been valued at $1 billion or more by VCs.

The unicorn session was a panel made up of four CEOs of start-up organizations in Sweden. So the first discussion item was answering the question: Why are there so many tech start-ups in Sweden?

Sweden is second only to the Silicon Valley with innovation per capita (and more unicorn companies per capita) than any place in the world. The panelists talked about a few factors influencing this phenomenon:

It kind of makes you want to move to Sweden, right? Well, one of the downsides to Sweden is its location: there’s a lot of darkness when it’s not summer (in winter, some days only have six hours of light). This might be one cause of Swedes’ high depression rate.

One of the panelists talked about the Swedish Startup Manifesto she had written with a dozen other entrepreneurs, which was quite intriguing.

So, why did I find this panel so interesting? Because I know that the future of business, of invention, of innovation—or survival—will be due to new thinking. Twenty-five years ago, who would have thought that today’s innovation in the automobile industry would be driverless or electric cars? Or the impact on adjacent industries? Driverless cars will have a significant impact on the auto insurance business; electric cars will affect the oil industry and the power concentrated in OPEC.

In my business, most retailers (who currently control about 50 percent of all food purchases) probably thought the future of food would be to build better, bigger (or smaller) supermarkets. And build more of them.

Enter Amazon. Blue Apron. Farmers markets. Grubhub. Soylent.

Think about it. What are you doing to explore what the future holds? Maybe a trip to Sweden is in your future.

Karen

P.S. Here are some examples of a few of the amazing women who attended the conference in Stockholm:

One of the speakers at our daylong business conference in Omaha last week did not talk about corporations or investments. He talked about high performance, stress management, better eating choices, and getting a good night’s sleep.

Actually, when Andrew Herr got up in front of the room, I thought he resembled Christopher Reeve, aka Superman and Clark Kent.

Little did I know that the results of his research about high performance and stress management could indeed allow people to increase their personal performance to a Superman-like level. You can read about his work in Wired magazine and Ivy Magazine. As you’ll see, he’s a pretty remarkable guy—especially since he is only 33!

But what piqued my interest most was his discussion of the blue light effect on our ability to get a good night’s sleep. Andrew said it’s the blue light from the sky (after the sun comes up), which actually causes us to know it’s time to wake up. So when the sun goes down, it is only natural (with the absence of blue light) that we start to think about going to sleep. But since the advent of smart phones and our tendency to check them almost continuously, they may cause difficulty in falling asleep and having a restful night’s sleep.

Enter: Orange-tinted glasses.

 

Andrew told our group that these $10 plastic glasses, if worn for a period of time before going to bed, actually block out the blue light (from regular light bulbs in our houses and from our smart phones and computer screens), thus signaling to our brains that it’s time to wind down.

The way he explained it to me was:

“Blue light, which comes from our overhead lights, phones, TVs, etc., tells our body to stay awake. We have special receptors in our eyes that our body uses to tune our circadian rhythm, our day/night clock, and blue light activates these to prevent melatonin production.

“Melatonin is a natural hormone that tells our brain it’s time to go to sleep. It may also have other benefits as an anti-inflammatory compound. So, when you wear the orange glasses, it blocks the blue light. Then your body starts producing melatonin naturally, and you fall asleep more easily and sleep better. Because we start to get drowsy naturally from the melatonin, hopefully this also prevents us from playing on our phones too long and keeping our brains alert and expectant too late, which also can disrupt sleep. So, overall, wearing the orange glasses for 90 minutes (at least 60, or you can wear them for a couple hours also) before you go to sleep should make falling asleep easier and the sleep more restful.”

I did a little research online when I got home and found an article in Popular Science magazine sharing the experiment done by a neuroscientist. I found it fascinating.

So, if you’re one of those people who has a hard time falling asleep at night or you wake up in the morning not feeling very rested, you may want to order a pair of these orange-tinted glasses and try them for yourself. (I found a wide range of orange-tinted glasses on Amazon. Search for “blue blocking glasses.”)

Andrew was kind enough to give me a pair before we left Omaha, and I have been wearing them every night since I got home. Funny thing, I have been waking up before my alarm goes off, feeling very rested each day. Not sure if it’s the effects of the glasses or that my body is so happy to be home, sleeping in my own bed.

If you try them out, be sure to let me know how they work for you!

Karen

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I spent last weekend in Omaha, Nebraska. That is, of course, the home of Berkshire Hathaway, the company that Warren Buffett (and Charlie Munger) are famous for. I am not a shareholder, but was fortunate to be invited to attend its annual shareholders’ meeting, always held in early May.

Advice I often give is: “Ask for what you want.” Well, while attending an agribusiness seminar a few months ago, I overheard a friend of mine talking about attending the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting last year. He mentioned that he was invited to attend by our mutual friend, Ejnar (pronounced eye-nar).

That sounded like something really interesting to do. So, at dinner that evening, I arranged to be seated next to Ejnar. And I asked for what I wanted. I half-jokingly said, “I’d like to come to Omaha.” And he, in all seriousness, said, “You are invited! And bring your daughter Alex.” Ejnar owns a private investment firm, and each year invites about 100 business colleagues to Omaha for a day of business presentations and the following day, they all attend the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders’ meeting. He encourages people to bring their children, so they can start to learn, at an early age, about investing and business.

So last weekend, Alex and I flew to Omaha and spent the first day with 100 total strangers from the dairy, grain, and indoor farming industries, plus many financial advisors and investors and more. Two people traveled all the way from Oman (in the Middle East), just to join this meeting. And several attendees came from Europe and Australia, too.

On Saturday morning, we were all up at 6, so we could be at the Century Link Arena when the doors opened at 7. We lined up, along with 40,000 shareholders. It was kind of crazy! We were lucky to get seats in the stadium. You can see from this photo that we’re in the “nosebleed” seats.

What is so unique about this annual meeting is that Warren Buffett, age 86 (on the left), and Charlie Munger, age 93, sit on the stage and answer questions from the audience from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (with an hour break for lunch). They do not know the questions in advance and the questions are from regular folks.

(In case you’re wondering, the box of See’s Candies’ peanut brittle is on the table for two reasons: They own See’s Candies and it is Charlie Munger’s favorite, so he munches on it during the entire meeting.)

You can read the transcript of the annual Berkshire Hathaway (B-H) meeting, but these were some of the high points for me:

  1. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young people (under 20) were in the audience. I met a 24-year-old who attended his first B-H meeting when he was 10! It made me realize that it is never too early to start talking about financial investment decisions and business with your children. And when one of the young folks asked Warren and Charlie a question, they were treated with the same seriousness as those asked by older adults.
  2. Warren admitted that he is not a tech guy and that he really missed out on many tech stocks, like Amazon. B-H only invests in companies and industries that they understand. It was pretty amazing to hear their honest and authentic answers about their misses. (I don’t think Warren missed much, as his net worth, over $73 billion, is more than Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s).
  3. They talked about how important culture is in a business they invest in. That’s why they spend so much time studying businesses before they buy an interest. I’ve heard they may only make one new investment a year.
  4. They have a lot of cash on hand (over $90 billion right now). That tells me they are patient, thorough, and in no rush to invest if they don’t feel ready. How many of us could learn from that?
  5. When talking about their investment strategy, Charlie said, “Remember, the first rule of fishing is to fish where the fish are. The second rule of fishing is to never forget the first rule.”
  6. Berkshire Hathaway never misses an opportunity to promote the companies it owns. In the lower level of the arena, a giant trade show displayed products from many B-H companies. You could buy See’s candy (which I did), Fruit of the Loom underwear (with B-H logos), and stickers from Oriental Trading Company, plus get SWAG from Coca-Cola (B-H owns 9.4 percent of the Coca Cola Company, or 400,000,000 shares). No opportunity was missed to highlight their holdings.

Overall, it was a mind-expanding weekend and I hope to be invited back next year. Shares of Berkshire Hathaway stock are $245,000 per share (they have never done a stock split). I was happy to know they have Class B (non-voting) stock that goes for about $160 per share. I think that’s the only way I’m ever going to be a shareholder.

Here I am at the Coca-Cola booth with “Warren Buffett.”

Karen

P.S. Here are the 9 best Warren Buffett quotes from the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, from Fortune.

I’m a foodie! (Gee, no surprise there.) My exposure to innovative chefs has been mostly from dining at restaurants, watching them on TV (think “Chopped,” “Top Chef,” etc.), and seeing them at food events. So I was excited to learn about two different approaches to getting that awesome chef-food experience.

The first came to me in an unusual way. I was interviewing Darlene, a potential employee, whom we have since hired. As I was reviewing her resume, I noticed she spent most of the last year working for Outstanding in the Field. So I asked her about that.

Darlene told me that Jim Denevan and his food-loving group of friends started out at a vegetable farm near Santa Cruz, California, offering a dinner made with only local ingredients. That was in 1999.

In the last 18 years, Jim’s company and his farm-to-table dinners—always held right on a farm—have expanded so they are now held across North America, and even in France, Argentina, and Japan. Outstanding in the Field puts on 87 events each year and every single farm dinner is sold out in advance!

So get this: Once spring starts (and vegetables and fruits are ready for harvest), Jim’s team of cooks, servers, and foodies loads up a bus, trucks, and vans with people and props, and starts the journey across America. At each stop, publicized on Instagram, Twitter, and Outstanding’s website, the crew arrives at a field. Some of the crew then set up a long table and chairs for all the guests. In the field. Everyone else is cooking, oftentimes working directly with the farmers and local chefs until the guests arrive.

Each meal is based completely on locally sourced ingredients. That means the menu changes every time. Everyone in the crew of a couple dozen people does multiple jobs (whatever it takes), from prepping food and serving to answering questions about the food and menu. And they do this over and over, across the country, every few days, for months at a time.

After almost two decades, it’s exciting to know that Jim still has passion for celebrating the people whose hard work brings good food to the table, aka, all the people that are “Outstanding in the Field.”

I was fascinated with this model of true word of mouth (WOM) marketing. I cannot wait until I can coordinate my schedule to attend a dinner later this year.

The second innovative chef experience brings chefs to your home. This enterprise, MiumMium (French Canadian for “yum”), was started by a professional chef and entrepreneur, Chloe St-Cyr.

Her foodie-rewarding version of Uber connects potential customers with professional, and sometimes “damn good” amateur, chefs. The mobile culinarians go right into gourmands’ homes with all the food they need to prepare memorable dining experiences. And not just in the U.S. There are more than 11,000 chefs from around the world registered with MiumMium.

The way it works is kind of like other shared economy enterprises, one of the best being Airbnb. In an interview with Specialty Food Magazine, St-Cyr said that Uber and Airbnb are “monetizing an unused asset…there are millions of chefs around the world, why not create a platform where they can market their skills and earn some extra cash?”

So, chefs advertise their menus at prices they set on Chloe’s digital platform and MiumMium promotes the chefs’ work on the website. Consumers browse to select a location, menu, and chef that they want. And the food is expertly prepared by the chef in their home.

Can you imagine? If you want to have a few friends over for a chef-quality gourmet dinner, but don’t want to slave away in the kitchen all day, all you have to do is go on the website, find the chef you want, the menu you like, and pre-pay with your credit card. Then the chef shows up at your home at the appropriate time and prepares an amazing meal!

Last year meals cost about $48 per person, on average, including everything but the tip.

All I can say is, if you are a foodie or a wannabe foodie, many options are available for the food experience you’ve dreamed of. Uber meets Airbnb meets farmers market meets chef-prepared dinner. I’m already planning my next food experience. What about you?

Karen

This week I joined 250 other women in the produce business for an annual conference in Miami, Florida. Like many industries, fresh produce has long been male-dominated. As a matter of fact, my mother, Frieda, was regarded as the first woman business owner in produce when she started our company back in 1962.

Women’s Fresh Perspectives was started by our industry association as a way to reach out, encourage, train, and mentor the many women who have joined our industry. This was the conference’s 5th annual meeting. I found it exciting that for about 50 percent of the women there, it was their first time attending.

We had many speakers and breakout sessions over the three-day conference. One stood out for me—Mel Robbins, a CNN commentator.

She walked onto the stage with her white, paper Starbucks cup in hand. She wore big, black, blocky eyeglasses. She spoke in a deep, matter-of-fact voice.

Mel warmed us up with this line: “First things first: I got my skirt at Anthropologie, and you can order my glittery Converse tennis shoes online.” If you’re not a woman, this probably doesn’t make sense to you. But most women, when they see another woman wearing something attractive or cute, will ask, “Where did you get that?” So, basically, Mel had us at hello.

She then told us about some crappy times she and her husband had in their professional careers back in 2011. Basically, they both lost their jobs at the same time. Unfortunately for Mel, she was on television and her firing was public.

So, not a surprise, she started to drink, got depressed, and every day was pretty much a pity party for herself. Her husband also got fired and decided to start the pizza restaurant he’d always wanted. With three kids, it was definitely a challenging time.

Her presentation to us was about how she discovered the way to jump-start her life and basically get off her ass. When she discovered the Five-Second Rule and started applying it and seeing the results, she started telling people about it. She was encouraged to give a TEDx talk about it. And in fact, at the end of this post is her 18-minute talk, “How to Stop Screwing Yourself Over,” which has become one of the most globally praised TEDx talks ever.

So here’s the definition of the Five-Second Rule:

If you have an impulse to act on a goal, you must physically move within five seconds or your brain will kill the idea.

For example, if you have a goal of gaining more respect in the workplace, you have to raise your hand the next time you’re in a meeting and you have a great idea. If you have a goal of losing weight, you can take action right now by researching healthy meal options and setting daily reminders on your phone that will prompt you to go to the gym.

Whatever your goals are, show the world, and yourself, that you’re serious by taking action, RIGHT NOW, however insignificant that action may seem. Because when you physically move, your brain starts to build new habits. When you do something you’re not used to doing, you are in the act of building new habits and erasing existing ones.

And that’s the Five-Second Rule. Mel told us that when we have an idea and hesitate, our idea will never happen. But if instead, when we have an idea, we count out loud or in our head, “5-4-3-2-1-GO,” and actually move, our chance for success is amplified. She calls it “activation energy.” (You can read more about how this works on her website.)

I know it sounds simplistic that saying, “5-4-3-2-1-GO,” to yourself will change things. But I have found myself thinking a lot about it the last two days. For example, I wanted to speak up during a conference session and I hesitated. Afterward, I regretted not participating and sharing my comments. If I had used Mel’s insights to take action, I might have gotten even more out of the conference. And I know I am not alone. I sat next to a Walmart executive during Mel’s talk; she basically told me she did the same thing. She didn’t speak up. And she wished she had.

So, think about it. What is it you want to accomplish? Do you know exactly what you want to do? Do you know exactly where you need to start? Is it the momentum to move forward NOW that is preventing you? Well, use that Five-Second Rule and see how that works.

5-4-3-2-1-GO!

Karen

[youtube=https://youtu.be/Lp7E973zozc]

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I’ve noticed that many universities and colleges have found an interesting way to expand their community outreach and donor base. They host CEO summits, speaker series, and economic forecast events to appeal to local business owners and hook them on supporting educational institutions.

Earlier this week, I attended a speaker luncheon at one of California’s finest public colleges: Cal Poly Pomona. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the dean’s advisory committee.) As one of two California Polytechnic Universities—the other is located in San Luis Obispo—it is known for “Learn by Doing.” In contrast to most public schools, which teach primarily from theory or research-based curriculums, at Cal Poly, the real world application, internships in the student’s field of study, and on-campus labs and off-campus experiences dominate.

In that spirit, the College of Agriculture at Cal Poly Pomona invited the undisputed most successful grower/marketer/entrepreneur in California, and perhaps one of the preeminent grower/marketers in the U.S., to speak: Stewart Resnick. Stewart’s company, The Wonderful Company, owns many well-known brands: Fiji Water, Wonderful Almonds and Pistachios, Halo Tangerines, Pom Wonderful Juice, and Teleflora.

I’ve known Stewart and his wife, Lynda, (who is a brilliant marketer) for many years. But I’ve never heard Stewart speak at an event. So my observations of him and my learnings from his comments were a bit of a surprise to me.

I was struck by how low key and matter of fact he was. He had been on a tour of the campus before the luncheon, so I wasn’t totally surprised that he was in jeans and a plaid shirt (in California, wearing jeans and a plaid shirt is now considered chic and trendy). And he seemed sincerely interested when I introduced him to a large carrot farmer. (Turns out the farmer’s cousin is Stewart’s real estate broker!)

When Stewart got up to speak, he had no notes, took the microphone, and spent about 10 minutes telling how he got into agriculture. He grew up in New Jersey, then went to UCLA for undergraduate studies and law school. To pay his way, he started a janitorial service (yes, he started by scrubbing toilets), which he eventually sold. He parlayed the profits from that to buy the Franklin Mint, then started buying land. Of course, many years later, he and Lynda are now some of the largest landholders in California and are on Fortune Magazine’s list of billionaires.

During the Q & A session, his comments had some real nuggets of lessons learned:

  1. In the beginning, he didn’t like about 80 percent of the work he did, but loved the other 20 percent. As his career progressed, he spent more time on the things he loved and less time on the things he didn’t. He said he now loves 80 percent of his work, and he knows that the 20 percent he doesn’t like is necessary so he can do what he loves.

Lesson: You have to spend some time on things you don’t like, but that allows you to spend more time on what you love. Manage that time ratio.

  1. The Resnicks’ firm is well known for its marketing and its huge advertising budgets. Stewart said their strategy is to only invest marketing dollars in those things that they have dominant market share. He knows, for example, that in the U.S., they dominate the production of almonds and pistachios, so they’re not afraid to advertise heavily. Since both nuts basically need a desert with access to water, he doesn’t see competition coming easily.

Lesson: Know your competitive advantage so you can leverage it.

  1. In physics, he said, everything is basically an experiment. So when something he tries in business fails, he says, “That was a good experiment.”

Lesson: Everything you do teaches you something, even if it is that you don’t want to do it anymore.

  1. When asked by a (millennial) student in the audience for advice about starting a professional career, he said, “You have to work hard. There are no silver bullets.” He also commented that the leaders he has hired and promoted in his many companies succeeded because they worked hard and contributed. They remained relevant to the business.

Lesson: There is no shortcut to moving up in your career. You have to pay your dues and work hard.

Since everyone was asking Stewart questions about work, I asked him a personal question about what he does for fun. Besides cycling, traveling, and enjoying wine, he said he really has a pretty simple life. He likes his work. He likes making deals. And he seems sincerely curious.

He also made us laugh, with his final comment about why he likes agriculture: “Farmers are nicer to work with than investment bankers.”

As I drove home, I realized that I still have to spend time on things I don’t like doing, but that investment allows me to spend more time on the things that I love. I will continue to manage that time ratio for myself.

Karen

If you work in an office, you probably have one coworker who has snacks at his or her desk. You know, when you get the munchies, and just want a little something, you go to their desk to get a small snack.

For me, that is Becky. She is a member of our sales team and has been at Frieda’s for more than 20 years. She has a drawer filled with healthy snacks, and some mornings I just need a fix to hold me over until lunch. Usually it’s Trader Joe’s Simply Almonds, Cashews, and Cranberries Trek Mix.

A few weeks ago, I stopped by for my snack and her drawer was empty. She was out of trail mix. I was devastated and potentially hangry.” (Yes, it is one of the new words added to the Oxford English Dictionary recently.)

So, the ever resourceful Becky, said, “Why don’t you try these?”

I had no idea what she was handing me, but she started rattling off some of the virtues of Skippy P.B. Bites:

Being the marketing person that I am, I was fascinated with this new product. And I was curious about when it was introduced and the innovative process behind it.

As it turns out Hormel Foods (the owner of Skippy, which it acquired from Unilever in 2013) is well known for innovation. The founder, George Hormel, said it best: “Innovate, don’t imitate.” In 2015 Hormel launched Skippy P.B. Bites, part of its $3 billion pipeline of new products launched since 2000. At that time, the company formed a corporate innovation team to develop “game-changing product innovation that often involves proprietary technology.”

According to one interview, the Bites were inspired by the recent success of unwrapped miniature morsels from top candy bar brands (think mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in a bag).

I was so excited about these P.B. Bites that I went right to my local grocery store to look for them. And I found them on the shelf beside regular peanut butter. I was fascinated by Hormel’s adorable television commercial for the Bites aimed at kids, who are the biggest consumers of and love peanut butter. So cute and relatable:

[youtube=https://youtu.be/eCN46QYeuV8]

However, I think Hormel has missed an opportunity to go after another market. And that’s adult peanut butter lovers, who are also calorie counters. And adult snackers.

As much as I like these Skippy P.B. Bites, I do check in to see that Becky’s stash of Trader Joe’s trek mix is well stocked. Because no one wants me to be hangry at my office!

Karen

My co-worker Becky with her Skippy P.B. Bites

Last week I went to Las Vegas. Does it surprise you that it was a business trip? I was invited to speak at the first Vegas Food Expo. My topic was “How Produce Trends Happen.” It’s always fun for me to demystify how kale or kiwi appeared on the produce scene. “Gradually and then suddenly,” I always say.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to Las Vegas and for a few years now, I’ve had something on my bucket list. And that is to take a tour of Zappos headquarters. My dear friend Jack Daly, who is an author and does sales training for a living, has talked about the tour for years. So, with an extra half day available to me, I went online a month ago and booked a tour for Friday morning.

When most people think of Zappos, they think of buying shoes online, free shipping both ways, and founder Tony Hsieh selling the company to Amazon for $1 billion. That is all true.

But the reason the tour is so popular is to learn about the company’s secret sauce, its real competitive advantage. Zappos is known for its culture.

From the moment I went on the website and signed up (and received regular reminders about my upcoming visit), and then as I walked through the front doors, I could tell there was something very special about the place. First of all, everyone is unbelievably happy and friendly. It didn’t seem like they were working. It seemed like they were just hanging out. After signing in, I was offered water, snacks, storage for my luggage, and shopping time at the Z Boutique (the store with promotional merchandise, or  “swag”) located right off the lobby.

Since I arrived early, I wandered into the swag store just to see what they had besides the normal hats, T-shirts, etc. That’s when I met Lindy. She was running the store that day. Actually, she seemed almost too happy to me. But I could tell it was completely sincere, especially since I asked her how she came to work at Zappos. I noticed how naturally she engaged with me, didn’t put any pressure on me to buy anything, and wasn’t in any rush. Of course I had to buy Tony Hsieh’s book, “Delivering Happiness,” plus a T-shirt and shot glasses. (More about shot glasses later.)

Lindy at the Zappos gift shop

Just before our tour, a few tour guides ushered us into a large alcove, where they played several videos, which clearly demonstrated their culture.

The first video was about how a customer service rep from Zappos really connected with a customer who called to buy tennis shoes for a run she was participating in. As it turned out, the customer was battling breast cancer and this was a big run for her. The customer service rep felt so connected after the call that she wanted to do something to make the customer feel special. So she sent her flowers! And then, through one of Zappos’ funds, Zappos and the rep arranged a party for the customer a few months later to celebrate her birthday! Yes, you are reading this correctly. All the customer did was call in to buy a pair of shoes. And the customer service rep was empowered to “delight” her in any way she saw fit. Talk about winning a client for life! (As you know, they’ve already won over my daughter Alex.)

A second video was about how Tony Hsieh started his company, including how he got the name Zappos. His partner, Nick, suggested they call the company “Zapos,” as a nickname for the Spanish word for shoes, “zapatos.” They added an extra “p” because it looked better and the name “Zappos” was born. I found it super interesting that Tony graduated from Harvard in 1995 and sold his previous company, LinkExchange, to Microsoft for $265 million, which provided the startup money for founding Zappos.

Zappos has a team of six full-time tour guides; that is their full time job at Zappos. Our small group of five had an hour-long tour with our two guides. The facility is the former city hall of Las Vegas. Sadly, it’s a concrete building with not a lot of natural warmth. Our guide, Ryo, told us that they moved there in 2013 and it is much nicer than when they moved in. But Zappos is continuing to remodel to make it feel like home.

Entrance to the Zappos headquarters

Here are some of the highlights of the tour and things I learned:

I could go on and on about the tour and Zappos. But I think the best thing is if you are intrigued and planning a trip to Las Vegas, go online and book a tour. It’s $10 and well worth the 90 minutes.

Oh, about my produce trends talk. Did you know that kale and kiwifruit have something in common (besides the letter “k”)? Both took about 18 years from the time they were first promoted to them appearing ubiquitous.

Here’s a photo of me in the lobby of Zappos. They have a throne…it truly made me feel like royalty!

Karen

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Many applications only have a place to check boxes or fill in basic information, like your name, address, previous jobs, etc. You really don’t have the opportunity to be creative when you are applying for a mortgage or a new job; you just fill in the blanks.

But last week, I had the opportunity to see some very creative applications, as I was one of several judges for the Spirit of Entrepreneurship Awards, a business awards competition in Santa Barbara. This is the second year I was asked to review the awards packets for businesses that were either nominated or self-nominated for the prestigious awards for women business owners in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

I don’t live in Santa Barbara, so last year I was a bit perplexed why they asked me. As it turns out, to eliminate any bias, they only use judges from outside the geographic area, so no judge will know the nominees or be prejudiced in their judging.

So last weekend, I sat in my office, opened my Dropbox account, and started perusing the applications. I had 24 applications in four categories to review. Here’s my methodology: First I read through all the applications in a category, then I go back and read them a second time, doing the scoring.

And that’s when I made an observation about the process. I realized that judging the applications was not completely about the business or the business owner. And believe me, there were a lot of amazing and deserving applicants. It was also about how careful and diligent the business owners were in completing their applications.

I could tell that some people took great care and put a lot of thought into completing the application. They were neat, with no typos, and a lot of detailed, thoughtful explanation about the candidate and her business. Others, I could see, were a bit hastily filled out. They were handwritten, not in complete sentences, and did not appear as if the applicant took it seriously.

That’s when it hit me. I recalled when I nominated a friend of mine for an award a few years ago. I was up against a deadline. I rushed to complete the application and didn’t take as much time as I should have in gathering research and background. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when my friend didn’t win.

As per usual, when I least expect it, I learn an important life lesson.

How many times have you turned in some information and done it in a hurry? You didn’t take the time to prepare, to do your research, and to thoughtfully complete the assignment. Whether it is filling out an application for an award or a scholarship, or preparing to give a speech, a sales preparation, or even for a meeting at work, the time invested in advance, to prepare, is the most important part of the process.

It took me several hours to review all 24 applications twice and to do the scoring. I took my time and made sure I thoughtfully considered each application. That is an important part of the process too: not jumping to conclusions quickly, and being thoughtful and considerate when evaluating.

I won’t be able to attend the awards ceremony this year, so best of luck to all the women nominated for the Spirit of Entrepreneurship Awards! Starting and owning a business is hard work and, many times, a labor of love.

Karen

P.S.  I did attend last year’s ceremony where I was happily surprised to run into a produce friend of mine, Chef Sarah LaCasse!

Chef Sarah LaCasse and me

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It all started on the golf course. Early last year, I attended the Northern Trust Open at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. As I was wandering around the clubhouse, I ran into Mark Brian Smith, the filmmaker who produced and directed “Fear No Fruit,” the documentary about my mom and our family business. He had with him a longtime personal friend Simon, a banker. As per usual, we shook hands and exchanged business cards.

So I guess I was a little surprised when six months later I received an email from Simon, who had changed banks, inviting me to be the keynote speaker at a CEO summit. As it turns out, his new bank, Union Bank, is a sponsor of the CEO Summit at the University of La Verne and he is on the steering committee. After seeing the movie about our company, he thought our story would be great for the summit’s audience of 150 to 200 local CEOs.

So last week, I drove 30 miles to La Verne and spent a few hours there. We took a quick walking tour and La Verne President Devorah Leiberman shared some pretty impressive information with me. The university is recognized amongst the country’s leading schools. U.S. News and World Report rates La Verne’s undergraduate online degree offerings as No. 1 in California (and 24th best in the country). The university has four colleges: Arts & Sciences, Business & Public Management, Education, and Law.

I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised how many of the deans and associate deans from the four colleges listened to my presentation. One in particular stood out to me—Rita Thakur, associate dean of the College of Business & Public Management. We sat at the same table during lunch and had a lovely chat. She was born in India and you can read her story here. She struck me as kind of quiet, so I was trying to imagine her as the associate dean. But I quickly learned that her mild-mannered demeanor was simply her way of charming people and accomplishing her goals. She drilled me about the internships at my company. During my speech, I had said,  “Ask for what you want.” She did just that, saying, “I want you to give one of my students an internship this summer!” That’s chutzpah!

During our conversation, I learned about a program she created at La Verne that is the only one of its kind in the country. It’s called “The Rita Thakur Skills for Success Program.” For all four years that students are in the College of Business & Public Management, they are required to enroll in the program. It teaches both life and professional skills that students just don’t get anymore! Things like: etiquette, how to do introductions, how to make sure your resume gets to the top of the pile, interviewing techniques, etc. As they progress through their undergraduate education, the students continue to get professional mentorship, consulting opportunities, and training for soliciting a loan, selling a product, and developing a business plan.

I was so excited to learn this.

It was even more timely when I read The Wall Street Journal on March 20. The headline on the Personal Finance section was “Should College Students Be Required to Take a Personal-finance Course?” I vote “YES.” I know what it’s like for a twentysomething new hire who doesn’t know how to choose a health insurance plan or what questions to ask about the 401k plan.

One of the biggest challenges millennials and others who enter the workforce have is lack of training in those life skills. It was awesome to see that a single person like Rita Thakur recognized the opportunity and created a program that will give thousands of students at the University of La Verne a better chance of success in the business world. Perhaps other universities and colleges will embrace the practical needs of today’s workforce and give students similar training.

I get a lot of speaking requests during the course of a year. I accepted this one because I could tell that La Verne has something special to offer, not only to the community with the CEO Summit, but as I learned, to their students. If you should have the opportunity to speak at a local college or university, whether it is about your own business or career, or as an opportunity to mentor and give back, I hope you will make the time to do it.

It’s always good to pay it forward!

Karen

I attended a produce conference last weekend in Orlando (I know, I lead such an exciting life). Sixteen hundred of my closest produce friends and I hung out at the Disney Dolphin Resort for three days of meetings, workshops, a trade show, plus an evening gala.

When I say “my closest produce friends,” I really mean that. The unique aspect of the produce industry is that because we spend so much time together at various shows and events each year, many of us actually do become close friends.

As my daughter Alex and I were walking through the lobby, we came across two of our longtime retail clients from North Carolina.

We stopped to say hello and catch up. It wasn’t even one minute into the conversation when Dick said, “I just cannot believe how much fresh turmeric I am selling these days!” In my head, I was thinking, “His stores are in some rural areas of North and South Carolina; I wonder how much turmeric is ‘a lot?’” So I asked him to tell us more.

As it turns out, it started with one store in coastal North Carolina. They kept ordering so much turmeric that his warehouse could not keep it in stock.

Like me, Dick was curious why the sudden surge in demand. He found out there is a popular recipe for an elixir featuring Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar, fresh turmeric, lemon juice, and honey that is circulating and that’s why his stores can’t keep it in stock.

With the help of Google, here is the recipe. And here’s another one.

I’m not implying or endorsing any health claims, but it sounds like this natural “tonic” promises extra energy, improved mood, stabilized blood sugar, lower LDL cholesterol…the list goes on.

I told Dick that turmeric has been a trending ingredient for two years due to its anti-inflammatory properties. We have also noticed on a national basis the surge in sales of both fresh turmeric and fresh ginger, as more people are discovering these roots to make their own teas, tonics and juices.

It was quite exciting to see that consumer demand coming from the coastal region of North Carolina. Most of us think that trendy foods are more popular in big metropolitan cities, like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. I guess, as people retire or want a more relaxed lifestyle, they are taking their eating and shopping habits to places like North Carolina (where several of my friends have now moved).

That’s exciting news. Because that means more and more stores across the country will be offering their shoppers all those hard-to-find ingredients. And if you’re one of those people who have moved to a new area, don’t be afraid to ask your produce manager to order any fruits and veggies you are looking for which aren’t on display. Otherwise, your produce manager will not know that you—and others—want them!

Karen

P.S. My team and I had a little fun at this produce conference. The theme was “The Magic of Produce” and we dressed in the theme of “Frieda’s School of Purple Magic”…à la Harry Potter.

For the last 11 years, I have attended the biannual University of California, Davis, Agribusiness Seminar. The three-day gathering includes 90 agribusiness executives from across the ag supply chain: egg farmers to cattle ranchers, grape growers to bagged salad producers, investment bankers to consultants and people in the food business. Ninety percent of the attendees are from California and some repeat attendees have gotten to know each other pretty well over the years.

This year we read, studied, and discussed seven case studies about other companies that were willing to open their business to the case writers (usually university professors and professional case writers). The cases are confidential.

Each year I attend, I learn so much that has helped me grow my business and refine my approach as a business leader. I am fortunate to be a member of the steering committee, so I had some input into the programming. The cases usually focus on a business challenge the company is facing. Our discussions revolve around us developing alternative strategies. When the case is actually presented, the company executive responds to our insights and questions, and tells us what the company ultimately decided to do, and why. It is super interesting!

This year, we had a keynote speaker who flew in all the way from New Zealand. As it turns out, our speaker, Michael Henderson, is a corporate anthropologist. In my opinion, he is part psychologist, part therapist, and mostly incredibly insightful. His company brochure says, “He has a degree in Anthropology and uses this unique skills set to support organizations to create high performance cultures.”

Michael Henderson, corporate anthropologist

We received his latest book “Above the Line” a few weeks before he spoke and were expected to read it before we arrived. I admit when I saw that I had to read a binder full of cases, plus the book, I wasn’t sure I would get through it all. But once I started reading Michael’s book, I couldn’t put it down. I grabbed my highlighter and started marking it up; so many things resonated with me.

What I learned from Michael was: “Company culture fundamentally does one of two things. It either makes your business money or costs your business money.” He told us that culture has proven to be eight times more influential to business performance than strategy. Eight times more! That definitely got my attention.

One of the biggest insights he shared is how companies approach culture incorrectly. Many companies think the company sets the culture. In fact, the employees control the culture. Michael suggested that, when you interview a potential new employee, instead of sharing your company culture, you should ask the candidates what their values are. And if those values are not in alignment with your company’s values, then you should not hire that person. Personal values determine compatibility; their personal values will not change. For example, if your company’s values include being goal-oriented and -driven, and the candidate values a low-key, non-pressure work environment, you can see how they might not fit into the culture (no matter how good their skill set is).

We asked Michael about acquisitions. Many companies attending this conference will be making acquisitions in the future. Statistics show that 85 percent of all acquisitions fail…mostly due to a lack of culture alignment. So what advice did he have? He told us that while most companies focus on doing financial audits of the company under consideration, what they really need to include is a culture audit. Such a great suggestion.

Michael also told us that if you want to change the culture, you need to be mindful of whom you promote in your company. Those who are promoted should have personal values aligned with the company’s values. It makes culture alignment so much easier and natural.

And if you are wondering if culture alignment can add money to the bottom line of a company, he gave us several examples. Two stood out for me: Coca Cola NZ added $30 million to its bottom line in one year; Z Energy (another NZ company) hit its three-year financial targets in 18 months. Both credit their culture as the major significant contribution to achieving these results.

“Great culture makes wealth. A toxic culture destroys wealth.” – Warren Buffett

I think Mr. Buffett said it succinctly.

Karen

P.S. During the agribusiness seminar, I was fortunate to receive an invitation to this year’s Berkshire Hathaway meeting in Omaha, Nebraska! I am beyond excited that I am able to attend and see Warren Buffett and Charles Munger in person. Stay tuned.

A few months ago, I joined the board of Second Harvest Food Bank, the largest food bank in Orange County and a member of the Feeding America national network.

Our company donates edible produce to the food bank each week. CEO Nicole Suydam and I have gotten to know each other over the past few years, and she slowly recruited me to join the board, made up of about 20 community leaders, entrepreneurs, and corporate executives.

After I had joined the board, Nicole let me know that I was expected to attend a four-hour board orientation session at the Second Harvest offices, located 30 miles from my own office. To be honest, I was completely annoyed when I learned this.

Although I am very committed to being an active board member, I’d already attended two board meetings and several events, and I couldn’t understand the need for a four-hour orientation.

Me with the Second Harvest Food Bank’s mobile pantry

Let me describe the orientation:

The other new board member, Steve (a retail grocery executive), and I were seated in a conference room with Nicole. We were each given a binder containing supplemental information for all of the presentations we would be getting. Nicole then gave us an overview of the history of Second Harvest, reviewed the enterprise’s organizational chart, plus the committee assignments for board members, and then discussed the strategic plan.

The next three hours were spent having 20- to 30-minute presentations by the eight department heads within the food bank about their departments and their goals, with Nicole present the whole time to facilitate their presentations, ask for clarification, and give further explanations.

At the end of our four-hour meeting, Steve and I looked at each other, and then at Nicole, and commented that we both learned so much about Second Harvest. Both of us admitted to being skeptical beforehand about the need for such a lengthy and detailed orientation, but we agreed it gave us a fantastic historical perspective and a deeper understanding which would help us be better board members and supporters. I hope other volunteer organizations invest this kind of time in “onboarding” new volunteer board members. It will definitely pay dividends.

Nicole Suydam. CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County

So as I drove home, I started to think about my own company’s new hire orientation. Although we invest in orienting new employees, we don’t do it in the same way Nicole does. It struck me that I could take the best practices that I learned from the Second Harvest board member orientation and improve our onboarding experience for new employees.

Instead of having the new employee travel between departments and interrupt the workday of the various managers, I am seriously considering centralizing orientation and standardizing it. And by being present for each orientation, I will be able to add anecdotal and other insights that may be missed if I’m not there.

Some of the fun stationery we use at the office and provide new hires.

How many of you have started a new job and were satisfied with the orientation? Was it simply filling out a bunch of forms in the HR office and then you were shipped off to your department to start working? Especially if you work in a small- to medium-sized company, the resources are not always available to develop a robust onboarding process, so you may not figure out the organizational dynamics until weeks or months after you start.

My big takeaway from this experience was a reminder that no matter how annoying something may seem before you complete it, there is always a lesson to be learned.

What did you learn today?

Karen

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I was surprised by the last question asked from the audience when I participated as a panelist at the THRIVE AgTech conference earlier this month:

“What do you think is the future of cannabis in California agriculture?”

I was even more surprised when the moderator turned to me and said, “Karen, why don’t you take that question, as I would consider cannabis a specialty crop, wouldn’t you?”

I smiled and jokingly said we could sell it in 1-ounce packages, like our other specialty items.

But seriously, I then mentioned my presentation at the food trend conference, Bitten LA back in October, where Jeff the Cannabis Chef did an entire presentation about his career cooking with cannabis. After all, cannabis edibles are very popular these days.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Do44xQVeooQ&feature=youtu.be]

Since then, I’ve done a little research. And in fact, I have had more than one industry person tell me it’s no secret that many hot house growers in California are looking at the financial returns on growing cannabis. The Orange County Register estimated the value of California’s marijuana crop in 2015 to be the number one leading agriculture commodity at $23.3 billion. Just for comparison, coming in second on that list is milk at $6.28 billion and almonds at about $5 billion.

 

With all of the buzz, pardon the pun, around the California cannabis industry, there are also some concerns that directly impact the produce industry. Would fruit and vegetable growers switch out edible crops to grow cannabis? Many experts don’t seem too concerned about the switch as there are more fees, regulations, and risks of property forfeiture that come with growing commercial cannabis. At least, for now.

And just last Friday, the International Cannabis Business Conference was held in San Francisco. So I imagine we are going to see a lot of information in the news in coming weeks.

So I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when the latest edition of the newsletter Israel21C arrived with the following headline:

 “5 reasons Israel is dominating the cannabis industry”

The article highlights that Israel is more than 10 years ahead of other countries in terms of cannabis innovation. Whether it is in growing, processing, medical treatment, or venture funds (iCAN is an Israel-cannabis venture fund), a lot is going on in Israel.

But back to the question I was asked. In case you’re wondering, I don’t think you will see Frieda’s adding cannabis to our product lineup anytime soon.

Karen

Anyone who knows me is probably shocked to see me writing about Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. It’s no secret that I don’t pay much attention to sports—but I love attending live sporting events. I haven’t been to a football game in a while, but I am well aware of the Super Bowl, which now seems better known for the commercials that show during the game than for the actual game. I did spend the afternoon at my daughter’s watching the game, but that’s not what I wanted to talk about.

I’m an avid reader of The Wall Street Journal and an article in the February 1 edition caught my eye: “Meet Tom Brady’s Shaman.” I was intrigued.

The article highlights Brady’s admiration for the book “The Four Agreements, a Practical Guide to Personal Freedom” by Don Miguel Ruiz.

I first became aware of this book when my longtime designer friends, Ted and Peggy, mentioned this Toltec shaman to me back in the 1980s. They traveled and studied with Don Miguel Ruiz, even before he wrote this book in 1997. And in fact, when I first got the book, I read the forward, and sure enough, I saw Ted and Peggy’s names listed with the acknowledgements.

The book is small and a quick read, and Don Miguel’s wisdom is so simple and straightforward.

Here are his four agreements:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

Many things have been written about Tom Brady. He’s 39, but looks 29. He takes perfect care of his body. He is very private and an amazing athlete. And now, we can add to that list “ardent student.”

Photo credit: Wikipedia/Jeffrey Beall

Although Brady went through a rough patch with Deflategate, it was nice to see that he has a more spiritual, grounded side. In a time when many athletes are not great role models for young people, with their foul language and poor behavior (both on and off the field/court), it was refreshing to see how he used The Four Agreements as his new compass. The Wall Street Journal article quoted Brady as describing the book as a “kind of a mantra for my life,” and indicated it helped him navigate the urgent intergalactic crisis that was Deflategate.

Each of us would do well to consider these four short sentences as a way to approach our work, our life, our friends, and our family.

I can honestly admit that I never thought the Super Bowl would inspire me to re-read a book. But after Brady, one of the best athletes of our time, helped win a fifth Super Bowl for the Patriots and I learned that he finds strength and vision in this book, I went home and picked it up again.

I suggest you consider doing that too. Remember, don’t make assumptions.

Karen

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I was invited to be a panelist at the THRIVE AgTech Innovation Forum held last week in Menlo Park, California. After lunch, the program focused on what the consumer wants from the fresh produce industry and what insights that may provide for the technology business.

My fellow panelists included Gareth Keane of Qualcomm Ventures, Hank Giclas of Western Growers Association (a group of growers in California and Arizona) and Michael Teel, CEO of Sacramento-based retailer, Raley’s.

I was excited to meet Michael, as I had been following his career for many years. He is the third generation of the Raley family to own and operate the 82-year-old chain of 127 stores.

Michael started off talking to the standing-room-only audience of more than 200 people. To me, he “got naked” with the audience about his professional management philosophy and his business.

Credit: Jeff Rumans Photography

He told us that the way the grocery business works is that typically big food companies (consumer product goods or CPG companies) develop new products. They present them to retailers, along with financial incentives and support, so the retailers will stock and advertise them in their stores.

About two years ago, Michael started an initiative at his company that was pretty radical. He decided that his company would adjust some of the ways they received financial support from these CPG companies by focusing on what was right for his own customers. Raley’s would put its customers first when making decisions about product mix, marketing, and displays.

He referred to this entire initiative as being “purpose-driven,” meaning Raley’s’ higher purpose would drive everyone’s behavior and decision-making. And it was born out of his desire to improve the health of the families that shop in Raley’s. His vision is to “infuse life with health and happiness.”

In support of the initiative, Raley’s removed all tobacco products from stores in 2015. Last year private label sodas that contain high fructose corn syrup, and artificial colors and flavors, were discontinued. Check-stand offerings were improved by removing all artificially sweetened sodas and upgrading the selection of snacks and treats.

Then the most interesting thing happened—same store sales and customer satisfaction both increased. Prior to the initiative, same store sales had declined for a few years.

My first question to Michael after our panel was: “How did your buyers feel about your decision?” He said that at first they were a bit surprised and had some adjusting to do. But in the end, they welcomed the strong direction and support from their leader. The initiative made their decision-making a lot easier. To some degree, he infused their lives with health and happiness too.

Credit: Jeff Rumans Photography

I first became aware of purpose-driven organizations about 10 years ago, when I worked with a consultant named Paul Ratoff. He helped us redefine Frieda’s strategy and purpose over the next few years. Two years ago, Paul published a book, “Thriving in a Stakeholder World.” The tag line for the book is “Purpose as the New Competitive Advantage.”

Meeting Michael Teel and seeing how a purpose-driven organization can deliver better bottom-line results was exciting for me.

Can you think of other purpose-driven organizations? Many charities naturally come to mind. My prediction is that, with the increasing number of millennial entrepreneurs, we will begin to see more purpose-driven companies grow and thrive.

Karen

P.S. I was proud to have two other produce industry leaders on the stage with me that afternoon: Bruce Taylor of Taylor Fresh Foods (you’ve seen their packaged salads and veggies in your local supermarket) and Kevin Murphy of Driscoll’s (their strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries are known worldwide for their amazing taste and quality).

Left to right: Bruce Taylor, me, and Kevin Murphy

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When I see or hear the word “charcoal,” I immediately think of those black briquettes that are used for grilling (if you don’t have a gas grill). At one time, the only way to grill or barbecue was to buy charcoal briquettes, splash some lighter fluid on them, and light a match. Your food might taste a bit like kerosene, but, who cared?

Now here we are in 2017, and charcoal is one of the top food trends for this year.

And no, it’s not the same as the barbecue briquettes.

Also known as activated charcoal, this pitch-black powder is made from heated coconut shells (coconut anything is another big trend), which is harmless and different from consuming charred foods. If this sounds familiar to you, it is because activated charcoal is used in your water filter for purification and in your hospital for poison absorption. In fact, my daughter Alex told me she first got familiar with charcoal as an ingredient in facial masks that remove toxins and impurities from your skin.

 

As far as trends go, charcoal is everywhere from bread and baked goods to ice cream, and from juices and smoothies to cocktails. But I’m still skeptical.

Last week, Alex and I walked into my local Nekter Juice Bar after a hard workout. She pointed out, “Oh, look. They’re sampling charcoal juice! Want a taste?”

Did I want a drink of charcoal juice? Alex, you must be kidding!

After a bit of questioning, I tried a small sip of the blackish-gray liquid. It wasn’t so bad!

As it turns out, according to a March 2015 Time Magazine article and a September 2016 POPSUGAR article, not a lot of scientific research has been done on the health benefits of drinking charcoal drinks. But when mixed with other green juice drinks, it seems to be safe enough. Plus, the green drink cocktail masks the chalky, gritty taste of the charcoal.

When I went back to the Nekter Juice Bar last night for my regular green drink, I asked how the charcoal drink blends are selling. I was told that they are very popular and they were sold out!

Instinctively, it makes sense that, if you want to detox your body, a green drink with charcoal would help with detoxing. (You can even make your own!) But as one of the articles warned, don’t have a big charcoal drink within a couple of hours of taking medicine. Also, too much of a good thing might have the opposite effect on your digestion.

For me, I will probably just stick to “the Greenie,” made with a base of kale, parsley, cucumber, and celery with a little apple and lemon for flavor. My naturopath tells me I need to drink at least one green drink a day to help make my body less acidic (more alkaline). This will help reduce any inflammation.

That’s my favorite on the right, “the Greenie.”

For those of us who have recommitted to healthier habits in the new year, consider just making one small change at a time. So, one of my first commitments for 2017 is to eat more greens. And a green drink at my local juice bar requires no preparation on my part and tastes amazing.

As for charcoal juice, it’s not for me but that should not stop you. Try it and see!

Karen

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When was the last time you wrote a personal check? Or deposited one with a teller in a bank?

Today you can bank without setting one foot outside your house. Using your smartphone, you can deposit your checks, transfer your money, and pay your bills without touching a piece of paper or signing any form. And I have to admit: I love it! I can sit at my desk, take out my cell phone, snap a couple of pictures, and “poof,” my check is deposited.

And just to think, 30 years ago, my friend had to show me how to use the ATM when it first came out. I mean, before that, we had to cash our paychecks inside the bank with everyone else. Oh, the lines! The forms! The hassle! Those days are long gone now.

And it’s not just banking either.

I had a bit of surprise last weekend when I needed to refill a prescription while I was traveling. My insurance company had just changed, and I didn’t think about updating that information with CVS. Why would I? Like most people, I have my prescription on auto-refill.

So, when I got a text from CVS telling me that I needed to update my insurance information before they would refill my prescription, I was trying to figure out how I was going to get to the pharmacy while it was open. But then I noticed a link next to my text, “Click to update your information.”

And to my surprise, a screen similar to my banking app showed up.Kind of like this but for my insurance card:

Wouldn’t you know it? Within an hour, I got a text that my information was accepted and my prescription was available for pickup.

As my mom Frieda always says, “Technology is just amazing.”

What’s more amazing is how companies are using technology to provide solutions for their customers, bettering their experience and retaining their loyalty. Taking a look at my own industry, Ahold USA banners (Stop & Shop and Giant) have SCAN IT! Now a mobile feature, this tool allows shoppers to scan their items, using their smartphones, for a self-serve checkout. The store recently announced it is upgrading its Wi-Fi connectivity for an even better customer experience. This will make the customer app run faster and also allow store associates to help customers with ordering and price checking.

For some, business technology will be the ultimate disruptor. And for others, it will create opportunities. We, as shoppers, totally love the seamless transactions! But what can we do as a business to provide that to our clients?

Back in the office, I shared the story of updating my insurance information via my cell phone with my colleague Mark. He said that that he reported his car mileage to the insurance company the same way—taking a photo of his dashboard and uploading it to his State Farm app. Done.

Yes, technology is amazing!

Karen

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I know everyone celebrates New Year’s on January 1 of each year, but have you ever thought of mixing it up a bit by celebrating the New Year when the Chinese do?

Every year around January or February, many parts of the world celebrate Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year. The date changes from year to year because this holiday is part of a lunisolar calendar based on lunar cycles and therefore different from the Gregorian calendar which we use on a daily basis.

This year, the Year of the Rooster begins on January 28. But what does a Rooster mean? And how do you know which year of the Chinese zodiac are we in? Well, this website helps you figure it out, or you can check your birth year against this chart and click on it to find out more about your year.

Find your zodiac sign then click on the chart to learn more.

Many stories explain how the zodiac came to be. But the popular folklore is that the Jade Emperor called a meeting of the animals, and the zodiac signs are named for each animal in order of arrival. To get there, the animals had to cross the river as a test of strength and wit, showcasing each animal’s character. Rat got there first because he hopped on the back of the ox. The tiger used his strength to swim against the current, coming in third. And so on.

So, in case you’re wondering, I was born in the Year of the Sheep. According to the Chinese, people born in the Year of Sheep are tender, polite, loving, clever, and kind-hearted. They have special sensitivity to art and beauty, and a special fondness for quiet living. Be sure to check out which year you were born in and what that means!

Okay, now that you are fully educated on Chinese New Year, how does one celebrate?

If you live in a big city, look for Chinese New Year (or CNY as we call it at my office) events in the calendar section of your local paper or online. They could also be listed as Lunar New Year or Spring Festival. Chinese New Year celebrations usually have a parade, and food. Food, everywhere.

Chinese New Year is one of the biggest food holidays of the year, right up there with Thanksgiving. Feasts are held as families gather to celebrate. The foods eaten also have auspicious meaning—like wontons and dumplings signify coin purses, daikon for good luck, and Chinese long beans for longevity.

And for most American shoppers, if you go into your local supermarket, you may find large displays of Asian vegetables (napa cabbage, bok choy, Shanghai bok choy, Chinese eggplant, fresh ginger, Asian pears, boxes of citrus, and add-ons like tofu, and eggroll and wonton wrappers) at this time of year. I’m proud to say that my company was the first in the produce industry to talk about the fruit- and veggie-centric Chinese New Year celebration as an opportunity for produce managers!

So, knowing that you can get authentic ingredients from your local supermarket, you can host your own CNY dinner party! A potluck is a perfect way to gather your friends and family to share food and welcome the new lunar year. Wontons are super easy to make for potlucks either in a soup or fried for a crispy appetizer. Not sure how to fold them? Check out this quick video:

[youtube=https://youtu.be/w4fth81B0_U]

A few more Chinese traditions that I’d like to share:

Gung Hay Fat Choy (Happy New Year….in Chinese)!

Karen

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As you may know, I travel quite a bit. Mostly it’s for business.

Because I’m a frequent traveler, I have apps on my smart phone for the airlines I frequent: United, American, Jet Blue, and Delta. I can check in and access my boarding passes via the app, and as the year progresses, I continue to check my mileage so I can qualify for “frequent flyer status.” Sadly, due to all the recent mergers, I cannot remember the last time I got upgraded. So, the only benefit of status is that I get to check one bag for free.

Then last month, I missed the last connection home out of Denver late at night and was stressing out. That’s when my colleague Kevin said to me, “Let’s catch a Southwest flight back. I can book it right now.”

It had been a long time since I had flown Southwest Airlines. It was never my favorite because there are no pre-assigned seats.

But during our flight back, Kevin informed me that with Southwest, you can change or cancel your flights at any time, without any change fees or penalties (other airlines charge $150 to change a ticket). And there is no charge for the first two bags (other airlines charge $25 to $35 to check bags).

That piqued my interest. Oftentimes, my trips get changed, and I hate paying such a hefty change fee.

I downloaded the app on my phone and last week I booked a last minute flight to New Orleans for this past Tuesday.

So, what do I like about Southwest? They make it easy. They have literally thought of everything a flyer would want and make that available.

For $15 per ticket, you can get EarlyBird Check-in®, which basically puts you in front of the line to your seats over other passengers. No charge for bags. They always hand out snacks on the flights. And what I especially love—no heavy, unwieldy carts going down the aisles. The flight attendants take your beverage order and then bring it back to you on a tray.

The flight attendants are always friendly; it’s obvious that the company culture promotes a stress-free attitude of customer satisfaction. And they only fly one kind of airplane. So I always know the configuration of the seats.

And as I was scrolling through the app Wednesday night on my flight home, I noticed that if you fly on New Year’s Day or Valentine’s Day, alcoholic drinks are complimentary!

So, do you have any paradigms about businesses that you didn’t like based on previous experiences? Maybe it’s time to take another look. Whether it’s a grocery store, the gym, a new restaurant, or service provider, it’s possible that they have gone to the Southwest Airlines school of thought to “Make it easy.”

I predict more and more businesses will reinvent themselves or be disruptors in their business sector by making it easy on their customers. And if they don’t, someone else will be the disruptor.

Karen

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At the end of each year, a lot of people make monetary donations to charitable organizations.

Some make donations because they are passionate about the cause.

Others do it because they are looking for an end of the year tax deduction.

For me, personally, I am not motivated by the tax deduction—I’m always driven by the cause. As you know, I’m passionate about eliminating hunger, so I donate to food banks and organizations that support them. I’m also passionate about mentoring people (young people, women, business owners), so the way I donate is to accept quite a few speaking engagements that pay it forward during the year.

But there is something I have always wanted to do.

And that is to donate blood through the American Red Cross.

My interest in it started when my good friend Jack Daly, one of the top-rated sales and motivational speakers in the world, started posting on Facebook whenever he donated blood or platelets. I have to admit that even though I consider myself a driven and competitive person, I don’t hold a candle to Jack. On his bucket list are things like: run a marathon in all 50 states and on every continent; play the top 100 golf courses; and visit all the presidential libraries. Oh, did I mention that Jack is 67 years old? If you want to see what he accomplished this year, check out this recent post on his Facebook page.

Tale of the tape 2016.
168 flights, for 219,991 miles. 91 speaking gigs. 38 books read and watched 87 movies. Enjoyed 112 home cooked meals while I was home 168 nights. 107 nights in hotels for biz and 91 in resorts for fun.
Some of the travel was Amsterdam, Ireland, Tasmania,Australia, KL, Singapore, Hawaii, Nova Scotia, Panama, Copenhagen, Venice, Rome, Croatian Coast, Pompeii, Greenland and thruout North America.
Golf on several USA and World Top 100 golf courses, Windstar cruise, Ryder Cup, Phoenix Open, Kentucky Derby, dog sledding, ice Fjords, glacier, Mt. Rushmore , oh my!
222 exercise days comprising 356 hours. 9 marathons, now at 88 lifetime, 49 states and one shy of all continents (next year on Great Wall). 1000 miles run, 1129 miles biked, 74 hours weights, and 6000 yards swimming.
Moved to a new home, built a room sized wine cellar, published #1 Amazon Best Seller “Sales Playbook”, and celebrated 47 years married to my supportive Bonnie Daly. 2016 BAM. Bring on 2017!

So, every time Jack donated blood, he would write something like, “I saved this many lives this week by giving blood.” And I thought, if Jack can find time to donate blood, then I certainly can.

For some reason, I had never done it before 2016, but I made an appointment at my local Red Cross early last year. The whole process (which includes an extensive survey about your health and recent travel, plus a quick skin prick to confirm that your iron levels are high enough) took 45 minutes. But the exhilaration I felt lasted for hours.

Like Jack, I decided to take a photo of myself giving blood and post it on Facebook. And who do you think was the first person who commented? Jack (John) Daly!

Karen: I’m extra excited to be donating blood. The last two times my iron was too low…but today it was just fine. Giving the gift of life for the holidays. ?

John Daly: You are a genuine gift to life. Happy Holidays!

So, as you are contemplating how you can make a difference during the new year, I encourage you to consider giving the ultimate gift.

Happy New Year!

Karen

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At this time of year, I spend a lot of time going to the movies. My daughter Alex and I have had that tradition for many years. It’s like a marathon for us: How many awesome movies can we see between now and New Year’s? It seems that many great movies come out the last month of the year as the rush for the Golden Globes and Oscars begins.

Last week I saw “Rogue One.” (I’m dating a Star Wars geek, so seeing “Rogue One” was mandatory.) Loved it! A few weeks ago, we saw “Doctor Strange”—loved, loved, loved the special effects.

Jyn Erso from “Rogue One”

And last night, Alex and I saw “La La Land,” which was a complete surprise to me. Being from Los Angeles I recognized most of the quintessential L.A. landmarks that were in the film. So that was kind of fun and the music was spellbinding. I found myself downloading the “City of Stars” soundtrack first thing this morning and playing it over and over today. The film reminded me in some ways of Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.”

[youtube=https://https://youtu.be/je0aAf2f8XQ]

But really at this time of year, like most people, I end up reflecting on the year and what I loved and what I didn’t love about my life. And what I want to adjust for the new year.

What I really loved this year was writing this blog. I was told by my astrologer (yes, I have one) that I should write. Write a lot, he told me, advising me not to worry about what people think. And so I have written about things that interest me the most.

The topics seem to resonate with people.

Just in case you missed them, these were my most read posts of the year.

Top 5 blog posts of 2016:

  1. How to Survive your Daughter’s Wedding 
  2. How Do You Open a Young Coconut?
  3. 93 is a Magical Number
  4. What the Heck is Bibimbap?
  5. Jackfruit is the New Meat Substitute

My two favorite all-time posts:

From 2015: Demystifying Shishito and Padron Peppers  

From 2010: What it’s Like Working with my Sister

I would love your suggestions about other things for me to write about. Email me!

In the meantime, I wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and peaceful holiday season!

Karen

My colleague Ray is “photobombing” me here at our holiday luncheon

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For many years, when my two daughters were younger and living at home with me, I wanted the three of us to spend Thanksgiving Day helping to feed the homeless or hungry. I remember calling multiple places to volunteer and I could not find a single place that was taking volunteers. (I’m guessing many people chose to do this during the holidays, so they didn’t have a need at that time.)

I didn’t get too discouraged, but it has always been in the back of my mind to do this.

So, when the opportunity presented itself to me a few weeks ago, I quickly signed up to help.

The story really began about five years ago, when Second Harvest, the largest food bank in Orange County, California, contacted our company, wanting to give us some recognition for being the top fresh food donor in our area. Most companies in the fresh produce industry donate unsaleable, but edible, food to a local food bank. It’s just the right thing to do, and all of us do it without any expectation of acknowledgement. If we can’t ship it to a customer, we don’t want it to go to waste.

So that’s how I first got familiar with Second Harvest. And last year, I met CEO Nicole Suydam, an incredibly passionate and driven woman, who spent many years at Goodwill Industries. A few months ago, she approached me about joining the Second Harvest Board of Directors.

Hunger is prevalent in so many neighborhoods, even in Orange County (the home of the happiest place on earth, aka Disneyland), where thousands of children go hungry each day. I was excited to learn more about the organization and in September I attended my first board meeting. I discovered that Second Harvest is a member of the Feeding America organization and has goals about how many meals it will provide during the course of a year (almost 1 million for 2016). I also learned that Second Harvest and Feeding America have a Nutrition Policy—meaning their stated intention is to provide healthy eating options, not foods with high fat or empty calories.

I was intrigued at my second board meeting, when I learned that instead of having a holiday party, the entire board was invited to volunteer at a local church when food would be distributed to neighborhood families on a Saturday morning. This was the brainchild of a Second Harvest staff member and, as it turns out, we had excellent attendance with our board, as well as their family members.

As you can see from the photos, a mobile pantry (a large truck with access to both sides of the vehicle) arrived about 8 a.m., filled with all sorts of fresh produce—oranges, kiwifruit, broccoli, and lots of potatoes (I was in charge of baby potatoes). We fed more than 130 families. The mobile pantry is set up to preserve the dignity of patrons, as they are encouraged to “shop,” choosing the foods they want, like they would in a regular grocery store or farmers market.

 

 

Although it only took about two hours of my time that Saturday morning, it filled up my heart for the entire day. I got to see firsthand the great impact my industry has on helping feed people, even with foods that cannot be sold in grocery stores. These shoppers were trying to fill their bellies and didn’t care if the potatoes were misshapen or the kiwis were a bit overripe.

As I looked around that morning, I was humbled that it took me so many years to find a way to truly give thanks. A way to help those who are hungry and less fortunate. A way to do more than “write a check.”

When I returned to work, I announced that we would be having a canned food drive at our office the following week. I wrote a personal note to all Frieda’s employees so they would know why this was important to me and should be to them too.

In this season of giving and giving thanks, I encourage each of you to consider sharing with those less fortunate. It will fill your heart with joy.

Karen

 

This week I was invited to give a keynote address to over 200 small business owners and entrepreneurs in Long Beach, California. They are all alumnae of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, based in Long Beach and Los Angeles. It is delivered locally and nationally, and coordinated by the very impressive Babson College.

Members of the audience had completed the four-month program, meant to help ignite their businesses. The luncheon and daylong follow-up session was created to continue their development.

I was given only 15 minutes to share my thoughts. So I gave them six ideas to ponder from my own perspective as a longtime business owner:

1. Not telling the truth is hard.

I am occasionally asked about the most difficult thing I have to do as a business owner. And I’ve found that my answer never changes—it’s when I have to not tell the truth.

Such as: When I have to tell my employees, “Everything is going great” or I have to tell my friends, “Business is booming,” when in fact things are pretty crappy. (The audience really chuckled when I said this.)

2. Get involved outside your business.

It is dangerous for a business owner to only work in their business. It’s also important to work on your business. I have found that one way to do that is to work outside your business.

Get involved in some sort of organization outside your company, where your clients or suppliers hang out. You can find out which one is the best by asking your clients: “So what organizations do you belong to? Is there any organization that you belong to that you think I should know about?”

I have a national company, and I have clients all over the country. So I decided early on to get involved in my national trade association. If your business is more local or regional in scope, it may mean getting involved in a local chamber of commerce or a statewide trade group.

One of the most interesting experiences I’ve had that took me outside my business was when I served a term as a director of the Los Angeles branch of the Federal Reserve Bank.

3. Keep your eye on the ball.

While it is important to work on your business, by getting involved in organizations outside of work, be careful to evaluate how relevant they are. It’s easy to really enjoy your outside-of-work involvement. And if you’re like me and get asked to serve in a leadership position, you could easily get distracted from focusing the necessary energy and time on your real business.

And, as with all charity or volunteer work, it’s tempting to overcommit your time or resources. As an entrepreneur and business owner, you should always be doing a mini-ROI in your head. Ask yourself, “How can I leverage this experience to grow my business?” It may even be as simple as mentioning to your co-volunteers that you are always looking for referrals and asking yourself, “Do they have any for me?”

4. Network like crazy.

You can’t just join outside business groups. You need to network when you join, which might mean volunteering for committees (I still volunteer to sell raffle tickets and help out at events in several organizations). That way, people get to know you.

Always carry business cards. Always. You never know when there will be an opportunity to hand one out. For example, last year I was at a special event at a local university. While networking at the cocktail party, I ran into a potential prospect. We exchanged business cards. Within a few weeks, he contacted me and suggested we talk further about a way to do business together! I could not have predicted that happening. But it did, because I hand out my business cards to everyone.

5. Speak, write, publish

Don’t be afraid to accept speaking engagements or requests to be on a panel. No one wants to do it, so why not you? Just think: if you are a speaker, you get your name and your company name out there with tons of free publicity. Also consider producing a newsletter, writing a blog, or writing a guest column for your industry paper. You can gain great credibility by being published.

6. Craft a plan to stay current.

What is your plan to stay current and inspired? There are many CEO and presidents’ organizations around. I belong to Vistage, a global network of over 20,000 CEOs who meet once a month. We actually meet in groups of about 15 in our own area. All groups are made up of CEOs from non-competing businesses and your group serves as your own private advisory board. Over time, other members get to know your business, your challenges, and your strengths, so you can bring your issues to the meeting to discuss and get advice.

I know it’s hard to break away from the daily pressures of running your business. But just like great athletes, we business owners need coaching, practice, more practice, and knowledge about the latest techniques in order to thrive in today’s economy.

Frieda was also in the audience during my talk. (Photo credit @DavePhillipson)

Karen

Every summer, we bring our entire sales, marketing, and buying teams together for a three-day meeting to talk about trends, do training, and of course conduct some team building. This past summer during one of our sessions, the subject of one of our hottest, trendiest items, jackfruit, came up. It’s actually known as the largest fruit in the world—one fruit can grow to be 100 pounds! (Most of what we sell are 10 to 20 pounds each.) Because they are so big, they are quite challenging to cut and serve.

Our entire group talked about the challenge of this enormous fruit; it yields so much edible fruit that it is often too much for one household. It’s really a fruit for sharing. And because of the time and effort required to open it up, remove the pulp, and extract the pods, it’s a lot more fun to get a group together to “process” the fruit and then send people home with their own bag of fresh and ready-to-eat jackfruit pods.

So we came up with the idea of having a “Jackfruit Party.” It was our way of making it fun to conquer a jackfruit.

If you’ve never seen how to open a jackfruit, watch this:

[youtube=https://youtu.be/CtlDOM3rfiY]

We knew from our own experience that jackfruit was definitely a trending fruit, and I wrote about it as a meat substitute in a past blog. Then a couple of months ago, the Wall Street Journal dubbed jackfruit one of the next hot trends in food.

Around the same time, the Wall Street Journal also published a story about the market for weird fruits during the Jewish New Year, also known as Rosh Hashanah. It is a tradition to eat new fruits for the new year. Many supermarkets often stock up on all the unusual tropical fruits during this time. Along with their story, WSJ showed a video of a New York City specialty market with huge tropical fruit displays that included giant jackfruits, selling for $79.99 each!

[youtube=https://youtu.be/IkRmJHTOVsI]

When I saw the video, I realized how scary the fruit looked, and at that $80 price tag, who would buy it? So that inspired me to challenge my team to figure out a way to begin labeling our jackfruit with information that shows shoppers what to do with this crazy fruit. If you are going to spend that kind of money on a tropical fruit, you want to know how to prepare it so you have the best possible experience!

And so, our jackfruit label was born just a couple of months ago.

So if you see a ginormous jackfruit in your store (or possibly a half or quartered one), take that bold step and buy it—then have your own jackfruit party.

We are always looking for new ways to educate shoppers on the weird and wonderful exotic produce of the world. What tropical fruit would you be more willing to try if it had an informational label?

Karen

Let me start by saying that I host my family for both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah dinners. We usually have about 25 people at each celebration. Fortunately, my kids are at the ages (27 and 22) that they both help prepare the meal. It is a happy time of year for me because I get to entertain in my home and have my closest family members and a few friends near me. If I need help cooking, I ask for help, or ask people to bring along their favorite dish.

But I’ve learned that not everyone feels this way. For some people, the holidays (which encompass that five-week period from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day) are not a time they look forward to.

I suspect that it may have something to do with bad memories. You know, the holiday meal or family gathering where everything did not go perfectly. People argued. They were in bad moods. Something went wrong or not as planned. You didn’t get the gift you expected. Someone didn’t like the gift you got them. Maybe a boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse acted up or broke up with you. Or your parents did something embarrassing. The list could go on and on.

So, when I read the following quote on my Instagram feed a few days ago, I thought about how to inspire more people to enjoy the holidays, in whichever form they come:

How many of us lose the fun of the moment because we are worried about something that happened in the past? We are literally superstitious that history will repeat itself.

I just can’t live that way. Like each of you, I’ve had a few bad experiences in my life. Some of them around the end-of-the-year holidays.

But not that long ago, I decided I was committed to making new memories. I wasn’t going to filter my current or upcoming experiences with my paradigms of the past.

Would you be willing to try this too? If there is something you are dreading about the upcoming Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, or seasonal time of year, would you be willing to wipe the slate clean and say, “I’m going to have a fantastic, happy, and enjoyable holiday with the people I love and who love me.

Good – I knew you could you do it!

Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving week!

Karen

If I have learned anything from my mother, it has been to be open-minded.

So when I received an unsolicited email from Naz Riahi two months ago introducing herself and inviting me to speak at her food trend conference, #BittenLA, I tried to keep an open mind.

First of all, I had no idea who she was or how to pronounce her name (“nahz ree-ah-hee”), and I had never heard of her conference.

But I loved her friendly, warm writing style so I replied to her. And the following week we spoke on the phone and a few weeks later she flew from New York to visit me at work. It was love at first sight (for both of us)!

Turns out she was born in Iran and her family moved to the United States when she was young. She ended up getting her MFA from The New School in New York City (same school that my youngest daughter, Sophia, attended) and majored in creative writing (her BA is in journalism and Spanish). After a few stints at marketing agencies, she decided to launch her own business, specializing in branding and marketing. And because of her passion for food and her curiosity for how food trends happen, she really stepped out there and decided to create a different kind of food conference. She told me it was like a TED conference, except for food.

In my book, this 35-year-old woman is fearless, and I love to help other entrepreneurs, so I couldn’t resist saying “yes!” But… what did she want me to talk about?

Naz told me I had 18 to 20 minutes to talk about how produce trends happen.

Really? She wanted me to succinctly explain the last 55 years of my life and my work…in 20 minutes. Well, I took a deep breath. And then she said, “You must use PowerPoint slides and you cannot use any notes.”

Goodness!

I still said yes.

And that’s what is so great about being open-minded. Instead of thinking of every reason why I did not have time to write a presentation (I was traveling the two weeks preceding the conference), I thought: “I can do this!”

And then she emailed me the title for my speech: “From Kale to Cherimoyas: Making produce trend.”

And on Friday morning October 28, I ended up being the keynote speaker at the first BittenLA Conference. The vast majority of the audience were Millennials (20- and 30-somethings). It seemed that most were creatives (working in agencies), passionate about food and food experiences.

As I spoke about the confluence of the roles played by chefs, the media, and supermarkets in food trends, then layered over the notion of “food as medicine,” I saw a lot of nodding heads in the audience. They chuckled when I asked if everyone was “over” kale. Or if they felt that jackfruit seemed to be everywhere. (After all, it was featured in the Wall Street Journal just a couple weeks ago.)

But probably the best part of my experience was seeing how one person’s passion gets amplified when she is genuine and inclusive.

As Naz was starting off the morning, she thanked her sponsors and shared her complete joy and appreciation when each of them offered to write her a check to support her conference. Dozens of volunteers ran around setting up the tables for breakfast and lunch, and making sure every detail was attended to. Yes, I said “volunteers.” Many of the volunteers took time off work to support the cause of food, innovation, and breakthroughs. And many had never met Naz before, but had heard about Bitten and wanted to help.

I ended my talk with two quotes. First, one by Eleanor Roosevelt:

 “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Naz told me she was a little nervous when she took the bold step to launch her own marketing and branding agency, and then a few years later the Bitten Conference. And this past week, to bring her conference to Los Angeles. I’d say Eleanor Roosevelt would have been proud of her.

The second quote was our company motto:

 “Eat one fruit a day that scares you.”

Naz highlighted that new fruits and veggies should not be scary—they should be embraced!

I’m so glad my mother instilled in me that I should be open-minded. I hope you will be, too.

Karen

Bitten founder Naz and me

 

 

 

 

Like most of us, each year when my birthday rolls around (as it did this past weekend), I reflect on the previous year, how old I am now, and ultimately how long I will live. It’s not a heavy-duty thought process, but as we get older and wiser, it’s normal to think such thoughts. And since I was vacationing on Maui, Hawaii, last week, I had plenty of time to contemplate.

While there, I was doing some research for an upcoming speech (which I will talk about in my next blog).

The research included a book published in 2015, “The Blue Zones Solution,” by Dan Buettner. The subtitle is “Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People.”

This book came to our attention because we have been deluged in the past year with consumers writing to us about our Stokes Purple® Sweet Potatoes and wanting to find them in their local supermarkets. Many of them mentioned this book and how it piqued their interest in the purple sweet potatoes.

The gist of the book reveals what the world’s longest-lived people have eaten over the past 100 years, with the goal of helping readers lead healthier, more fulfilling lives. That definitely got my attention.

In the chapter titled “A Diet From the World’s Longest-Lived Women: Okinawa, Japan,” one of the highlighted foods is the Okinawan Purple Sweet Potato. This potato is different from the variety we sell (ours are purple-skinned and purple-fleshed), but the benefits appear to be the same. Other top longevity foods from the Okinawan diet include: bitter melons, tofu, turmeric, garlic, brown rice, green tea, Shiitake mushrooms, and seaweeds (Kombu and Wakame).

Bitter Melon Tofu Turmeric

Some other chapter titles are: “A Diet From the Longest-Lived Men: Sardinia, Italy,” “An American Blue Zones Diet: Loma Linda, California,” “History’s Best Longevity Diet: Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica,” and “The Secrets of a Mediterranean Diet: Ikaria, Greece.”

As I skimmed through the book, my biggest takeaways and conclusions were:

Nothing in the book was earth-shattering, but it reinvigorated my thought process on being more selective about what I choose to eat. A few years ago I was a vegan for 12 months and recalled how good I felt. At that time, by eliminating dairy (cheese, yogurt, ice cream, milk), all my aches and pains went away. I eventually went back to eating fish, poultry, and occasionally some meat because I was lacking energy. (I cannot eat soy.)

Now, I think it’s time to rethink my current food choices and make a few adjustments.

That’s what’s great about having a birthday. It’s a trigger to reflect on how the last year was and consider any changes we want to make in the coming year.

In addition to relaxing and doing some research while on Maui, I was able to enjoy a couple of meals with my favorite Hawaiian chef, Mark Ellman. I highly recommend all three of his Lahaina restaurants: Mala Ocean Tavern, Honu Seafood & Pizza, and Frida’s Mexican Beach House.

Me with Mark Ellman

Mark grew up in Southern California and moved to Maui with his wife, Judy, almost 30 years ago. He is credited with inventing the local Hawaiian farm-to-market industry, and his food is always fresh, tasty, and inventive.

Do I want to live to 100? Do you want to live to 100? It seems possible and within our control.

Aloha,

Karen

 

 

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A candidate for a leadership position in my company asked me the most interesting question during our recent interview: “Have you changed at all in the last 10 years? I mean, are you the same leader you were 10 years ago?”

I’d never been asked that question before and I had to pause to think about it. I told him that I am a big believer in continuing education and, in fact, that’s one of the reasons I belong to an international CEO group called “Vistage.” To continually work on my leadership skills, learn from new speakers, and share best practices with other CEOs, I attend a monthly full-day group meeting, have one-on-one sessions with my executive coach, plus I go to the annual regional conference.

When I attended the annual Vistage Executive Conference last week in downtown Los Angeles, I was reminded what a great experience it is. I was one of 450 CEOs from every possible industry: construction, manufacturing, distribution, accounting, fashion, education…everything!

The keynote speaker was the principal of a Philadelphia high school. Linda Cliatt-Wayman was formerly the assistant superintendent of schools for her district. When the district made the decision to merge three rival high schools (think gangs and crosstown rivals) into one, her job was to find a candidate to be the new principal. After an extensive search, which resulted in zero candidates, she resigned her position as assistant superintendent and accepted the position as principal, for a five-year term.

Me and Linda Cliatt-Wayman

(I encourage you to watch the Diane Sawyer story about Principal Wayman. All of us in the audience watched it before Linda took the stage.)

This amazing leader spoke for about 30 minutes about her experience as principal of Strawberry Mansion High School in the inner city of Philadelphia. She commented that even though she is in education and we in the audience were in business, “Leadership is leadership.”

She shared three slogans that she has used during her career.

So Linda started and ended each day by making this announcement on the campus intercom system: “If nobody told you that they loved you today, remember that I do, and I always will.” For many of the students, it was the ONLY time that someone told them that they were loved. She also knew that many of the students were brilliant and wanted to learn. They didn’t want violence, confrontation, and fighting. They wanted to learn and to better themselves. But they had no choice but to attend Strawberry Mansion. So, by sharing her love and her willingness to love them all, without judgment, Linda changed the lives of everyone at that school.

She also uncovered something that was unspoken, but was the root cause of much tension at the school and in the community—the high school did not have a football team!

That may not sound like a big deal, but if you think back to your days in high school, you know that sports, especially football, can bring an entire community together. So, as she relayed her leadership lessons to us, she wove into her talk the story of how she was able to help the school develop a football team for the first time in 50 years. This included funding for a coach, a playing field, and uniforms. And she did this all in spite of all the obstacles, by staying true to her values, stating her goal over and over (even when she had no idea how she would accomplish it), and asking for the support of people who had the same goals she did.

Each of us is a leader. Whether it is in business, in the community, or in our families. Do we have a vision? What are the persistent problems not being addressed?

Leaders must create a picture of success—a vision—and share it. Bold leadership takes courage. Sometimes we need assistance. And sometimes we need to keep stating our vision, over and over, even if it seems as impossible as getting a high school football team after 50 years of obstacles.

So, am I the same leader I was 10 years ago? No way. I’ve learned too much from those around me. And I am open to learning more every day. How about you?

Ask yourself: Are you the same leader you were 10 years ago? Where do you get your inspiration? How do you sharpen your tools?

So what! Now, what?

Karen

Yes, October 5 is National Kale Day. Clearly this is not a “hallmark holiday” since we’re not expected to send cards or gifts to anyone. But it’s kind of fun to have a holiday that is centered around one of the trendiest, healthiest foods around.

I actually met the guy who is credited with co-founding, back in 2013, National Kale Day. Dr. Drew Ramsey is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University in New York City, and I met him at a produce conference in Texas in April. I wrote all about how kale got to be so popular here, starting in 1996 with the Los Angeles Times publishing a poem entitled “Oh Kale.”

Well, you would have to be living under a rock, or on another planet, not to notice how popular kale has become in the last few years. In fact, it’s so popular that some say it has become the most overused vegetable in America. One might say we are “kaled-out.”

Kale is everywhere. Check out the latest T-shirt one of my work colleagues bought at Target for our “Silly T-shirt Day at Work.”

So, how do you plan to celebrate National Kale Day?

You could wear a cool sweatshirt to work:

Or, you could order a chopped kale salad at your favorite restaurant. (They are usually on every menu—even Chick-fil-A has added kale salad to its menu!)

Or, you can do what I plan to do and make homemade kale chips at home with a friend. (I found this easy recipe on the Internet.)

Homemade Kale Chips

  1. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.
  2. Remove the ribs from kale and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Lay on a baking sheet and toss with olive oil and salt. Bake until crisp, turning the leaves halfway through, about 20 minutes. Serve as finger food.

Whatever you do, find a creative way to enjoy this awesome vegetable! It’s time to celebrate!

Karen

I am a regular reader of Fast Company magazine. And it was interesting to me that Beyoncé graced the cover of the July/August edition.

The cover blurb was “CREATE. DEFY. SLAY. What Every Business Can Learn From Beyoncé.”

And then last Friday, there she was again. This time, in full color on page D-1 of the Wall Street Journal! The article was titled “Beyoncé’s Biggest Project Yet: CEO.”

I respect these two business publications very much, so I knew they must be on to something. But first, my recent personal experience with Beyoncé.

My eldest daughter, Alex, is obsessed with Beyoncé. When I say obsessed, I mean there is something about Beyoncé that has attracted Alex to her and her music. She goes to every concert, knows the words to every song, and basically knows her life story. So, I asked her what it was. She said:

From what I’ve read (and saw for myself at her Formation World Tour), each detail of the staging, the program, the choreography, and the costuming had Beyoncé’s name written all over it. She is creative, yet a perfectionist.

In reading the two articles on Beyoncé, here are a few highlights that I learned about her success. All of these are excellent lessons for CEOs.

  1. She started reviewing her own profit and loss statements as a teenager. (How many of us in family businesses expose our children to P&Ls over the dinner table?)
  2. She knows what she stands for. And, she hasn’t been afraid to “fire” (some of) her fans (we call this alignment). Beyoncé received backlash from some fans when she went political during her February 2016 Super Bowl performance, but she didn’t back down.
  3. She values marketing and doesn’t dilute her brand.
  4. She’s a risk taker, but does it with discipline. She also embraces disruption. She was the first artist to drop an album unannounced, and it went straight to the top of the Billboard chart.
  5. She plays the long game—with great thought and investment. (Check out her new clothing brand, Ivy Park).

In the Fast Company article, Airbnb Chief Marketing Officer Jonathan Mildenhall is quoted: “We’re asking ourselves, so, what’s our lemonade? Because we don’t ever want to become predictable. Every time we engage with our consumers, our target audience, our community, we want to surprise them, to inspire them, to delight them. And we want to do it in a way that then drives a disproportionate share of popular conversation.”

If the chief marketing officer of Airbnb is a student of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, then I think I can be too. Business lessons can come from anywhere!

And in the words of Beyoncé, “Who needs a degree when you’re schoolin’ life?”

Karen

Many years ago, when I first started working for my mother, my position was primarily handling consumer and public relations. The goal set for me was to get to know every food editor in America, personally.

Remember, this was back in the 1980s, before we used the internet and email at our company, so developing relationships was about meeting people in person, corresponding by mail, and having meaningful conversations.

One of the first publications I targeted was Sunset magazine. The beautiful glossy magazine caught my attention, and the stories and recipes were top-notch. Our initial relationship was one my mother developed with the editor, Walter Doty, who was also involved in publishing Sunset magazine books. Through him, I was introduced to the food editor, Jerry Anne Di Vecchio.

Jerry and I developed a relationship, and at one point I put on my bucket list to visit the magazine campus in Menlo Park, California. Well, one day, on a trip to Northern California, I was able to arrange a visit. Jerry and her team in the test kitchen welcomed me with open arms. I got a VIP tour of the gardens, the test kitchen, and the editorial offices.

And then we went to lunch.

That is when I learned a valuable lesson from this inspiring and well-respected person. Jerry told me her secrets to interviewing potential job candidates for Sunset.

She took them to lunch. And ordered wine. Jerry told me that when you take a candidate out of the office, and to a meal, they tend to let their guard down. Also, she told me that you can learn a lot about a person by how they handle themselves at a meal. Do they have good manners? Are they adventurous (would they try something new)? Can they easily make conversation?

And then, her secret weapon, the wine. She told me that she found that people really loosened up when they had a glass of wine. And it was during this part of the informal interview that she learned whether she really wanted to hire a candidate.

Jerry also told me that she took her time when deciding to hire someone. She said that if a candidate got antsy and impatient with the length of time for the interview process (sometimes weeks or months), then they would never do well at Sunset, as processes at the magazine tended to take a long time. Things did not happen quickly.

Now, more than 30 years later, I can tell you that I use these same practices at my company. Jerry was a great teacher, and she was also a generous and mentoring person. She willingly accepted my invitation to participate in a panel discussion for a produce industry convention in the 1980s and invited one of her favorite chefs to join us—Wolfgang Puck! That was my favorite panel.

After being a student of Jerry’s wisdom for more than three decades, I found out last week that I was able to share some of my learning with her.

Minutes after posting my blog entitled, “Using Uber Without a Smartphone,” I received this email from her:

“karen, what a help the phone access to uber is for me! not only is your produce wonderful, your life realities are in tune! my partner david is 88 and has finally accepted not driving. but, as you say, smart phone isn’t feasible—he won’t even use a computer. but he does love the phone.

“keep at it, my dear. the column takes time, but i read you faithfully. and give a big hug to frieda from me. keeping busy keeps the wheels turning. xxx jerry”

Her email almost brought tears to my eyes, as my discovery of GoGoGrandparent is making her life better!

Once the student, I now became the teacher. And that is what drives me every week to write a blog, even when I feel like I don’t have the time. My subject is sometimes about business, sometimes about produce, sometimes about trends, and oftentimes about life.

But like Jerry so wisely said, “My dear, the column takes time…keeping busy keeps the wheels turning.”

Karen

As our parents age, one of the biggest challenges is maintaining their “mobility.” You know what I mean: doctors’ appointments, grocery shopping, attending lunches with friends. As someone who has a parent (the famed Frieda) that no longer drives, I understand the challenge—who is going to drive them to all their appointments and social events?

If you’re one of the designated drivers, it can really cut into your own time, and eventually can become a burden.

Don’t you just want to say to your parent, “Can’t you just call Uber?”

Well, most folks who no longer drive also do not have smartphones. Which means, they cannot take advantage of Uber or Lyft. Wouldn’t it be great if someone would invent a way to use Uber or Lyft without a smartphone?

Well, someone did.

Enter “GoGoGrandparent,” created by Justin Boogaard. It turns out that Justin was living with his grandmother and she noticed him Ubering everywhere. She asked him how she could use it. Without a smartphone and the ability to download the app, he said she couldn’t. She challenged him: create a company that would allow her to use Uber!

And so he did!

You can read more of the details at TechCrunch.

And how did we hear about it? I have written many times about what a voracious reader my 93-year-old mother is. Well, in reading one of her many magazines, she came across an article on GoGoGrandparent. She clipped the article and shared it with my sister, Jackie. I think Jackie got so excited that she immediately did her own research and within a few hours had my mom signed up!

The service is amazingly intuitive. When you register, you provide your home address (so it knows where to pick you up). When you get a ride to a destination, it remembers where you went so it knows where to pick you up when you’re finished. And the most brilliant part—it notifies a family member of every step of the way, via text message. Here’s a sample:

Thank goodness Justin lived with his grandmother. They say necessity is the mother (or in this case, grandmother) of invention.

And now you know!

Karen

All of us who have kids, especially those with daughters, know that day will finally come. The day that your daughter (or son) tells you they want to get married.

If you’re like me, you will have figured it out far in advance of them telling you.

A little over four years ago, my eldest daughter, Alex, met an awesome guy named Ben— online. Yes, there is a Jewish dating website, called “J Date.” And even though some of us who are a bit older find it odd to think about meeting the love of our lives online, it is actually pretty commonplace. Statistics show that 33 percent of people meet their future spouses online. At first Alex didn’t want to tell anyone how they met, but over time (and after she found out one of her friends does the marketing for J-date and that she and Ben could be used as a testimonial couple), it turned out to be a great part of their love story.

My beautiful daughter walking down the aisle Alex and Ben tying the knot! Alex and Ben dancing at their wedding

Ben and Alex got engaged about 15 months ago and set their wedding date pretty quickly (it was this past weekend, on September 4). Then I started getting warnings from my friends: they said to be careful because for many families the tension of wedding planning and the power struggle—between the bride and everyone else—can become almost intolerable. Well, I’m happy to report that the past 15 months have been fantastic and almost tension-free for my daughter and me. So, I thought it might be helpful to share my secrets:

  1. Have great in-laws. Early on, our two families started inviting each other to family gatherings. We got to know Ben’s extended family—grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, family friends. And during this bonding time, his parents were super gracious and proposed we all share in the cost of their probable wedding—even before they got engaged. We could all tell that this was going to be a long-term relationship, so both sets of parents agreed to be joint hosts of the wedding, which made things much easier. This practice is not uncommon today and if your child is going to be getting married, don’t be afraid to broach the subject. And the sooner the better. It makes it easier on all parties.
  2. Ask your kids what role they want you to play in the planning. I’ve heard stories of how many mothers of the bride act as if it’s their wedding, which causes a lot of tension between mother, daughter, and future son-in-law. I told my daughter that I would do or not do whatever she wanted me to. I realized my most important role was to ask, “What would you like, sweetie?” I’ve found that most brides-to-be know exactly what they want. And they get frustrated when everyone around them is offering advice. Since I knew my daughter was going to have a wedding planner, I made myself available only when she asked me to do so.
  3. Get a wedding planner. If bride, groom, and parents all have full-time jobs, planning a wedding becomes like a second job. It is actually quite affordable to hire a planner. Not only does he or she help with all the planning and booking details, this professional is also on hand the day of the wedding to make sure everything goes perfectly.
  4. Make sure your kids know everyone at the wedding. I told my daughter that she and Ben should know everyone at the wedding because it’s their wedding. And thus, I told her it was OK with me if she put together the guest list. I would support her even if she didn’t want to include every one of my family and my friends. And, in fact, like most families, she couldn’t invite everyone. As it turns out, my closest friends and most of my extended family were able to attend, and the kids knew everyone at the wedding.
  5. Check in periodically to ask if you can do anything to help them. Because Alex and the planner were handling most everything, by checking in with my daughter, I got a regular update of what was happening. And, as the wedding date drew closer, I did get asked to do things, like check on late RSVPs, visit the florist and caterer with her, and go to dress fittings.
  6. Offer to get your daughter a periodic massage. I can only imagine what it’s like to have a full-time job and a busy social life, plus plan a wedding. So occasionally, I would offer to arrange for Alex to get a massage. It gave her some alone time and a break from the intense weekends filled with wedding stuff.
  7. Remember what it was like when you were planning your wedding. When I would get frustrated or would feel left out of Alex’s wedding planning, I would remind myself what I felt like when I was preparing for my own wedding. I remember my dad always telling me it was ridiculous what things cost. I didn’t want to worry about those details. He didn’t understand what a bride feels like when she is planning for her most special day. And my mom, who admittedly is not very domestic and eloped to Las Vegas when she and my dad got married, always deferred to him. I didn’t want to put my daughter through that angst. So we set a budget, gave Alex and Ben the money, and let them figure out the rest.

With all that being said, the wedding exceeded my expectations. My daughter invited me to spend the entire day with her and the bridesmaids as we got our hair and makeup done together. It was a wonderful bonding experience that I will never forget.

Me and my daughter Alex getting ready before the wedding

Each parent has to make his or her own decision when it comes to wedding arrangements. But no matter the budget or size of the wedding, we could all use a lot less tension and a lot more love and understanding.

It certainly worked in our case.

Karen

 

It all started about 5 months ago. We began to get almost daily emails from consumers all over the world (not just in the United States), asking us about our Stokes Purple® Sweet Potatoes. They wanted to know where to purchase them.

Because the emails were continuous, we started to ask consumers how they heard about them and for some background on their request.

As it turns out, the BBC has a series called “How to Stay Young” and had just aired a segment featuring the Japanese diet. Two of the BBC’s reporters took a trip to Okinawa, Japan, to take a look at the purple sweet potato. They discovered that Professor Craig Wilcox and his brother, Bradley Wilcox, M.D., have been studying the Okinawan diet for the last decade and believe a key factor in the Okinawans’ vigorous health (living to over 100) can be attributed to the consumption of…purple sweet potatoes. (Actually the title of one of the articles covering this story was “Purple sweet potato is the secret to living until 100 – but you may have to eat over half a kilo!”).

Another source that talks about the Okinawan diet and purple sweet potatoes is Blue Zones, an organization founded by National Geographic fellow Dan Buettner, who has written three books on the topic of how lifestyle and diet impact longevity.

Now there are multiple kinds of purple sweet potatoes. The kind that are grown and consumed in Okinawa are light beige on the outside and have a mottled, light purple flesh. They are available on a limited basis in U.S. supermarkets, but they must be irradiated to come onto the mainland because they are grown in Hawaii.

Okinawan Purple Sweet Potato, uncooked

The Stokes Purple® Sweet Potatoes that we market and sell are actually grown in Northern California. They have a purple-ish skin and a very dark, vibrant purple interior.

Stokes Purple® Sweet Potato, uncooked

The name “Stokes Purple®” is because the potato was first developed in Stokes County, North Carolina. Our grower partner here in California found that the growing conditions in California are actually optimal for growing the Stokes Purple®, so we’ve moved all the growing to their farms in Northern California.

Even though they have different origins, purple sweet potatoes share some of the same qualities:

In Okinawa, it is reported that natives eat an average of half a kilo (1 pound) per day of purple sweet potatoes! Professor Wilcox says the purple sweet potato helps maintain healthy blood vessels.

Here in the U.S., we have found that high performance athletes and those practicing a vegetarian or vegan diet tend to be the highest consumers of Stokes Purple® Sweet Potatoes. Our goal is to have year-round availability, but because they are SO popular (and healthy), we tend to sell out before summer begins.

The good news is that our farmer has just begun the harvest of this year’s Stokes Purple® Sweet Potatoes and we will begin shipping them to supermarkets across the U.S. next week. We distribute both organic and conventional sweet potatoes, so depending on where you shop, you may find either. You’ll recognize these amazing purple-fleshed potatoes by the label.

If you want to try them, but don’t find them in your store by mid-September, please email us here, and we will do our best to get them into your store.

I just have to share with you a few of my personal favorite recipes for these unique potatoes: “Stokes Purple® Sweet Potato Medallions with Chipotle Cream, ” “Purple Power Breakfast Bowl,” and “Stokes Purple® Sweet Potato Oven Fries.”

Purple Power to the People!

Karen

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What’s the difference between dragon fruit and pitaya?

The actual name, pitaya or pitahaya (they are interchangeable), stems from the Latin American heritage of this beautiful exotic fruit. It is native to Central America (dating back to the 13th century). However, it made its way to Vietnam and Malaysia (probably due to its popularity with Asian consumers), where it is now widely grown. We’ve heard that the Vietnamese name, “thang loy,” somehow translates into the English words “dragon fruit,” and thus the different name. In Israel, where the fruit is commercially grown and being imported into the U.S., the growers like to call it “pitaya” or “pitahaya,” while the Vietnamese growers label theirs “dragon fruit.”

So, whether you see them called pitaya, pitahaya, or dragon fruit, they are all basically the same fruit. And you are probably starting to see them everywhere! Whether it’s fresh in the produce department of your supermarket, or at your favorite juice bar, or even as a scent in an air freshener.

And dragon fruit comes in many different internal colors:

Dark Red (from Nicaragua)

White Fleshed (from Vietnam)

And, you might have seen some gorgeous fruit from Israel earlier this year, labeled as “Pitaya” or “Pitahaya.”

The one thing most dragon fruit have in common is their nutritional qualities—high in fiber and vitamin C. But the flavor profile of each fruit can be different. The white-fleshed fruit from Vietnam is gorgeous on the outside, but has a mild, non-distinctive flavor. Contrast that with the dark-purplish red flesh from fruit grown in Nicaragua, which is like a sweet, juicy, meaty watermelon.

Dragon fruit is actually a cousin of the cactus pear. However, the dragon fruit’s seeds are completely soft and edible (much like a kiwifruit), as compared to cactus pear seeds, which are crunchy like those in passion fruit! Also, unlike the cactus pear, the dragon fruit does not have spines on its skin.

Yellow pitaya, cactus pear and passion fruit

 

So, next time you’re walking by the tropical fruit section of your produce department and you see a big display, don’t be afraid to buy one and try it! Dragon fruit have a fairly short shelf life, so it’s best to take them home and include them in a fruit salad or smoothie that day or the next.

We’d love to hear what you think!

Enjoy,

Karen

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Next Wednesday, my mother, Frieda Rapoport Caplan, will turn 93. I’ve decided to rename her the energizer bunny. That’s because she keeps on going. She has so much energy and such a busy personal life that she has to publish her weekly schedule for my sister Jackie and me to keep on hand, so we know where she is. She is calendared out at least through the end of the year.

But, she has cut back. She only comes into the office four days a week (back in the day, she used to work seven days a week!). Get that straight. At 93, she comes to work four days a week. I think that’s pretty darn amazing.

But what is more amazing is what she spends her time on.

First of all, she is a voracious reader. Whether it is Dr. Christiane Northrup’s newsletter on women’s health or an update from the Southern Poverty Law Center, my sister Jackie and I (and other family members) are often the beneficiaries of her reading and personal “clipping service.”

A couple months ago, my mom and I went on a weekend retreat during which we attended a wonderful presentation by University of California, Irvine, on its program: UCI MIND – UC Irvine Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders. The professor talked about how they were studying people as they age and whether or not they developed any memory issues or deterioration.

Much to my surprise, a few weeks later, mom announced to Jackie and me that she would like to donate her brain to the program at UC Irvine.

So, Jackie and I have spent the past few weeks in meetings and visits as they take mom’s medical history and study her amazing habits, potentially to uncover the secret to her longevity for the benefit of future generations.

Jackie and I have a few hypotheses of our own about her secrets to long life; here are just a few. Our mom:

Mom has always said that one of her greatest joys was that she ended up working alongside her two daughters.

I would say that, in fact, Jackie and I (and my eldest daughter Alex) have the most joy because we get to see Mom four days a week at work, and her name will always be our legacy (we changed the company name to Frieda’s, Inc. in 1990 when we bought the company).

So, happy birthday, Mom! You continue to inspire us.

Karen

P.S. You can personally wish Frieda a happy birthday here.

The Frieda’s team celebrating our August birthdays earlier this morning.

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That’s exactly what my sister (and business partner) Jackie said to me yesterday. Let me give you a bit of the backstory.

Jackie and I have been business partners since we bought Frieda’s from our parents in 1990. Of course we have been sisters much longer than that.

And when Jackie became chief operating officer of the company in 2012, our business relationship was taken to a new level.

At that time, we implemented a weekly partner meeting on Wednesday mornings at 5:45 a.m. Yes, 5:45 in the morning (we both grew up used to the early morning hours of the produce industry). We meet at a local bagel shop. We sip our hot coffee and meet for an hour offsite to go over any company issues or strategic planning opportunities, and to update each other on our two sides of the business. Jackie is responsible for operations, quality, food safety, IT, and purchasing. I handle sales, marketing, HR, finance, and strategy.

Jackie, our mom Frieda, and I taping a commercial together

In January of this year, I convinced Jackie to have our meetings an hour later (starting at 6:45 a.m.).

But we still only talk about our business issues.

So, this week, because of the excessive outdoor temperatures of SoCal, we ended up meeting in our company offices in one of the conference rooms. The air conditioning made the room comfortable and for some reason, our meeting went long, without the distraction of the hustle and bustle of the bagel shop.

And our conversation evolved into a more personal, family discussion. We started to talk about our relationships, our kids…and then us. And that’s when Jackie said,

“It sucks to be sisters AND business partners.”

She was referring to the fact that we both feel an incredible responsibility in our roles as CEO and COO of Frieda’s. We feel responsible for the many dozens of families who depend on us as company employees and for our growers whom we represent. And we feel so responsible that, more often than not, we forget to make time and honor our own relationship as family members and sisters—and great friends.

I’m guessing this might be the case for you. How often do you put your work responsibilities and obligations before time with your family and friends? Do you miss a family dinner or brunch because you have a work event? Do you work late multiple nights a week, instead of prioritizing quality time with your cherished family and good friends?

Her comment was a wake-up call for me. And I think for Jackie too.

Years ago, we made a commitment to each other that our personal, family relationship would always be more important than the rat race called “work.” I think we got caught up in the rat race.

At the end of our three-hour meeting on Wednesday, we both felt reconnected to each other. To each other as people. As sisters. As friends. And the benefit is that it will ultimately continue to make us awesome business partners.

Take a look at yourself and your relationships. Is there any way you could enjoy life a little more with less time for the rat race and more time for personal connections?

Think about it,

Karen

Jackie and I doing a silly skit at our national sales meeting

Last week I attended a conference in Salinas, California, which is known as “the salad bowl” of the country. More than 70 percent of all the lettuce grown in the United States is from the Salinas Valley.

Sponsored by Forbes Magazine, the AgTech Summit was the brainchild of former Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue and entrepreneur Bruce Taylor. Donohue is also a produce grower and marketer of vegetables, and Taylor was born and raised in Salinas by a multi-generation produce-growing family. He is also the founder and CEO of Taylor Farms, one of the most successful privately held companies in the country.

Donohue and Taylor’s vision was to find a way to connect the agriculturally rich Salinas Valley with nearby Silicon Valley, where innovation, disruption, and technology are incubated daily.

Why would they want to connect agriculture to technology? To convince the technology hub of the world to use some of its brainpower and innovation to assist the food industry with a few of its biggest challenges, namely limited water, limited labor, and changing weather patterns.

And as the story was told to me, their PR person made a random called to Forbes Media to assess their interest in being involved in an agriculture/technology conference. Turns out Forbes was not only highly interested, the company immediately agreed to take the lead role in the conference!

You can read about the program, speakers, and field trips we took on the conference website. But I’d like to share with you what I found most interesting and what I learned during my two days in Salinas.

The president and COO of Forbes Magazine, Mike Federle, attended the conference. It might surprise you to learn how I know him.

About six years ago, I was on an airplane flying from Charleston, South Carolina, and sat next to his daughter Allie. She is the same age as my eldest daughter. We struck up a conversation about flying, which she disliked, and I shared with her some of my experiences when I learned to fly an airplane when I was 25. At the end of the flight, I gave her my business card and we have kept in touch over the years. She connected me to her dad.

Who knew that a random meeting on an airplane would end up allowing me to be on a first name basis with the president of Forbes? That taught me that networking can happen when you least expect it. During the AgTech conference, I collected more than 30 business cards. I wonder what business opportunities will come from those new connections?

Always networking,

Karen

I like to think I coined the term “meeting-ectomy” when I wrote a blog about it in 2011. As you can imagine, it means “getting rid of your meetings.” I got the idea of a meeting-ectomy when I had so many meetings during my workday that I actually couldn’t get any real work done.

So last week when I read an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “So Busy at Work, No Time to Do the Job,” it really caught my attention. The article featured Hugh Welsh, the executive/general counsel at Royal DSM, a global health and nutrition company. He has more than 100 direct and indirect reports, and often works Saturdays and after hours to barely keep up.

Do you feel that way at work? Do you find that your calendar is filled with so many meetings that you cannot get your regular work done? The article called it “collaborative overload.” In an effort to make everyone on the team feel included (and not excluded) and to get everyone’s input, many organizations have turned to inviting everyone to a meeting to discuss and collaborate. What happened to trust? What would happen if we all stopped having standing committees and only invited the fewest number of people possible, thus speeding up the meeting and the decision process?

The article made me think about a change I announced at my company just a few days earlier.

Meetings were definitely getting out of control at Frieda’s. One day, in our morning management huddle, each manager talked about how many meetings they had on their calendar for the day. “Seven meetings today.” “Six meetings.” “Four meetings.” It seemed as if we were having one giant marathon meeting all day with just a few players changing every hour or so. Every meeting was scheduled for a full hour.

So the next afternoon, I drafted an email to my senior team:

As a follow-up to our discussion yesterday regarding the proliferation of meetings (large and long), I want to ask each of you to evaluate the group meetings you are in and not be afraid to:

 

– Change the mix of people.

 

– Disinvite people who are not contributing or are just there to observe (but copy them on the notes).

 

– Send out a recap instead of having a group meeting.

 

– When you send out notes, list action items, with due dates and the person responsible, instead of creating a blow-by-blow report.

 

– Cancel unnecessary meetings or recurring meetings if there is nothing to discuss; oftentimes an email update will suffice.

 

– Make your meetings standing (vs. sitting at a table); that usually shortens meetings.

 

– Don’t go to a meeting if it is too much for your daily schedule and the recap notes will suffice (just let the chair know ahead of time).

 

Conversely, you do need to make sure your teams are engaged with each other and that people don’t skip meetings as a cop-out.

This is not a new idea. In fact, author Patrick Lencioni wrote an article for Inc. magazine last year about why smaller groups are more productive: “How to Unleash the Creative Power of Small Groups.”

And Fast Company magazine featured 11 business gurus and their secrets to great meetings: “11 Simple Tips for Having Great Meetings.” 

So, ladies and gentleman, I suspect it might be time for you to give yourself and your organization a meeting-ectomy. I’m certain you will enjoy the results!

“Meeting-less” in California,

Karen

A few weeks ago, I turned on my computer and saw this email from one of our newest sales department employees, Matthew.

My sister teaches 4th grade at a local elementary school, and they are currently working on nutrition. When the students were asked what their favorite fruits/vegetables were, they all responded they have tried every fruit there is. My sister knows I work at Frieda’s, so she mentioned a few of our unique items, and the kids had no idea what they were. So, I worked with our warehouse and took her class several items from our sample area, and the kids loved our products. The parents came by later that week to let my sister know how excited their kids were trying new things and how they now wanted their parents to buy them dragon fruit and kumquats!

Attached to the email was this photo:

There are so many lessons here.

  1. Kids are open-minded to trying new foods. They don’t seem to have the paradigms adults do about experimenting with new shapes, flavors, and textures. Make sure if you have kids, grandkids, or friends with kids to let them try new foods…and if they are healthy and flavorful—even better!
  2. A teacher took a regular lesson plan and made it fun and interactive for her students. We should make sure all teachers have that opportunity.
  3. I love how Matthew showed initiative inside my company. He didn’t ask permission. He was excited to share his personal enthusiasm about his career with his family and did something different, all on his own!

Does this happen where you work? When someone has an idea, even if it’s outside the box, are they encouraged or discouraged to try it? What’s your culture like? Is it one of compliance (follow the rules) or disruption (try things out of left field).

I’m a big believer in disruption, trying new ideas, and encouraging out-of-the-box thinking.

And of course, I get personally excited when I see that our country’s youngest shoppers are sampling exotic fruits and veggies, and loving them!

So, next time you see a fruit or veggie you have not yet tried, I hope you will be like these 4th graders and give it a try. Here’s a fun idea: next time you have a few friends over, instead of doing a wine tasting, do a fruit and veggie tasting. And you can do a scoring system like the kids did!

The 4th graders scored their tasting experience with each new fruit.

Enjoy!

Karen

Last week, I took a trip to Cleveland to attend the Alpha Phi International Convention. (I just missed the 1.3 million people celebrating at the Cleveland Cavaliers victory parade.) My eldest daughter Alex was president of her Alpha Phi sorority when she attended George Mason University in Virginia and her sorority advisor, Jackee, invited us to the convention. Jackee watched Fear No Fruit, the documentary film made last year about my mother Frieda and our family business. She thought it would be inspiring to show the movie at the convention so that more than 500 Alpha Phi members and alumnae could learn about our story. And they wanted Alex and me there for a Q&A session after the screening.

It was so much fun to see the documentary again on the big screen. And it was interesting to hear the audience’s questions. First, we were asked about programs to give children and the poor access to more fresh produce. We were able to talk about the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools program, plus how the enormous national network of food banks across the country provides access to fresh produce to so many people.

Alex was asked if she has been able to apply any leadership lessons she learned as an Alpha Phi now that she is in the business world. (The answer was yes!)

And finally, a question about how to work in a family business. We both had our perspectives to share. (Read my past blog for my reflections on working in a family business.)

After the screening, the entire group took the Lolly Trolley over to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a private event. This was my third visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and my longest. My previous visits were always a rush through with only an hour or so to spend. We spent almost three hours touring the museum. We saw costumes and special exhibits from Elvis Presley and the Beatles to Michael Jackson and U2.

(from left) Me, Alex and three of our Alpha Phi sisters

But my favorite part was the time I spent in the Hall of Fame Inductee Gallery, which is a circular theater with three large screens featuring film clips from every artist or group that has been inducted into the Hall of Fame since 1986. There are 312 solo musicians and bands who are Hall of Fame inductees for a total of 749 people and 113 groups. They’ve been added to the prestigious roster in 30 separate induction ceremonies to date.

As Alex and I sat in the gallery, it was interesting to see whom each of us recognized. We learned that an artist cannot be inducted until the 25th anniversary of their first song, which explains why KISS was inducted in 2014, Neil Diamond in 2011, and The Beatles in 1988 (Paul, George, John, and Ringo were also inducted separately in later years).

One of the 2016 inductees, the rap group NWA, caught my attention. I really didn’t appreciate the art of rap music until I saw “Straight Outta Compton” last month. After seeing this movie, I have to say I was inspired and have a new appreciation for rap music, the genesis of the genre, and the stories behind all the great artists.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know the story behind the famous and very popular headphones, Beats by Dre. What an amazing American success story. If you haven’t yet seen the movie, I highly recommend it.

And, if you have a chance to go to Cleveland, I also recommend an afternoon at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It offers something for everyone to see and hear.

Rock on!

Karen

Many of us, when we hear the word “hack,” think of someone breaking into our computer system, i.e., a hacker. Or, if you’re from New York City, you might think of a taxi cab driver, sometimes called a hack (short for an old English “hackney cab”).

But I’ve noticed that the word hack is being used more and more, and it’s not about computers or taxis.

So of course I checked out the Urban Dictionary for some “answers.”

Urban Dictionary’s top definition for “hack” is:

A person who is a professional at doing some sort of service, but does crappy work.
“Man, that tattoo shop is full of hacks.” 

Another definition is:

A political appointed flunky who either doesn’t want to work or who is so stupid they can’t work.
“That new Assistant Commissioner Martha appointed is a real hack.”

But the definition I was looking for is this one:

A clever solution to a tricky problem.
“To hack is to modify or change something in an extraordinary way.”

In the cooking world, we are all looking for shortcuts or cooking tips. When I asked some of my foodie friends at work for their favorite hack resources, they were quick to share their faves.

Want some kitchen hacks to save time? Greatist.com has 73 kitchen hacks. My favorite on this list is number 15, for peeling bananas upside down. I wrote a blog about that a few years ago.

Credit: Lifehack.org

Want some recipe hacks to make you look like a genius home chef? Check out these cooking tips from Food & Wine Test Kitchen whiz Justin Chapple. He has many YouTube videos with some awesome recipe ideas.

Of course hacks aren’t just about cooking. It can be any little tip or trick to make life easier. I like the idea of taking a photo of someone’s business card in case I lose it.

Credit: Lifehack.org

It’s interesting how the definition of a word can change over time. Another example is “sick,” as in the slang phrase, “That’s sick.” I remember the first time one of my daughters said “that’s sick” to me. And it turned out to be a compliment. Yes, folks, when someone says “that’s sick,” it’s a good thing. As in, “That new restaurant I went to last night is sick.”

Times, they are a changin’.

Karen

No, that is not a typo. Bibimbap (pronounced bi-bim-bahp) is a Korean comfort food dish—in a bowl—and it’s very trendy right now. You probably know what it is, but not by name (unless you are into Korean food or are a foodie).

Bibimbap is basically a hot rice bowl topped with a combination of colorful sautéed vegetables and a Korean hot pepper paste called gochujang. It also may be topped with a raw or fried egg and sliced, cooked meat.

To be honest, up until a year ago, I had never heard of bibimbap, but I had noticed that one bowl meals were becoming popular. Last July, I attended an industry foodservice trade show, and one of the speakers, Chef Jet Tila, mentioned bibimbap as a trending food item. And for me, once I hear about a new food or trend, I start to research it and pay attention to blogs, magazines, and other content providers. And sure enough, bibimbap was showing up everywhere.

Traditional Korean bibimbap Gochujang is a savory, spicy, and pungent fermented Korean condiment made with red peppers.

One reason these Korean-style rice bowls are becoming more mainstream might be because they can be easily adapted to be gluten-free (using gluten-free gochujang) or vegan (by omitting the egg and meat). And with the rise in popularity of Asian cuisines, especially Korean food, bibimbap was a natural.

My creative team here at work recently had fun putting together a Frieda’s spin on bibimbap using finely chopped purple cauliflower as the “rice” (by the way, cauliflower “rice” is another food trend) topped with sautéed purple kohlrabi and other veggies. Check out our 30-second “Quick Bite” video.

Speaking of bowls, anything in a bowl seems pretty popular lately. Have you tried a smoothie bowl yet? Smoothie chains like Jamba Juice and Nekter now sell acai (pronounce Ah-sigh-EE) and pitaya bowls (both are considered super fruits). These bowls are basically puréed, frozen fruit as the base, topped with granola and other tasty fruits and nuts. And maybe a dollop of Greek yogurt.

Our blogger friend Kimberly just made a gorgeous bowl with dragon fruit and gold kiwifruit.

And then there are rice bowls, quinoa bowls—you get the idea. We used to call them “one-dish meals”… Change the name and you have a new food trend. Bam!

When I mentioned I planned to write about bibimbap, my co-worker told me a funny story. The first time she heard the word bibimbap was from her newborn son’s talking plush toy. Toy company LeapFrog has this stuffed dog named Scout that you connect to the Internet via a USB port and you can program the toy to say your child’s name, and pick out your child’s favorite color, animal, songs, and even his favorite food. One of the choices for Scout’s favorite foods was bibimbap, so my co-worker chose that option only because the word was so funny sounding and it made everyone chuckle. Scout was on to something, though.

When I came into work on Monday, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to see this email from local healthy food chain Veggie Grill. Here is my friend Chef Jet Tila, talking about… you guessed it: bibimbap.

And now you know! Happy eating!

Karen

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About 30 years ago I attended a conference in downtown Los Angeles called “The Future of California.” It was not a large gathering—maybe 100 attendees—but the speakers were impressive. I remember Kathleen Brown, then State Treasurer (and sister of current California Governor Jerry Brown), talking about her daily investments of the state’s money. My favorite speaker, though, was Alvin Toffler, author of “Future Shock.”

I read “Future Shock” when I was in high school, so it was a treat to hear the original “futurist” speak in person.

Toffler spoke about the future of transportation in Los Angeles. He predicted it would evolve into a hub-and-spoke system. People would ride a plane, then get on a train, then a bus, then bike or walk. It would not be point-to-point transportation, like in individual cars. It was hard to fathom at that time that there would be a light rail system here in Southern California. But as our freeways and traffic get more congested, the popularity of carpooling, riding the Metro, and telecommuting continue to increase. Alvin was right.

At that conference, I also met an incredible woman. Her name is Joline Godfrey and for a living, she developed games for kids. You know, board games similar to Monopoly to teach kids about being responsible with their money, like saving, investing, and philanthropy. Joline introduced herself to me, and we have been friends ever since. Joline has become a well-known author, having written five books, the most recent of which is “Raising Financially Fit Kids.”

Well, last weekend, I happened to be in Santa Barbara where Joline now lives, so she and I were able to have breakfast together in Carpinteria. (If you are ever in the Santa Barbara area, I recommend the sleepy beach town of Carpinteria. Esau’s Restaurant is a great place for breakfast.)

Jolene and me

And of course, we started to reminisce about when we met at that Future of California conference. I think Joline is a think-tank junkie because she had just attended the Milken Global Conference the week before.

The Milken Institute is an independent economic think tank based in Santa Monica. It hosts conferences and publishes research about financial innovations and social issues. The speakers at this year’s conference included former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, basketball great Kobe Bryant, governors from several states, plus dozens of others.

Joline said one of the most interesting subjects discussed at the conference was driverless cars. Of course we’ve all heard about the technology that Tesla and Google have developed.

So we started sharing ideas about how driverless technology would be a game changer. The obvious shift would be in freeway traffic. If most commuters had driverless cars, it would alleviate traffic congestion and there would be fewer accidents.

And then I remembered an article I recently read on driverless 40-foot semi-tractor trailers. Several manufacturers, like Daimler, are developing self-driving big rigs in Europe and the United States.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNAWJ_vBr-k]

The fresh produce industry relies on semi-trucks to haul our fresh fruits and vegetables from the fields to supermarket warehouses and distribution centers across the country. With driverless technology, trucks could be routed to operate at optimal non-peak hours. And there would be no time limitations (called “hours of service”), like we have now, due to the drivers needing to rest or sleep after so many hours of driving. And of course, the roads would be safer and our produce could be delivered in a more timely and efficient way. Driverless technology could really benefit the logistics of the U.S. food supply.

Also just last week, Hyperloop One successfully tested out its transportation technology in Las Vegas. Hyperloop is—or will become—a high-speed train that can go as fast as 750 miles per hour using magnetic levitation (mag-lev) technology. For example, Los Angeles and San Francisco could be just 35 minutes away from each other using Hyperloop. Can you imagine fresh produce from California zipping into New York City within hours of picking?

It’s an exciting time for us in the produce industry where technology is improving everything from our supply chain to how we sell to consumers.

I’m so glad I was able to reconnect with Joline in person after many years of email-only communication. Her intelligence and creativity really inspired me and got me thinking. Is there an old friend that you should reconnect with? You never know where inspiration will come from!

Karen

I did an informal survey of some of my co-workers, family, and friends to find out what moms really want for Mother’s Day. Interestingly, it was not universally, “Go out to brunch or dinner.”

My moms with young children want their hubbies to take the kids away for the day, so they can chill out—by themselves.

For my working moms, a pampering day at the spa is high on the priority list.

My older moms love being treated with dinner out and some quality time with their kids or grandkids.

For me, I had to think long and hard about what I wanted to do for Mother’s Day. Both my daughters, Alex and Sophia, have been asking me, “What do you want for Mother’s Day?”

I knew that I didn’t want them to buy me anything, especially after I decluttered my house last year. Ultimately, I decided that quality time with just the girls and me would be the perfect gift.

My daughters Alex and Sophia

I’ve always wanted to hike and never can find the time or an available friend to go with me. So we will start the day at 7:30 a.m. with a hike at Laguna Canyon.

Then we are going to our local nursery to buy some bright, colorful flowers. Now that we are deep into spring and the weather has warmed up, it’s time to do a little gardening. So we are going to plant flowers in my front yard.

For me, part of being a mother is thanking my girls for being so awesome. So, after all their hard work, I am treating them both to a massage in the afternoon.

Then the three of us will be making a healthy dinner together at home. And, of course, we are picking up my mom, Frieda, and bringing her over, so she can enjoy hanging out with us while we cook.

My mother Frieda and me

I’m very excited that the perfect day for me is now planned for this year.

If you have a special mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, or significant other, instead of trying to figure out what to do for her on Mother’s Day, try asking! And be open to her request, as it may be unexpected or super simple and not costly.

As they say, it’s the thought that counts!

Happy Mother’s Day to all the awesome mothers out there!

Karen

April is our company’s anniversary month; we launched on April 2, 1962. So one of our traditions is that we sponsor our local produce organization luncheon each April as a way to celebrate our anniversary and give back to the Fresh Produce & Floral Council.

My daughter Alex Jackson represents us as our spokesperson and she gave a five-minute talk. I want to share some of the highlights.

The audience at the luncheon is made up of produce people from age 20 to 92 (my mom, Frieda, was there), so Alex took the opportunity to share some fun facts about the different generations and their styles of grocery shopping.

Traditionalists — Born before 1946. Also known as “The Silent Generation.” They spend the least amount of money during their shopping trips, but take the most time going through the store.

Baby Boomers — Born between 1946 and 1964. They were excited to raise their hands and be recognized during the luncheon. Baby Boomers are reaching the age where their income is more disposable and most don’t have kids to support, so they spend however they want. Though interested in name brands and loyal to those brands, Baby Boomers like sales, bargains, and shopping online (just like their millennial children). However, customer service, particularly helpful salespeople and produce managers, keeps them loyal to stores.

Generation X — Born between 1965 and 1980. This group oftentimes feels forgotten or unheard. Generation Xers are independent. They don’t love shopping as much as Baby Boomers and Millennials, but they’re more than willing to try a new brand. They are a little skeptical and cynical, so they are won over with superior quality and customer service. You need to exceed their expectations.

Millennials — Born between 1981 and 2000. Sometimes referred to as Generation Y. They will be 50 percent of the workforce by the year 2020! They will spend more than $200 billion annually, starting in 2017. Millennials are loyal to brands that treat them well and, in case you haven’t heard, they want to be catered to.

So why did Alex talk about the four generations at the luncheon? To highlight that many companies are making changes to their packaging and branding to be more appealing to the powerful millennial tidal wave that is coming our way.

For example, restaurant chain Daphne’s Greek Café has been transformed into Yalla Mediterranean, a build-your-own restaurant. Like Chipotle, Yalla lets you customize your meal, which is what Millennials want from a restaurant.

Rubio’s Baja Grill is now Rubio’s Coastal Cuisine, saying its menu items are “made with a mission.” The chain now features California-grown avocados and wild Alaskan salmon. Millennials want to spend money on brands that are doing more than just feeding them. They want to spend their money at restaurants that are giving back to the community, working with local growers, and making them feel good about their purchases.

Companies within the produce industry are also doing more to appeal to Millennials.

Love Beets’ flavored beets packaging has smiles on it so the beets look happy to see you!

Village Farms is giving its tomato varieties and packages witty names.

And at Frieda’s, well we recently went through a brand refresh as well. We redesigned our packaging to make it more appealing to millennial shoppers (and the rest of us who want to feel young). Our products now appeal to their desire to try something new every day. Millennials are also willing to spend more money on a fresh produce item that they’ve never seen before that will inspire them to try a new recipe.

Now when you hear about the different generations, you’ll know what they mean and why they are different. And if you see that the packaging (color and type) has changed on one of your favorite foods or any product you purchase, you’ll be able to guess that the company didn’t just hire a new marketing director, it is actually trying to appeal to its ideal shopper. And be more relevant.

And that’s what it’s all about! Being relevant.

Karen

As an employer, I always wonder what should or could be my role in helping the people who work for Frieda’s make healthier food choices.

It’s kind of a difficult position to be in.

When people join a company, they don’t expect to have their employer help them make better food choices. But this has been something I’ve been struggling with for a number of years.

Like most companies, we have a community lunchroom—with vending machines. One has refrigerated beverages, offering Coke, Pepsi, iced tea, and water. The other one has salty snacks and candy.

For more than five years, my sister and business partner Jackie and I have toyed with the idea of finding healthier options to offer our employees.

What if we removed all the sugary beverages from the machine, and only offered water and natural juices?

Or how about replacing the current snack machine, with one that only offers fresh fruits and veggies, and other healthy snack foods?

When I mention this to some of my colleagues here at Frieda’s, I get an enormous amount of push back.

“The employees will revolt if they can’t get their full-sugar sodas.”

“They are spending their own money, so why should we care?”

“It’s not our place to mandate what they can choose as snacks.”

So it was with great interest that I read a recent article from Bloomberg: “5 Things Businesses Can Do to Fight Obesity.” Here’s what was recommended:

  1. Fix the food in the workplace.
  2. Help employees meet their goals.
  3. Make it easy for customers to eat well.
  4. Consider the community.
  5. Change the food supply.

The article points to places like The Cleveland Clinic (which obviously is all about getting people well) that offered fast food in their cafeteria. They removed deep fryers from their kitchens and changed their food offerings to healthy ones. They made it easier to buy bottled water. They decided that if employees want to drink sugary drinks, they had the choice to bring them from home.

So, what I’ve been thinking about doing at Frieda’s includes:

  1. #Eatingbyexample and jumping into our industry initiative by offering—free of charge— fresh fruits and veggies in the company lunchroom for our employees to snack on.
  2. Changing out the choices in our vending machines to offer only non-sugar-filled beverages.
  3. Installing an additional vending machine with healthy snacks, where the cost will be subsidized by Frieda’s as a way to encourage employees to make healthier choices.
  4. Setting a deadline (perhaps the first day of summer?) for when the sugary snack machine will be removed and replaced with the healthier choice vending machine.
  5. Offering healthy-eating cooking classes at Frieda’s to educate our employees on how to make healthier choices at home for themselves and for their families.

So, obviously we’re talking about “walking the walk.” How can I, in good conscience, say my company is committed to changing the way people eat fresh fruits and veggies, if I don’t start making those same choices available right at my own company?

And the same thing applies to each of you. When you have a party at your house, is everything high fat and sugar? Or do you always offer healthy options like fresh fruits and veggies? Each of us has the option of creating healthier choices for our friends and family.

So, my challenge to you is to be a good example.

Think about it.

Karen

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Well, if that title doesn’t catch your attention, then I don’t know what will.

Last weekend while attending a produce conference in San Antonio, Texas, I was able to meet and hear Drew Ramsey, M.D., who co-authored the cookbook “Fifty Shades of Kale.” His day job is as an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University in New York City. He is also a leading proponent of eating for brain health.

After hours, he is better known as the co-founder of National Kale Day, which is celebrated every year on October 5.

Dr. Ramsey’s premise is that if you choose foods that feed your brain (admittedly the most important organ in your body), it will help ensure a well-functioning body and predict your current and future health.

Highlights from his talk:

Dr. Ramsey talked about the top 11 food plants, in terms of nutrient density. It’s not a surprise that most of them are trending and showing up more often in produce departments and on top restaurant menus:

  1. Maroon carrots
  2. Spinach
  3. Red cabbage
  4. Garlic
  5. Peppers
  6. Broccoli
  7. Asparagus
  8. Lemons
  9. Strawberries
  10. Brussels sprouts
  11. Kale

In case you’re wondering how kale got to be so “suddenly popular,” here is “The Rise of Kale,” according to Dr. Ramsey:

Dr. Ramsey is a prolific writer and his byline appears regularly in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and Men’s Journal. He has a new book coming out next month, “Eat Complete: The 21 Nutrients that Fuel Brain Power, Boost Weight Loss and Transform Your Health.”

What I liked most about Drew is that he is approachable, humble, married with two young children, and is sincerely passionate about his work. After his talk, I listened to him patiently answer question after question from audience members who had individual, personal, health questions.

I already pre-ordered his book. And I have made some changes and tweaks to my diet to add more good fats. Thank goodness I already eat a diet rich in his top 11 plant foods.

How about you?

Karen

P.S. Here is a photo of Dr. Ramsey and me after his talk. 

 

 

Tomorrow, April 2, is a very special day. It is “Love Your Produce Manager®” Day, a national day first celebrated in 2012.

I usually make a point of going into my local Ralphs where I shop and saying a special “thanks” to my produce manager, Paul. Last year, I even wrote about one of my produce guys, Carlos.

This year, I am in San Antonio, Texas, attending a produce trade show called “Viva Fresh.” It’s mostly Texan and Mexican growers and buyers having conversations and displaying their produce. I arrived a day early and naturally took the afternoon to visit supermarkets.

If you’re from Texas, especially the San Antonio area, you probably shop at HEB Grocery or their sister company, upscale retailer Central Markets. HEB is the quintessential, privately held retailer that has oodles of hometown pride. The company is based here in San Antonio, but has stores in many parts of Texas.

So, as I visited a few of the markets during the afternoon, my timing seemed impeccable. I was able to say hello to every single one of the produce managers at each of the stores. I was traveling with a colleague from work; she commented to me how friendly and interested each of the produce managers and all the produce personnel were when we said hello. Of course, I know that’s part of the culture at HEB, but I also know that in Texas, people in general are exceptionally friendly, in contrast to the fast-paced, always-in-a-hurry approach we have in Southern California.

I’d like to introduce you to Jacob, the produce manager at one of the stores.

You can see from his name badge that he has been with HEB for 10 years. And from his big smile, you can tell that he really enjoys his job.

As I was getting ready to say goodbye to Jacob, he asked me if I had said hello to their foodie, Ramiro. I had heard of Ramiro, as he has contacted our office many times, asking for information about our products, but I had no idea he was actually in this store.

Yes, his business card says, “Foodie.” He shared with me that he went to culinary school in Chicago and was actually a trained pastry chef for an upscale retailer there. He moved to Texas a few years ago and is passionate about educating people—especially children—about healthy eating. And he works almost full time at the HEB store, sampling fresh produce, educating consumers about new foods, and demonstrating easy recipes to inspire them.


And that’s when I was reminded about Love Your Produce Manager Day. I wondered how many produce managers out there are like Jacob and his colleague Ramiro who have worked for their companies for many years. They love inspiring their shoppers to try new fresh produce items. They keep their displays fresh and full.

Wouldn’t it be great if, as a consumer, you made a special effort next time you are in your market to ask for the produce manager and tell him/her in person how much you appreciate his/her hard work? You can also say thanks for helping you feed healthy foods to your family.

I think you would make their day!

And what if you snapped a selfie of you and your produce manager, and posted it for all your friends to see on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter? That’s what it’s all about! Feel free to share your photos with us by including hashtag #LYPM.

That’s how we #InspireTasteLove.

Have a great weekend!

Karen

P.S. April 2 is also our company anniversary. Happy 54th anniversary to Frieda’s Specialty Produce!

You’ve probably heard of jackfruit. But maybe you’ve never seen it. It’s kind of scary looking—like a giant blob with rough, bumpy skin. You wouldn’t even know it was edible by looking at it.

But it’s actually considered the largest fruit in the world. A small jackfruit is probably 12 pounds and a typical jackfruit weights about 20 pounds!

Historically you would find these strange tropical fruits only at Asian specialty food markets, but lately, conventional supermarkets love to have them available for new store openings, special events, or when they have a high Asian clientele. Oftentimes, you will see them quartered or sliced, in over-wrapped trays.

The most frequently asked questions with jackfruit are, “How do you cut it open, and what part do you eat?” So, we created a short video showing the authentic way to cut a jackfruit.

If you watched the video, then you now know that the flavor of a ripe jackfruit is reminiscent of Juicy Fruit® Gum!

But the most recent development in the world of jackfruit is its use as a meat substitute for vegans and vegetarians. Because of its meaty texture and neutral flavor (when not fully ripe), it’s a great meat substitute.

Photo credit: Augustus Binu/Wikimedia

And how did I learn this? It’s a funny story.

About three years ago, a produce friend of mine, Don, attended an executive seminar at Harvard Business School. He was introduced to a young female student who was looking to be mentored in the food business. Don introduced me to Annie and I volunteered to have a few conversations with her.

As it turned out, she and her brother had spent time in India during college summers and fell in love with jackfruit and saw the potential to launch a business. So Annie created a business plan around jackfruit and won business plan competition after competition.

Annie Ryu and the jackfruit

That’s when Annie and I were introduced. We had several discussions about ideas to bring the product to market, the challenges, potential customers, etc. We even had the opportunity to meet in person when I attended a class at Harvard Business School two years ago.

So, you can only imagine how thrilled I was to walk into my local Whole Foods Market last week to find this on the shelf:

Now when you see that huge, green and bumpy fruit in your grocery store, or if you’re looking for non-soy based meat substitutes and see packaged jackfruit (in cans or in the refrigerated case), you’ll know the backstory.

Enjoy!

Karen

It all started for me on February 4. That’s the day we received the following email through our website:

“My name is Kaydyn and I am 9 years old. I wanted to share with you my new blog. I have to eat the FODMAP diet due to medical conditions and I wanted to help others struggling like me. I love to cook and bake, and one day want to have my own café that is FODMAP friendly. It is hard to find things, most things I have to make at home. I was hoping you could please take a look and give me feedback and share my blog with others?”

I had never heard of the FODMAP diet, so naturally I Googled it. You can read about it here and here, but the bottom line is that one in five Americans is affected by Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). And (I am simplifying this), some Australian researchers, along with some folks at Stanford University, have found that certain carbohydrates are problematic for people with IBS. Short chain carbohydrates, or FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligo-saccharides, Di-saccharides, Mono-saccharides and Polyols), are the problem.

Thus, the FODMAP diet. The premise is that, if you eat a certain diet that is low in FODMAPs, you will reduce your discomfort and feel better.

When young Kaydyn wrote to us six weeks ago, I had never heard about this condition. And I frankly thought it was an odd request.

At least it seemed so until a good friend came to stay with me last week. She told me that for the last year she had been having horrible stomach pains and intestinal problems, no matter what she ate or drank. And no matter how she changed her diet, she was frequently doubled over in pain. She did a bunch of research on the Internet and came across this special diet. She said it has changed her life and she is finally feeling back to her old self.

I told her to be sure and let me know what it was because I am always interested in anything to do with food, diet, etc.

And what did she email me the next morning? The Low FODMAP Diet. There it was again. Just what young Kaydyn had written about last month.

I am writing about it today because, if one in five Americans has similar issues, then many followers of my blog do as well. If I can share some real world, validated guidance, based on a healthy diet (not a bunch of  drugs), then I am happy to do that.

I wonder how many people who have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease or IBS could be pain-free, just by adjusting their diet? By eliminating things like onions, garlic, soybeans, full-fat diary, and the like? If you have a friend or relative with digestive issues, maybe you’ll want to share this information.

It’s amazing how the universe works. Now that you have heard about the FODMAP diet from me, you will probably start hearing about it in other places.

And now you know!

Karen

OK, I admit I’ve seen the acronyms IoT and IOE and the terms “Internet of Things” and “Internet of Everything,” but I really didn’t give them much thought.

Until I read an article this morning in one of our supermarket industry blogs (Morning News Beat, by Kevin Coupe) and it hit home for me:

“It was just another email. Until I thought about it for a minute, and considered the implications.

The email was from Amazon (as so many are in any given day), and it was promoting a new item available on the site – a Brita water pitcher that comes with a filter than enables the consumer to have cleaner, better-tasting water.

Except that this was a pitcher with a curveball – because this Brita pitcher comes complete “equipped with a built-in counter that tracks the amount of water that passes through the pitcher’s filter. The pitcher itself will automatically order a new filter through Amazon Dash Replenishment when the old filter nears its capacity. This new connected pitcher with Amazon Dash Replenishment gives Brita owners exactly what they want – a new Brita filter on their doorstep at the time they need it.”

According to a 2014 Time Magazine article, The Internet of Everything has become a catch-all phrase to describe adding connectivity and intelligence to just about every device in order to give them special functions.

The things and appliances we use every day are getting smarter. Let’s think about the navigation tools we use while driving.

Back in the day, when we planned a driving trip, we would get out our Thomas Guide book and flip through page after page to plot the route to our destination.

Then we got portable GPS gadgets (like Garmins and TomToms), which we plugged into our car to help us plot our trip. When we rented cars on a vacation or business trip, we would be offered the option to also rent a GPS (for $9.99 a day).

Now we have WAZE, the amazing real-time technology invented in Israel, now owned by Google. If you haven’t loaded the WAZE app on your smart phone, you should. It will change your life. No matter where you are in the world. I was in Costa Rica this weekend, and was able to launch WAZE and see exactly where I was. It directed me to the most traffic-efficient way to my destination. Normally (that would be every day), I log on to WAZE to find the fastest way to get anywhere. To a meeting in downtown L.A., to my hair salon, to the airport. And the route may change several times during my trip, depending on how traffic changes, in real time. By the way, WAZE is free.

That is true connectivity and intelligence.

Photo Credit: Wilgengebroed on Flickr

Today I might not have a “smart” water filter or a fridge that tells me when I’m low on milk, but it probably won’t be too long. However, right now I can control the temperature in my home via my smart phone, my friends can see how many steps I’ve taken and calories I’ve burned (via my Fitbit app on my phone), and with Google Wallet, I don’t even have to bring a credit card or wallet with me when I go grocery shopping. I just “wave” my phone at checkout.

Two years ago, the president of Cisco, John Chambers, predicted the financial impact of IoT on the public sector would be $4.6 trillion. Trillion sounds like a pretty mind-boggling number.

So make it personal. What would the impact be for you, personally, if you had access to a completely connected world?

Some of us are faster adapters to the latest technology than others. In my industry, the Internet of Everything is already having a huge impact. For example, in food shopping, the numbers I’ve read say that currently 25 percent of the population is interested in doing their food shopping online. Or rather, letting others pick out their food. And they can have it delivered at any time of the day or night. To their home or office. They decide. That still leaves 75 percent of the population who will continue to go to conventional brick and mortar grocery stores, and shop when the stores are open. And when they feel like leaving their house to go shopping.

So think about your work, your industry. Or your kids. The job they will hold in 10 years probably doesn’t even exist yet.

And that’s pretty darn exciting for some of us.

Think about it!

Karen

“You are what you eat” has never been more embraced in our history as a society. I know that what I eat on a daily basis has an effect, not just on how I feel in general, but how healthy I am.

The more mainstream acceptance of food as medicine is really good for the produce business. Whether people are going vegetarian, eating clean, or following an anti-inflammatory diet, fresh fruits and vegetables play major roles in helping them follow their healthy-eating plans.

I want to share two personal examples:

My colleague’s husband was suffering from severe psoriasis (red patchy skin) and psoriatic arthritis (joint pain). If you’ve ever experienced either of these, you know how debilitating, painful, and limiting these conditions can be. After unsuccessful treatment with several different prescription drugs, his rheumatologist suggested trying injectable biologic drugs. After reading about the potential side effects, he was hesitant and sought a second opinion from a naturopathic doctor (something he had never done before). The naturopath put him on a strict anti-inflammatory diet, which meant he could not eat sugar (except lots of fresh fruit), dairy, gluten, red meat, or nightshade family vegetables, like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant or peppers.

The doctor was optimistic that his arthritis would resolve and skin would clear up within six months. He amped up his diet with lots of whole foods, and endless fruits and vegetables; he also pretty much avoided all packaged foods. Three months later, my colleague’s husband’s skin had cleared up by 90 percent and his arthritis pain was gone. Yes, gone. Oh, and he lost 30 pounds.

My next example happened this past weekend. I went to visit my friend Elise and during our visit, she shared that she had been recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. It’s a very scary disease, and if untreated, completely debilitating. Literally, this vibrant 57-year-old woman woke up one day and could not uncurl her fingers.

Elise did a ton of research and came across a lot of anecdotal information about the Paleo Diet and the benefits of eliminating nightshade foods from her diet.  So, she tried it. The Paleo Diet is basically, no sugar, no dairy, no grains, no legumes or processed foods. You only eat foods that were consumed by “cave men” in Paleolithic times. For a complete list, look here.  She told me that she was desperate when she changed her diet.  And she said that within three days, she felt like a new person. The pain and stiffness had subsided. (Full disclosure: she is also taking some prescription medicines.)

Every time I meet a medical student, faculty member or doctor, I ask them the same thing:  How many classes do you take on nutrition during medical school?  Sadly, they all say the same thing: not enough. However, I was excited to read recently that the state of Michigan has the right idea with a program that offers grants to medical centers to offer their patients a prescription in the form of vouchers for fresh produce from local farmers markets.

Imagine that. Doctors prescribing fresh produce for good health. And in Minnesota, a health insurance company offers its members monthly deals on healthy groceries and fresh produce through participating retailers.

So, if you ever find yourself having unexplainable aches and pains, or stiffness in your joints, why don’t you try this:  Eliminate nightshades and processed foods from your diet for a few days and see if you feel different.

I can tell you from personal experience that it’s hard to do. Especially if you love fresh, juicy tomatoes and roasted potatoes (like I do).  But making a few changes in your diet can make all the difference in the world.

Karen

We all know that gluten-free products have become a popular food group. As I travel around the country and visit supermarkets, I continue to see larger and larger displays of gluten-free items.

With Italian food so popular, it only makes sense that one of the most common gluten-free products is pasta. Years ago, I remember the first gluten-free pasta from the DeBoles Company.

But did you know that there is gluten-free “pasta” that’s also low in calories and carbs?

Enter the spiralizer and the zucchini squash!

I first experienced zucchini pasta when I was in Maui last summer and enjoyed an amazing Kobe beef meatball atop a mound of zucchini pasta at Sarento’s on the Beach. We asked the chef how he prepared it, and he told us he steamed the zucchini spirals for three minutes before serving.

Then, last night, I received a text message from my dear friend Elise: “You probably thought of this, but I always spiralize zucchini.”

These zucchini “zoodles” really are a great pasta substitute. A simple search on Amazon showed me that a very nice spiralizer costs less than $30. Plus, I noticed at least eight different cookbooks featuring this kitchen gadget.

Prior to the popularity and availability of the spiralizer, the best alternative to pasta was one of my personal favorites—the spaghetti squash.

Our company first introduced spaghetti squash to American supermarkets back in 1975. I was still in college when my mother received her first shipment from our grower in Northern California. Before that time, spaghetti squash was mostly popular with home gardeners. Eventually, seed companies began introducing it to commercial growers, but the biggest challenge was that it looked like a large melon. It was difficult to comprehend and communicate that all you had to do was cook it (steam, boil, or bake), and the flesh separated into spaghetti-like strands. Out of necessity, one of our first product labels was born.

So, next time you’re thinking of serving pasta for dinner, try serving zucchini pasta. It’s a great way to get more fresh veggies into your diet, plus it has a nice fresh flavor and texture. Or, if you are looking for interesting and useful gift ideas, try the spiralizer. I know it will be on the top of my list of unique gift ideas.

Though fueled by wheat-gluten allergies, celiac disease, and low-carb diet preferences, some say the popularity of gluten-free products is actually starting to peak. That doesn’t trouble me; I’m still making zucchini pasta whenever I’m craving Italian food.

Enjoy,
Karen

A couple of exciting things happen in Berlin, Germany, each February. Most notable in the entertainment world is the Berlin International Film Festival. For those of us in the fresh produce business, February brings the largest global produce trade show, Fruit Logistica.

As some of you know, I attend every other year. And I literally have to gear up, both physically and mentally, to walk through and explore the 19 buildings at Messe Berlin, the city’s fairgrounds. It’s a huge show and takes a full three days to explore properly. This year was a great treat, as my sister and business partner, Jackie, traveled with me.

Of course, traveling with your sister means you get to fit in a little fun. We arrived a day early and took a daylong tour of Berlin, getting a chance to see the contrast between East and West, including the remaining sections of the Berlin Wall.

My sister Jackie taking a selfie at the East Side Gallery/Berlin Wall The most famous mural at the East Side Gallery/Berlin Wall

We sipped champagne at the world famous department store, KaDeWe.

But we did spend three full days walking the intense and diverse show. This was my sixth  time attending the show, so I asked Jackie what her biggest takeaway after her first show was. She had the same reaction I did after my first visit with two main takeaways: it made her realize just how small our world is as you walk from “country to country” in three days, and it was an intriguing and refreshing change to see the more relational way business is conducted at this show versus the rush-rush way we work at U.S.-based trade shows.

One of the highlights for me has always been the Innovation Center. More than 60 promising innovations of fresh and mechanical products and services are entered into the competition, and just 10 finalists are chosen to be featured at the Fruit Logistica Innovation Competition.

Of those finalists, just six were fresh produce: Cherry tomato plants, microwavable potatoes, colored potatoes, micro-greens from Israel, and Enjoya—a striped bell pepper. The winner was an organic coconut. You can see all the entries and their details here.

It wasn’t a surprise to me that the organic coconut, with its special patented opening device, won. As I wrote just a couple weeks ago, coconuts are definitely a top trending item.

Genuine Coconut, the winner of the 2016 Fruit Logistica Innnovation Competition

Called “Genuine Coconut,” the packaging is clever and very attractive. The product demonstrated a cute and familiar method (a pop-top opener) to solve a common problem (opening up and getting the water out of a brown coconut). Unfortunately, when I went by the Genuine Coconut booth and tasted the water, it was only so-so. What they didn’t tell people is that the most desirable coconut water comes from young coconuts. Genuine Coconut uses brown, more mature coconuts, which are typically used for their meat as the water inside is not nearly as sweet as that from a young coconut. Coconut aficionados do not typically drink the water straight from brown coconuts.

But, in my mind, any attention that comes to such a healthy product will build sales and awareness for the category. And that is a good thing.

Oh, back to the Berlin Film Festival. The night we arrived in the city, we walked over to the Sony Center near our hotel. When we walked up, we saw a giant red carpet and lots of lights leading into the theater. As it turns out,  “Zoolander 2” was having its European premier! And, literally, we had just missed seeing Ben Stiller, Penelope Cruz, Owen Wilson, Kristen Wiig, and other cast members. Darn!

The Red Carpet for ‘Zoolander 2’

Karen

If you’re familiar with the Chinese zodiac, you may be aware that Monday is the Chinese New Year, also known as Lunar New Year. It’s one of the most important Chinese holidays, and it’s celebrated around the world. And of course, food is a part of the celebration.

In Chinese traditions, foods served during this time are rich in wordplay and symbolism. Some of the dishes and ingredients have names that sound similar to words and phrases referring to good wishes.

For example, “kumquat” literally means “golden orange.” Symbolizing wealth and prosperity, the little citrus fruits, and sometimes the tree saplings, are given as gifts during Chinese New Year. Other “wealthy” fruits include oranges and tangerines. The larger citrus like pummelos and grapefruits symbolize abundance, prosperity, and family unity. Another item that represents good fortune is daikon. In one Chinese dialect, the word for radish is a homophone for “good fortune.”

If you’re thinking of preparing some foods in honor of Chinese New Year, check out the selection of fresh Asian vegetables at your local supermarket. Along with daikon, you’ll probably find bok choy, napa cabbage, fresh snow peas, ginger root, and more. Almost every produce department carries these items now because Asian cuisine is so popular. If you aren’t already cooking with these ingredients, maybe this is a good time to try adding something new to your recipe repertoire. There’s nothing like a bowl of steaming rice or noodles topped with stir-fried, colorful, and crisp vegetables.

Some popular Asian produce items for Chinese New Year

2016 is also welcoming a new Chinese zodiac animal sign—the Year of the Monkey. While I don’t follow the Chinese zodiac closely, I always find the symbolism and characteristics associated with the different animal signs interesting.

Astrologists say that anything goes in monkey years, as the monkey sign is known for enthusiastic energy and mischievousness. Maybe we should prepare for the unexpected and hang loose this year.

If you’re interested in learning what your Chinese zodiac sign is, check out this page.

One of the many Chinese New Year wishes translates to “May your happiness be without limit.” Kung Hei Fat Choy! (Happy New Year and be prosperous!)

Karen

With fermented foods hitting near the top of trending foods the last few years, I think it’s time to talk about kimchi (also written “Kim Chee”).

Many people have a love/hate relationship with kimchi. They love the garlicky, spicy, raw freshness of the pickled cabbage, yet have to apologize to their friends for their, well… garlic breath, which seems to also permeate one’s pores.

If you’ve never tried it, but you keep hearing about it, let me enlighten you. Kimchi is a traditional, fermented, Korean side dish made with vegetables—typically cabbage—and a variety of spices. Ranging from mild to extra hot, it’s often used as a condiment and pairs well with Korean barbecue beef and a variety of other Asian flavor profile foods.

Kimchi (Photo by Craig Nagy/Flickr)

Kimchi has been getting a lot of attention lately thanks to the increased interest in foods with “gut”-friendly probiotics. Similar to yogurt, kimchi naturally contains bacteria that are beneficial to the digestive system. And with the ever-growing popularity of Asian flavors, especially Korean food, kimchi is having its moment.

Fermented vegetables… sounds kind of weird, right? It’s actually an extremely old way of preserving foods. Basically, you liberally salt the vegetable and wait for its natural liquids to seep out. Then you keep it submerged in its own juices for months, or longer. With the addition of garlic, ginger, and red pepper, kimchi really packs a flavorful and a healthy punch. Authentic kimchi often contains a dash of fish sauce, or another fish flavoring, which true kimchi aficionados swear by.

One cool thing about kimchi is that even after it’s jarred up, it’s still fermenting a little. When sold at the grocery store, kimchi jars must be kept refrigerated because they can’t be hermetically sealed. Why not? Because the natural gasses released during continuous fermentation would build up and result in a little kimchi volcano—the jar could explode. In fact, when you buy a jar of kimchi, be sure to open it over the sink, as a little eruption of those friendly fermenting bubbles can happen. (Disclosure: Frieda’s has been selling jarred kimchi since 1978 and every few months we get an email from a consumer who lets us know their kimchi keeps bubbling. We have to tell them that’s normal.)

One question we often get is, “How do I make my own kimchi?” While we can’t give out our own secret recipe, we often share a few recipe suggestions from other sources, including “Basic Napa Cabbage Kimchi” from Chowhound. Actually, my favorite kimchi is one made with cucumber. I once ate an entire jar. Try it—you’ll love it!

As I mentioned, kimchi is the kind of food that people either love or hate. And when they love it, some people become a little fanatical about it. Case in point: a Frieda’s kimchi consumer from upstate New York whom we’ve dubbed “Kimchi John.” He started sending us kimchi fan mail a few years ago. He claims ours is the only brand that has the authentic flavor and taste that he wants, and he continues to send us regular updates from his store and his kitchen, including some of the delicious dishes he has cooked up using kimchi. He even has a dedicated album on our company Facebook page—John T’s Kimchi Korner!

Shopper John T. sent us this photo of our Kimchi at his local Tops Market. John T’s Kimchi Devilled Eggs

I’ve been seeing kimchi popping up on restaurant menus all over the country too. This past weekend, daughter Alex and I dined at one of the top vegetarian restaurants in the country, Gjelina in Venice, California. And what was the first thing we saw on the menu? “Sprouted Purple Barley with KimChee and Thyme.” Yum! You can bet that was the first thing we ordered, and it did not disappoint. The crunch of the kimchi was a nice contrast to the chewy, rich flavor of the sprouted barley. And it was not too garlicky.

As our Western palates become more open to trying new tastes, amazingly flavorful foods like kimchi and gochujang (Korean hot sauce) are finally getting the spotlight. The added bonus is that the fermented nature of the kimchi might even be good for our digestive health.

So, eat your kimchi!

Karen

Well, for sure, coconut is a trending flavor. It feels like coconut is everywhere. Rows and rows of packaged coconut water are in your grocery store or at the gym; shredded chunks of fresh coconut can be found in the refrigerated section of the produce department; and coconut cupcakes, coconut milk, and coconut water are definitely everywhere you look.

Although I have purchased Tetra-packed coconut water on occasion, for me there is something not quite right about drinking coconut water from a plastic container.

I want the real deal.

I prefer to drink the coconut water right out of the coconut. At first, I honestly was a little intimidated by those big white coconuts wrapped in plastic. (Full disclosure: We sell young coconuts here at Frieda’s, but they were still intimidating to me!)

So, I thought I would share with you the secret to cutting into a young coconut.

First of all, the coconut MUST be refrigerated. If you see young coconuts in your produce department sitting with a bunch of other fruits at room temperature, do not purchase them. They may go sour and they most likely will not taste good. We store them at the coldest temperature in our warehouse and they must be refrigerated in your produce department. When you get them home, they should go right into your refrigerator.

What’s so special about the young coconut is that, in addition to the sweet juice on the inside, the “meat” isn’t fully matured, so it’s still soft and creamy. It’s perfect for smoothies and smoothie bowls.

Since I am not the only person who can’t figure out how to open a young coconut, some of my fellow coworkers produced this 15-second video. Take a look:

[Internet Explorer users may not be able to view the video below. In that case, view it on YouTube here.]

How to open a young coconut. #YoungCoconut #FriedasQuickBite #CoconutWater #HowTo #FriedasProduce

A video posted by Frieda’s Specialty Produce (@friedasproduce) on

If you are looking to shred coconut or chop the meat into chunks, you will need to purchase a brown coconut. The brown-skinned coconuts are more mature and the inside meat is firm, but still slightly moist. Brown coconuts should be available in your produce department, and do not need to be refrigerated. Most likely you will find them near the tropical fruit section.

So, next time you are thinking about a trip to paradise, or you just want to make a tropical meal or drink, go all out and try your hand at a young coconut. You’ll impress everyone!

Enjoy!
Karen

When “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” hit theaters last month, guess what hit grocery shelves? Android BB-8 on bags of oranges and Darth Vader on bags of apples. (And R2-D2 on everything from baked chips to canned soup.) Yep, it was timed perfectly. True 21st-century marketing.

But I was surprised to see some of the backlash on the “Star Wars” branding of fruits and vegetables. Many people said Disney had gone too far. There’s even a meme going around with BB-8-branded oranges that says, “Disney needs to calm the [bleep] down.”

OK, it might look a little cheesy to put BB-8 all over that bag of oranges if you don’t understand why. But as a parent, I don’t want this branding of fruits and vegetables to calm down. If the kids want to eat produce, I don’t care how, or what the reason is. Let them have fruit!

Really? I don’t think so, at least if we’re talking about the branding of fresh fruits and vegetables!

We are so used to seeing branding on other consumer packaged goods. You expect to see “Star Wars” on your mac-and-cheese and cereal boxes. A recent Campbell’s Soup commercial depicts a little boy pestering his mom for R2-D2 soup while they’re in the produce aisle. Exasperated mom asks the produce guy about the soup, and he leads them to the soup aisle.

So, what if that little boy had been pestering his mom for R2-D2 sugar snap peas? Right there in the produce department? That would have been just fine with me.

I sell produce for a living. Exotic fruits and vegetables to be exact. I sell them to supermarkets and chefs, and I have spent a lot of time the past few years trying to give school-age kids access to more fruits and vegetables. At school. Where they eat at least one meal and usually two snacks a day. And it’s been a bit of an uphill battle.

Actually, this was an idea that started in the government. (Thank you Senator Tom Harkin from Iowa for conceiving the idea of free fruit and vegetable snacks at schools over 10 years ago.)

Over the last four years, private donors and produce companies have raised more than $1 million to put salad bars in hundreds of schools across the country, and many schools have the money to offer fresh fruit and vegetable snacks. And kids say they love it! They love that they get to choose what to put on their plates, and they like the taste of fresh produce.

But there’s another groundswell going on simultaneously with the same goal: Condition young people to make fresh fruits and vegetables their snack of choice. And it’s been going on in a revolutionary way—revolutionary for the produce industry, at least.

Produce marketers are putting licensed character images on packages of fresh produce so when kids and their parents are in the produce department, the kids say: “I want those oranges with Big Bird on the package.” And we’re having celebrities and famous athletes do advertising campaigns, so young teens say: “I want those baby carrots” (because American women’s soccer champ Alex Morgan says they’re cool).

And although it’s kind of early to have scientifically significant results, the anecdotal feedback is that kids are engaging. Suddenly, it’s cool to like broccoli or dragon fruit.

So next time you want to roll your eyes at those Yoda grapes, give pause then ask yourself if you’d rather kids eat Yoda candy or Yoda grapes.

May the fruit be with you.

Karen

It may seem strange to some people that I have not yet written a blog post on “Fear No Fruit,” the documentary film about my mother and our business. After all, it was publicly released back in June 2015. I knew there would come a right time, and that is today. Let me tell you why.

This week, Civil Eats published a story about “Fear No Fruit.” Civil Eats is a daily news source for critical thought about the American food system and was named 2014 Publication of the Year by the James Beard Foundation.

The writer, Larissa Zimberoff (who also freelances for The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Mashable, and more), first discovered the film while flying on United Airlines from Paris to New York about six weeks ago. She selected “Fear No Fruit” as her in-flight entertainment. (United Airlines, Emirates and Qatar Airlines have all licensed the film for their passengers’ enjoyment.)

Larissa Zimberoff

She loved the documentary and was thrilled to see a familiar face, Supermarket Guru Phil Lempert, in the film.  So while in flight (don’t you love technology?!), she emailed Phil and asked if he could connect us. Today, Larissa tells me that she finds it utterly amazing that within four hours of seeing the film, she and I were corresponding by email.

The Frieda Caplan documentary

Well, as they say, the rest is history.

Larissa originally called to interview me about a story on the future of supermarkets. During our conversation, we started talking about the film. She began asking me questions, and I shared many untold stories about our company. She ended up writing the Civil Eats piece, which published on Christmas Eve.

A few weeks after our phone conversation, I was able to meet Larissa while in New York City, and we now talk on a regular basis.  I always tell her that I’m happy to be her behind-the-scenes source of produce information, even if she doesn’t quote me.

If you haven’t seen “Fear No Fruit,” it’s available for streaming on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play and Hulu Plus. And on January 12, it will be available on DVD.

The film is the story of my mom, Frieda Caplan—the Queen of Kiwi and the first woman entrepreneur in the wholesale produce industry—and the company she started in 1962.  It premiered at the 2015 San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, followed by the 2015 Newport Beach Film Festival and the 2015 Carmel Film Festival, and had an intimate produce industry premiere in London.

Our many thanks to Mark Brian Smith, the visionary, award-winning filmmaker, who approached us about making the film and his amazing crew who filmed it in 10 days. (But it took more than two months of editing to complete it.)

And since this is my last post of the year, I want to add: Happy New Year from my produce family to yours!

Frieda Caplan, myself, Jackie Caplan Wiggins and Alex Jackson (my daughter)

#fearnofruit

Karen

As the year draws to a close, I had the chance to look over my writings, predictions, and thoughts from the past 52 weeks. It’s fun to see what topics resonated with those who read my blog. So, here goes… My top 5 posts of 2015:

1. Produce Trends for 2015 
Interesting to see that a few of these trends appeared in this week’s headlines: food waste, ugly produce, and smaller supermarkets. (Read the post here.)

2. Demystifying Shishito and Padron Peppers, and

3. What the Hell Do I Do with Kohlrabi? 
I don’t always write about produce, but when I do, I try to pick the most interesting and timely products. (Read more here and here.)

Roasted Shishito Peppers

4. Meeting Someone Famous 
Anyone who knows me knows that I do not usually get star-struck, but I when I saw famed author Mark Bittman in a downtown L.A. restaurant, I had to write about it (and I mentioned meeting Shaquille O’Neal at the Chicago airport). Interestingly enough, Mark recently left the New York Times and is now working for a start-up called Purple Carrot. Home delivery of vegan meal ingredients. I need to call him. (Read the post here.)

5. The Book that Changed My Life 
Of course, I had to write about this book. In case you are wondering, I have kept the habits of the author intact in my house, and I still fold my clothes the way she taught me, and my house is still decluttered. I think the way our house or work space looks is a metaphor of our lives. (Read more.)

And finally a bonus from my top posts of 2015. The first of my predictions of “hot items” for 2016…Fresh Turmeric. I wrote about it here. I predict you will be seeing it more and more in produce departments, in recipes, on menus, and as a featured ingredient in nutritional supplements.

Enjoy the holidays! Next time, I will share my predictions for 2016.

Karen

Each December, I get to visit New York City. It’s one of my favorite global destinations, and it is especially delightful during the holiday season. The weather is cold and brisk, the holiday lights are up, and everyone is in the spirit of the holidays.

Several years ago during my annual visit, I had dinner with friends at Gramercy Tavern—the iconic New York restaurant located in the Flatiron District. It was an incredible experience. The restaurant was decorated for the holidays, the menu featured many of my favorite vegetables, and the service was amazing. I say “amazing” because when I returned to Gramercy Tavern 18 months later, the server remembered me.

I have never met Gramercy’s Chef Michael Anthony, but one day I hope to.

I was particularly intrigued when I received an email from Gramercy Tavern highlighting Chef Anthony’s new cookbook, “V is for Vegetables.” Now I am a bit obsessed with his new cookbook, particularly the recipe for Daikon Kinpira.

Chef Anthony writes:

“Before I went to Japan, I had no idea what a Daikon was; after living there I can’t imagine my kitchen without it. Daikon can seem daunting: it grows fast, large, and very dense, but it’s become a staple at our farmers’ markets. Less watery than a cucumber, less peppery than most other radishes, there’s nothing funky or weird about Daikon. And it’s super easy to peel. Grated, braised, pickled, or fermented—there are countless ways to discover this fresh, crunchy root.”

If you’re not familiar with Daikon, it looks like a giant white carrot. We nicknamed it “Japanese Radish” many years ago when we first introduced it to American supermarkets. It is usually found in most produce departments along with other Asian vegetables.

Daikon on bottom right of display, beneath the baby bok choy.

Because it is so large—usually over 12 inches in length—some produce managers cut off the tops or even cut them into chunks. I guess they’re hoping to make them more approachable to shoppers. I really wish they wouldn’t do that. Whole Daikon is so beautiful and luscious.

Daikon is best eaten raw; the flavor is much milder than other radishes. It’s juicy and refreshing. I remember many years ago when one of our growers shared his “Secret of Daikon.” He told me that if you spill soy sauce on your shirt, you can remove the stain by dabbing it with fresh grated Daikon! (Good thing to remember next time you’re at a sushi bar.)

Judging from Chef Anthony’s description of how he uses it, I am considering substituting sliced or grated Daikon for cucumber in my next salad.

Maybe Daikon will be the new cucumber!

Enjoy!
Karen

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I remember when Gloria Steinem, founder of Ms. Magazine, turned 60. It was March of 1994, and I was 8 months pregnant with my second daughter. I recall how young Gloria looked to me.

One of Gloria’s most quoted lines was, “This is what 40 looks like,” in response to a reporter who told her she looked good, then 40.  Ten years later, she poked fun at herself with a “This is what 50 looks like” benefit party for Ms. Magazine, and then last year, was involved in a “This is what 80 looks like” benefit for the Shalom Center in Philadelphia.

Now 81, Gloria Steinem is still helping to redefine what age means.

I was lucky enough to have the chance to meet her last month at a luncheon, and I knew exactly what I was going to say. When I saw Gloria enter the room, I rushed up and shared my story with her. I recounted my memories of her turning 60 and her off-the-cuff comment to the reporter in her 40s.

…Because last month, I turned 60. Wow. I said it publicly. It was kind of hard at first, but I’ve gotten used to it. I told Gloria that she was my inspiration for turning 60. Breaking new ground. Looking and feeling younger than when our parents turned 60.

Each year as I celebrate my birthday, I reflect on the year I just completed, then look forward. Honestly, turning 60 has been the hardest and most insightful birthday. I’ve had a few revelations and lessons that I want to share:

So, as you make another trip around the sun this year, I hope you will reflect as I have. It’s kind of fun.

And this is what 60, 81, and 92 look like! Pretty impressive I would say.

Me at 60, Gloria Steinem at 81 and my mother, Frieda, at 92.

Karen

Do you have an image or message below your email signature? We recently added a new graphic e-signature on all our employees’ outbound emails to keep our new branding consistent.

During the last year, we decided it was time to “refresh” our company’s brand. For most companies, this means you re-do your logo. And your packaging. And your advertising. And your website. You get the picture.

Even the emails we send needed to reflect our brand identity, so we added a standard e-sig to the bottom. All employees have the same font style and footer image now. It was an adjustment for some who had been customizing their own signatures with different colors and fonts.

Every time I get ready to send an email, this e-sig pops up and it makes me smile. It feels happy. And I’m glad to report that it’s not just me or my employees who appreciate the new e-sig.

Our new e-sig

This morning, I had to update some online account information for a service we use. After I made the change, I sent a courtesy reply to the individual (in accounting) who originally notified me. I didn’t expect her reply:

“Thank you, Ms. Caplan! Love your signature logo!”

What I didn’t expect was that I would get yet another email from her less than 10 minutes later:

“By the way, we Filipinos love purple potatoes. We cook them in almost anything and everything. Just put them in the microwave and voila…perfect snack!”

It really surprised me to see how a happy, engaging e-sig could start a conversation with a complete stranger.

Although this person is probably referring to the Okinawan/Ube Yam-style purple sweet potato, which is a different variety and flavor profile than our Stokes Purple®, I thought it was great that our little e-sig could inspire her and remind her of a pleasant food memory.

…and it revealed a potential marketing opportunity for us. Perhaps the newer Stokes Purple® Sweet Potato variety would appeal to the Filipino audience, which is now the second-largest Asian population in the United States.

Each of us has a market for our product or service. I wonder if there are hidden gems of customers just waiting for us to discover them? We’ve positioned this product for fitness buffs, vegetarians, and vegans. We didn’t really think of it as an ethnic food.

By the way, I got one more email from her after I told her which of her local markets carried Stokes Purple® Sweet Potatoes:

“I will look for them at these stores. My family’s favorite way to use them is to make ice cream…”

Another new product idea…Purple Sweet Potato Ice Cream. Yum!

Bon Appetit!

Karen

 

One of the benefits of attending trade shows and conferences is that we get to hear world class speakers. Last week, during our annual produce convention, I had the opportunity to hear marketing legend Guy Kawasaki speak for the second time, talking about “The Art of Innovation.” The talk was an adaptation of his original TedxBerkeley 2014 speech. The first time I saw him was a few years ago at a Global Executive Conference through my Vistage CEO group.

Guy’s life has been amazing. One of the first employees of Apple, he, in fact, calls himself the “Chief Macintosh Evangelist.” He worked alongside Steve Jobs for most of his career and admits that Jobs was one of the most brilliant people on the planet, and yet, was almost impossible to work with. I guess being brilliant has its privileges.

Guy had many anecdotes and pointers about success and I’d like to share a few of them.

1. Clean Up Your PowerPoint

First off, in both presentations, his PowerPoint slides had a black background with very few words in white letters on each slide. He confidently tells everyone early in his presentation to imitate his style. He said it is THE most effective way to use PowerPoint. How many times have you watched a presentation which contains tons of copy and data on every slide, making it is mostly illegible and hard to comprehend? And then the speaker reads the slides. Really? Don’t you think we can read? Well, perhaps not, since the font is so small and there is so much text. To this, Guy says: few words, big print. Perfection is 10 slides, 20 minutes, and a 30-point font.

2. Keep It Tight & Go by Number

Guy started both presentations with the same message: his goal is NOT to “go long and suck.” He says, “go long” is overstaying your welcome on stage, and “to suck” is providing bad content. So, Guy’s secret formula is to always number his content. For example: the Top 10 keys to success. If you number your content, your audience knows where you are.

3. Share Your Content

Don’t be afraid to share your content. In fact, I wanted to confirm my notes from his talk last week, so I Googled “Guy Kawasaki presentations” and found his SlideShare. I was actually able to view his presentation! Of course, it is the anecdotes and his affable style that make his presentations so meaningful, but feel free to look at the presentation he gave last week here.

4. It’s a Conversation, Not a Lecture

Guy’s presentation was followed by Mike Walsh, a futurist and leading authority on the digital future. What they both had in common was their positive aura. They both smiled a lot and were extremely comfortable with themselves. It didn’t feel like they were lecturing us. I’ve heard many professional presentations and oftentimes I feel like I am being lectured to. I realize most speakers are experts in their field and they likely know more than I do. But these two speakers epitomized inspiration and sharing. Their presentation styles were as interesting as their topics.

I hope you’ll make time to check out Guy Kawasaki’s presentations or find one of his books that piques your interest.

Sometimes I am asked how I stay ahead of trends, come up with new ideas, or continue to find inspiration. One of my keys to success is that at least once or twice a year I make sure to attend a conference where I’ll hear a world class speaker. I want to be challenged. I want to learn what the greatest minds are thinking about. It doesn’t always have to be about produce or about business. Taking time to check out of the rat race, and making time for my brain to just absorb and think, keeps me fresh.

Sorry to cut this short, but I need to run off to hear a lunch panel of five CEOs of disruptive companies talk about what inspires them.

Karen

I remember 20 years ago when the FDA launched the “Nutrition Facts” label in its current version. I was in charge of packaging at my company and the thought of having to change all of our packaging to include Nutrition Facts panels, plus performing all the nutritional analysis to get accurate information, was a bit daunting. I remember thinking, “Why are they doing this? This is going to cost us a fortune and will consumers even read it, anyway?”

That was definitely 1990s thinking on my part. Over time, I realized that having nutrition panels on our packaged items was actually a positive point of differentiation. Today we are fastidious about including as much nutritional information as possible on our products and even include a nutritional analysis at the bottom of many of our recipes.

Fast forward to 2015. The FDA just closed its comment period for the proposed revisions to Nutrition Facts labeling. The agency is proposing some “big” changes:

Radical changes. Are you kidding me? I’m not even sure consumers will notice the difference between the “new” and old panel, except that it’s a bit easier to read.

The FDA’s proposed new Nutrition Facts panel

The crazy thing is that many of the big Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) companies and trade associations are fighting the FDA on these changes, claiming it won’t help consumers. As I read Politico’s daily Morning Agriculture blog last Friday, I had to take a second glance. Really?

Admittedly I am probably oversimplifying the proposed FDA regulations, but I find it amazing that some organizations are still fighting a consumer’s right to know. It seems that Sam Kass, the former lead on food policy at the White House agrees with me. He told Politico this week that those trade groups don’t have legitimate arguments.

After all, it is 2015, and consumers expect truth in labeling. They should know that eating too much sugar is bad for their health, and they have every right to know what is contained in any food they buy. Consumers make the ultimate choice by purchasing or not purchasing.

And, of course, I have to mention that the same thing is going on in many states regarding the labeling or not labeling of GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

Shoppers vote with their dollars and have the right to decide what they want to buy. Simple, truthful, and complete labeling is coming because consumers are demanding it.

For me personally, and for my family, it matters because many of us have food allergies. I cannot eat soy and neither can my daughter. I want to know what kind of oil is used in the salad dressings at restaurants. (Did you know that most ready-made dressings contain soy oil? I suppose it’s because soy oil is cost effective and keeps restaurants’ costs down.)

An easier-to-read label with more relevant information would be welcomed by me—and most consumers.

What do you think?

Karen

Last week, I was fortunate enough to spend eight days on vacation in Copenhagen, Denmark. The original purpose of my trip was to spend time with my youngest daughter Sophia and another family. But we ended up having a grand culinary adventure due to my good fortune of having foodie friends!

Well, I’m here to tell you that because of my many new tastes and sensory experiences, I would highly recommend an extended visit to Copenhagen to anyone who is open to explore and be surprised.

It started four months ago when the trip was booked. I immediately went online to secure dinner reservations at the number one restaurant in the world: Noma.

With my friend Veronique outside of Noma

Have you heard of “New Nordic Cuisine”?  It was a movement initiated at Noma in 2004 by two chefs, Claus Meyer and René Redzepi. It took them 11 years to achieve this preeminent status.  To no one’s surprise, I had to put us on the waiting list for all seven days of of our trip for dinner and lunch, in hopes that we would secure a table. After many emails and phone calls during those four months of planning, two days before our trip we were told we had a lunch reservation on our second day in Copenhagen!

The 17-course lunch with wine pairings took place over a very fast four hours.  Here are a few photos of the most memorable courses. (Click on the picture to view full size.)

When we walked in, I was blown away when I found out that Noma’s team lead, Kat Bont, knew who I was, had gone to our company website and read my blog. And she made sure to be the one managing our table experience the entire afternoon.

Kat Bont pouring us some bubbly – Noma

Of course, I asked if we could see the kitchen after our meal.  That was when I learned what makes Noma so special. In a restaurant that has about 15 tables, and only one seating for lunch and one seating for dinner, there are 70-80 chefs in that kitchen. Yes, that’s correct: 70-80 chefs! Some of them are from Denmark, but my sense is that most of them were from other parts of the world and came to Noma to be inspired. It also explained why a different chef came out to present each course he/she prepared. At first, I thought they were servers! What pride they each had in the preparation, the presentation, and the experience!

The second floor of the restaurant was entirely for the team of chefs.  During the time we toured, they were enjoying their attractive and deliciously prepared meal together—a “family meal” in restaurant talk—in a venue that was as beautiful and well-kept as the public restaurant below.

Staff meal – Noma

After Noma, I was wondering how the balance of our culinary week would be. I am pleased to share that each of the other restaurants had equally well-prepared food that was original and inspiring. When you go to Copenhagen, I would recommend all of them:

Kokkeriet

(Pronounced Coke-eh-reet)

Proud of their well-deserved, one Michelin star rating, Kokkeriet owner Sammy Shafi was our sommelier for the evening. The most interesting course was the Tomato Juice Cocktail, “shaken not stirred,” served in martini glasses with a dash of dill oil. We also enjoyed the 2011 Montefalco Russo from Alfredosa, Umbria, Italy which is only served here at Kokkeriet and nowhere else in Denmark. And it was amazing!

Kanalen

(Canal in Danish)

In a building that sits on one of the main canals of Copenhagen, Kanalen has a small menu that featured mostly small dishes (tapas).  The fish was prepared perfectly and the use of fresh vegetables was inviting.

Geist

(Pronounced like geese with a T)

At Geist, I was introduced to a lifestyle concept, well known in Denmark: hygge (pronounced hooga). Translated, it mean “coziness.” In essence, hygge means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people. The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family are hygge too. There’s nothing more hygge than sitting round a table and discussing the big and small things in life. Perhaps hygge explains why the Danes are the happiest people in the world. The small dishes we ordered were flavorful and beautiful.  My two favorites were the roasted cauliflower with black truffle, and wafers of avocado with lightly salted Rossini caviar.

For those of you that wonder if I did anything but eat, here is a fun shot of a famous landmark inside Copenhagen: Christiania. It is an independent neighborhood inside Copenhagen that is well known for its hippy, artsy, free spiritedness…and open access to marijuana and other paraphernalia. It’s like a Burning Man village, really. There are no photographs allowed inside Christiania and it was a bit unnerving to see many inhabitants wearing masks to hide their identity.

I wonder where my next culinary adventure will be. Perhaps Colombia or Panama?

Velbekomme! (Bon Appetit!)

Karen

This is the sixth year that Frieda’s has hosted an intern from EARTH University in Costa Rica. (Remember Isaiah from last year?) Every third-year student from this amazing international university gets to spend four months interning at a company somewhere around the world as part of the university’s learning by doing philosophy.

Our intern this year is Rumbidzai Hove. Twenty-two-year-old Rumby — pronounced room-bee — is originally from Zimbabwe. She and her brother were raised by a single mom. Before Rumby moved to Costa Rica for her four-year college education, she attended the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Rumby is quite determined to effect change in her home country. For example, while Zimbabwean young people may get an amazing education, the lack of jobs is discouraging and creates a non-motivating environment for them. Why bother if there are no jobs to be had anyway?

Now, Rumby is living with me for four months, so we get to have extensive conversations about all kinds of things.

When I came home earlier this week, I was surprised to find a Kiwano® Horned Melon sitting on the kitchen counter. I forgot that we’d had a mini-marketplace at our office that day to encourage all employees to take a few of our products home to try.

Rumby said, “Did you know those Horned Melons are native to Zimbabwe? They grow everywhere in my country and I love to eat them. They are actually my favorite fruit!”

Frankly, I was kind of surprised to hear that as I never thought these spiky orange things could be someone’s favorite fruit; everyone who sees them here in the USA always makes a face before asking, “Do you eat them or throw them at people?”

“So, how do you eat them, Rumby?”

“With salt.”

“Do you peel them or just scoop the insides?”

“Why would someone peel them? The skin is the best part!”

The look on my face must have been priceless as I have always told people to either peel the horned melons or scoop out the insides. I never knew the skin was edible!

It is so interesting to have an international student staying with you! At first you think that they are there for YOU to teach, coach, and mentor. I now know that the learning goes both ways.

Then Rumby reminded me that watermelons are also native to Zimbabwe. I wonder if they also eat the rind and salt them? I guess that will be our next conversation.

And now you know!

Karen

P.S. Our marketing team decided to put Rumby on Instagram to show us how it’s done!

I don’t want to sound too dramatic, but I stumbled across a book a few months ago and eventually got a chance to read it. And it really has changed my outlook. Here is what happened.

I was getting ready to take a long flight to London, so I was at my local bookstore, getting a guidebook, and saw this book on display, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” It was on the best-seller shelf and because it was small in size, I figured, what a perfect book to read on a long flight…

…except I never read it. I slept through my flight instead. A month later, I ended up gifting it to a friend as we both joked that it would be good for her adult daughter!

And then, one day, I was looking through my Facebook feed and saw this post:

The review of the book looked so interesting and simple that I immediately went to the bookstore and purchased another copy. This time, I read it right away. It’s only a couple hundred pages, so it went fast. And Marie Kondo’s methodology was so simple.

Marie is actually a Japanese organizing consultant, who started organizing her home when she was young. She developed a unique approach to de-cluttering. In fact, two things were especially intriguing to me.

First, Marie said the first thing you must do—before you even start—is decide why you want to tidy up or de-clutter. So, I had to think hard about that one. I realized that I did not want to look at anything I didn’t like anymore.

She also claimed that if you followed her exact order of tidying up—clothes first and personal mementos and photos last—that you would never go back to your previous habits.

Two months later, this is what I have to report.

When you follow Marie’s way, you start by taking all your clothes and putting them on the floor in the middle of the room. If you have a lot of clothes, you do them by category—all tops, then all pants, and so forth. Then you pick up each piece of clothing and ask yourself, “Do I feel joy?” And if the answer is no, then you thank the piece of clothing and put it in the give-away pile.

I had to prepare myself mentally (which she coaches you on in the book) to not worry about a gift I was given by a friend or family member, clothes that didn’t fit anymore or that I didn’t feel good in but were super expensive. Once you remind yourself of why you are tidying up, it becomes super easy.

Would you like to know how I did?

I ended up giving away about 50 percent of the clothes in my closet and about 30 percent of my costume jewelry to Working Wardrobes, a local charity. I thanked each piece of clothing for its service, and now other women can benefit from it!

I realized I had 100 pairs of shoes and gave away 27 that I never wore, were not comfortable, or were worn out but I had been hanging on to “just because.” Coincidentally, once I purged my unneeded shoes, the remaining pairs fit perfectly into my shoe closet.

Before… …and after!

I emptied my bookshelves at home and donated more than half of the cookbooks and novels I had collected over the years. My first job ever was in our local library, so I was thrilled to drop off my books there to allow other people to enjoy. I only kept my favorite books that I know I will continue to enjoy and that will give me joy.

On to my office at Frieda’s. Years ago I learned about the Chinese art of feng shui. One of my greatest lessons was that if the area you are looking at is messy, crowded, or disorganized, you will feel messy and disorganized. With that in mind, I applied the same principles of the book at my office.

Now I’m encouraging my coworkers to do the same. In fact, everyone is getting excited and participating! For starters, we have removed all the filing cabinets in the accounting department and gone digital. After all, there were 27, most of which were empty! And then there were three spare desks outside my office which I finally had taken away. I actually found myself breathing easier and feeling more relaxed.

In the last two months, I have purchased multiple copies of Marie’s book and have been gifting them to friends and coworkers. I posted about my journey and success on Facebook and based on the comments, shares and likes, I can tell that I have inspired many others to de-clutter.

So, if you want to breathe easier, get a sense of accomplishment, and make room in your life for new opportunities and inspiration, you may want to try the KonMari method of organizing.

#tidyingisfun

Karen

I remember the first time I saw the Stokes Purple® Sweet Potato. A sweet potato grower that we buy from in Northern California sent us a sample and asked us what we thought about the potatoes. He said it was a unique variety that he had been experimenting with and he wanted our opinion.

And I know why he thought about us. Ever since my mother started our company in 1962, our official color has been purple. It all started when she was ready to launch her business on the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market and she needed a sign. She looked up the name of a sign painter in the Yellow Pages. When she showed up on Monday morning, the sign was painted a pale lavender. The sign painter claimed it was the only color on his truck.

Personally, I think it was because my mom was the only woman on the produce market and he wanted her sign to have a feminine touch!

Well, ever since then, we’ve adopted purple as our signature color. And, funny thing, over the last 50 years, it seems that most people in our industry associate the color purple with Frieda’s Specialty Produce. It’s kind of cool.

So, of course when a sweet potato grower found a purple variety, he would call us to do his sales and marketing.

When we first got the Stokes Purple® Sweet Potatoes, I wanted to get a chef’s opinion. So I called one of my friends and dropped off some samples. A few days later I went to his house and he told me that they were not very good. He cooked them several ways, but especially after he microwaved them, they turned out very dry. He didn’t recommend them.

Defeated, I went back the office and met with our team. In the back of my head, I knew these potatoes were unique and amazing. So, as we brainstormed in our office, we came up with the idea of taking the potatoes to another chef for a second opinion.

Chef Alan Greeley of The Golden Truffle in Newport Beach and I have been friends for years. We’ve worked together many times. He’s a little bit crazy and super creative, so I knew he would be able to tell us if we should invest our resources and time in marketing these purple sweet potatoes.

Thank goodness we went to Chef Alan! He told us they were the most amazing sweet potatoes he’d ever tasted. The secret is in the cooking method—low, slow, then rest.

Chef told us to wrap Stokes Purple® Sweet Potatoes in aluminum foil and bake them at 350 degrees for one and a half to two hours, longer than regular orange sweet potatoes. Then, he said, to let the potatoes rest for a few hours, still wrapped, before serving. He actually suggested refrigerating them overnight like that.

One of our favorite recipes is a potato salad with a chipotle vinaigrette, using those chilled potatoes. I’ve even served this one for Thanksgiving dinner and it is always a hit.

Even Julia della Croce, a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author, got in on the fun and made beautiful Purple Sweet Potato Gnocchi for the holidays.

Stokes Purple® Sweet Potato season just started last week, and supermarkets and chefs across the country have been loading up their stores and restaurants, as this has become of the hottest and most popular “healthy” new foods to hit supermarket shelves in years. The potatoes’ dark purple color means they are high in anthocyanins, a special antioxidant. And unlike other vegetables, they do not lose the antioxidants’ viability when they’re cooked!

So, if you want to try Stokes Purple® Sweet Potatoes for yourself, just go into your local market and ask for them by name.

And, about Chef Alan, he was just named Orange County Chef of the Year by the Orange County Business Journal. We had lunch a few weeks ago to celebrate his accomplishment!

Thank you, Alan, for all you do to make food taste great!

Karen

With so many mergers and acquisitions these days, it’s really hard to keep up. Well, thank goodness my holistic naturopath keeps up.

For those who are not familiar, naturopathy is a form of alternative medicine using natural treatments like homeopathy, herbalism, and acupuncture, as well as nutrition and lifestyle counseling.

Now that we’re all on the same page, let me tell you what happened to me.

About three months ago, I suddenly developed this dry cough. It was like my mouth was suddenly drying out, all day long. It was so annoying, especially to my coworkers who told me “go to the doctor, something is wrong with you.”

Because I don’t really have a regular doctor, I made an appointment with my naturopath, Lisa.

She was testing me for various things, checking my blood work, etc. And then she asked me what seemed like a random question.

“Do you take Armour Thyroid?”

Like many people, I developed an underactive thyroid quite a few years ago. And like my mother and one of my daughters, I take thyroid medicine daily.

Well, I do take Armour Thyroid. And, as it turns out, the company that had manufactured the Armour for years (Forest Laboratories) was sold to another drug company (Activis) in July 2014. According to its website, the company continues to “operate in a usual manner.”

But according to Lisa, many of her patients had become intolerant (aka allergic) to Armour since the change in ownership. So, she tested me and sure enough, it appears as if the formula had been changed, as I now was allergic to it. We suspect that they changed the inactive ingredients.

So, how many times do you think that has happened to you? You get your prescription refilled and they offer you the “generic” version. Or you notice that the manufacturer name has changed on your bottle? Have you ever thought of why a generic version of a drug might be cheaper to purchase? Since the FDA does not require generic drugs to contain the same inactive ingredients as the brand name product—only the active ingredients—my guess is that they use cheaper (and possibly inferior) inactive ingredients.

That’s why I have stopped allowing my pharmacy to give me any generics. I want the real thing.

And, by the way, the day I stopped taking Armour Thyroid and switched to Nature-Throid, my cough stopped. As quickly as the coughing started, that’s how fast it stopped. And my skin, which had also become very dry, went back to normal.

Maybe we all need to start reading those labels and those inserts (with the small type) they give us when we pick up our prescriptions more carefully.

And now you know!

Karen

Today I had lunch with a woman whom I have admired for more than 20 years: Caroline Cotten. Caroline founded Mass Connections, a shopper marketing firm she built from an idea she had in college and turned into a $100 million business.

Her business provides people to do in-store demonstrations for vendors in the grocery business at grocery stores. You know who I mean: those stereotypical, mostly older ladies in black pants and white shirts who hand you samples while you walk around the grocery store.

Back when I started in the produce business, the “demo person” would bring a card table and maybe a tablecloth and “set up shop” at the end of an aisle. Then she would hand out samples—and maybe coupons—in hopes of selling more of the products being sampled.

Caroline told me she originally started the business while she was in college in Arizona as a way to make money to support herself as she is one of six children. When she moved back to California, she parlayed this idea and grew it into what I would call an all-American success story.

In the past 30 years, she not only continued to grow and run her company, but she had four children too. And like many of us, Caroline also has had her share of mid-life crises—divorce, and key employees getting ill and buying partners out.

Meanwhile, the business world around her was changing. The cost to provide her personnel and services was getting expensive from the manufacturer point of view. More and more manufacturers were evaluating the ROI (return on investment) on in-store demonstrations. If these demo people could not generate enough incremental sales, then they would stop doing the sampling in stores.

By this time, Caroline’s eldest daughter Taylor was managing event personnel for Mass Connections and ended up being the top regional manager in the company. Caroline laughed when she told me that Taylor was 20 years old when she handled the entire East Coast territory! She said, “Do you know how hard it is to rent a car when you’re not yet 25?” (Thank goodness for Enterprise Rent-a-Car!)

Here’s Caroline and Taylor

Caroline watches Taylor engaging with her friends via social media—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. And a new business idea was born.

Enter Social Sampling Inc., Taylor’s new company (with mom, Caroline as an official advisor).

And here is where the brilliance got my attention.

When Social Sampling interviews candidates to do in-store sampling, guess what they bring along with their resume? They bring their smart phones, and they must have a minimum number of social media followers. The more people they can reach, engage with, and sell product to, the more money they can make per project.

So when these candidates are hired to do in-store events, part of their job is to post to social media before the event to let people know where they will be and what they will be sampling, during the event to entice people to show up, and afterward to lead into the next event.

I mean, really, who do you listen to: a newspaper or radio advertisement, or a recommendation from a friend? You guessed it—a friend!

From what Caroline shared with me, with this new approach, the actual number of people who come into the stores to try samples has only grown about 10 percent. But guess what? Product sales have increased 1,000 percent. Yes, that is 10 times!

Talk about an effective vehicle to get people to try new things.

So, hats off to Caroline and Taylor with this new business!

If you have any millennials working for you, maybe you should ask them what would make your baby boomer-designed business appeal to them and their friends.

Or maybe you will just post this question on your Facebook page.

#changeiscoming

Karen

Over 15 years ago, I recall being invited to be a keynote speaker at a Walmart Associate Summit in Kansas City and addressing 2,000-plus produce managers and company leaders on food trends.

The overarching point I made during that 45-minute presentation was that food trends which have come from another part of the world, such as the popularity of Asian or Latin foods, end up permeating far beyond the food business and the produce department specifically. I did a deep dive into the increasing popularity of Japanese cuisine and also pointed to its effect on music style, art (think minimalistic décor), and even clothing (remember when kimonos became popular?).

So, while I was walking through my local Whole Foods Market earlier this week, an end display of bento boxes caught my attention. And it reminded me of my speech from years ago.

An example of bento box end cap at Whole Foods

According to Wikipedia, bento is a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japan. A traditional bento holds rice, fish or meat, and pickled or cooked vegetables, usually in a box-shaped container. Often, the box will have dividers to keep the side dishes or pickles separated from the main dish.

If you’ve ever eaten in an authentic Japanese restaurant or sushi bar, you will recognize what I’m talking about.

“Bento de luxe” by Abendstrom via Wikimedia Commons

So, even though many of us may pack our own lunches or for our family members in small Tupperware-like plastic containers, who would have imagined it would become so trendy? We all know about the popularity of lunch pails decorated with cartoon characters for young children.

To me, this is the just a continuation of the popularity of everything Japanese, combined with the growing trend of home-cooked, healthy meals.

And just look at the recipes out there specifically for traditional bento boxes like these by Rachel at La Fuji Mama.

Baked Chicken Katsu bento by Rachel Hutchings

Earlier this morning, I was reviewing a recent Gallup Poll which revealed the dramatic reduction in the consumption of sodas. Part of the study included insights into what foods consumers actively try to include in their diets; it showed 93 percent of consumers polled try to include vegetables and 90 percent try to include fruits in their diet.

So, back to my discovery at Whole Foods. In doing a little research on the manufacturer Bentology, it was interesting to learn that a mom founded the company in 2001 as a way to make lunches for her kids more interesting and nutritious. The company started with the name Laptop Bento-Ware and recently changed it to Bentology—a great case study in rebranding.

This woman, Tammy Pelstring, was ahead of her time. I wonder if she realizes that her decision to launch the product with its design and name came from global trends dating back decades.

Special thanks to my coworker Jennifer who used the term “pack a bento for her lunch,” which brought this to my attention!

Itadakimasu! (Have a great meal!)

Karen

This past weekend I was in beautiful Monterey, California, attending the annual Produce Marketing Association Foodservice Conference. I found it energizing to rendezvous with friends and enjoyed some fantastic educational programs there.

Much of Saturday morning was filled with speakers talking about food trends. One of the most prominent trends is the increasing presence of vegetables at the “center of the plate.” There has been a buzz about this for many years, but it seems to have reached critical mass now.

In fact, both Chef Jet Tila of Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen” and Gerry Ludwig, Corporate Consulting Chef of Gordon Food Service, ended their presentation with a prediction on the next big vegetable trend:

Carrots and Cauliflower.

Yes, you read correctly. They said that these two “rather common” veggies were actually cutting edge. Thick, center-cut Cauliflower can be grilled like a steak, and served as the main course. And, of course, Cauliflower is not just white anymore. You have purple, orange, & green.

And Carrots—well they come in a variety of colors and sizes, too. They will be roasted with the tops on! Yep—the latest green in the vegetable world is the carrot top. It’s an example of “root to stem” cooking.

As I listened to these presentations about veg-centric cooking, I started thinking that perhaps the produce industry’s incredible push to educate and increase fruit and vegetable consumption is really working! Even First Lady Michelle Obama promoted our industry with the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools program.

And then, BAM! My happy bubble burst.

The after lunch speaker was none other than Chef Hugh Acheson, one of the hottest chefs in America. You’ve probably seen him as a judge on “Top Chef” or a contestant on “Top Chef Masters.”

Hugh had heard the morning speakers and opened his comments with his take: Want to know what has really pushed chefs to get creative with vegetables? The cost of protein.

He told us that protein costs are going through the roof. Chefs know that their food costs should be around 30 percent, so to keep from raising their prices they had to get creative. So, instead of serving an 8 or 10-ounce steak, they now serve a 6-ounce steak and put a large variety of prepared vegetables center stage on the plate. Another adjunct trend is the use of meat broth as a flavoring for vegetables.

So it is economics. And our health wins!

Hugh also shared the genesis of his newest cookbook, The Broad Fork. He is a member of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and gets a box of locally grown produce every week. His neighbor also gets a box. It seemed as if every week his neighbor would come over and ask Hugh, “What the hell do I do with Kohlrabi?” (I guess there was Kohlrabi in the box quite often.)

Kohlrabi prep.

A photo posted by Hugh Acheson (@hughacheson) on

So, for a year, Hugh took his weekly CSA box and developed four recipes for every single item. The result was this amazing cookbook filled with seriously delicious and very creative recipes.

So, if you want to know what the hell to do with Kohlrabi or Celery Root or Parsnips, check out Hugh’s gorgeous cookbook. I can’t wait to start cooking from it!

Chef Hugh Acheson and me

Enjoy!

Karen

Like many people, I bought a juicer a few years ago after watching the movie, “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead,” starring Australia-born Joe Cross. If you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend it. (You can get it on iTunes or Amazon.)

I was enamored with juicing and its positive effects on our health. Of course, I started out with great intentions for my juicer. However, juicing is a hassle and there are many things that didn’t work for me:

  1. You have to buy LOTS and LOTS of fresh fruits and vegetables (organic vegetables for me, thank you).
  2. I would make a large pitcher of green juice, and it would take me many days to drink it all. I think it lost its potency after the first day.
  3. It just didn’t feel right throwing away all the pulp from the veggies but that’s what I had to do.
  4. Cleaning up was the biggest hassle. My Breville juicer was the top of the line, but it took me longer to scrub every piece and part of the juicer than it took me to make my green drink.

So, my juicer was just staring at me every morning from my kitchen counter, and soon it was gathering dust. Eventually, I gave it to a friend.

But I still long for the benefits of juicing.

Then I went to Costco one day with my friend Lilliana. She pointed out to me this amazing gadget called a Blendtec® blender. I watched the demo person pour into the blender some coconut water, add a few leaves of kale and then chunks of frozen fruit, and in 30 seconds, she handed out samples of a refreshing and very healthy drink.

Admittedly, I was highly influenced by Lilliana who said the Blendtec® changed her life. She, too, wanted the health benefits of juicing, but hated the waste of throwing out all that pulp and the messy cleanup as much as I did.

So here is my new summer breakfast routine: 8 ounces coconut water, 2 to 3 cups of kale and/or spinach leaves (although today it was arugula as that was the only green in my fridge), one banana, and four to five chunks of frozen mango (a natural sweetener whose frozen state makes the texture more like a smoothie). Sometimes I add half a cucumber and lemon—skin and all. It may not sound like much, but it is very filling and gives me energy for the entire morning.

My breakfast looks a lot like this Blendtec smoothie. Click for recipe.

And the best parts? I don’t have to throw any pulp away, my entire cleanup process is just rinsing the Blendtec under running water, and I’m out the door. No scrubbing!

Talk about the intersection of healthy and convenience! If you’re burned out on juicing, definitely try blending instead.

Karen

It always bugs me when I go into a produce department and all the fruits are so large. You know what I mean—strawberries the size of billiard balls, apples and oranges (or even bananas) so big that you could split the fruit with a friend! And these big fruits don’t always have the best flavor.

I would rather have medium- or small-sized fruits with better flavor. (Honestly, they’re also a perfect portion to snack on!)

So, I was very interested to read an article in the recent Los Angeles Times Business Section entitled, “Growing flavorful fruit with less water.”

The story was about David “Mas” Masumoto, the well-known farmer (and author of the famous book, “Epitaph for a Peach.”) Mas owns an 80-acre organic farm just south of Fresno, right in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley. When the LA Times writer asked Mas about the drought in California and the effects on his farming practice, he responded:

“We’ve been experimenting with this petite peach method this year, where we’re cutting back water use 30 percent, 40 percent, 50 percent on some select areas of the orchard to see how it responds….Can you not grow a small, water-efficient peach that has just as intense flavor? And you can.”

Flavor! Yippee! I was so excited to read this. Mas verified what I have been thinking for some time. Supermarkets have us consumers convinced that bigger is better, so they buy only large, premium-sized fruit. And they encouraged growers to develop large-size varieties (which you can do with pruning and farm practices) because the stores get premium prices for them.

David “Mas” Masumoto – Photo credit: Zocalo Public Square

But what happened to buying fruit based on flavor? I would much prefer a smaller piece of fruit and know that it has intense, awesome flavor.

Here is a dirty little secret of the produce industry. Consumption of soft fruit (peaches, nectarines, and plums) has declined so much in the last 10 years that many large farmers in Central California have started pulling out trees because they have a hard time making money selling their fruit. I believe the reason consumption has gone down is because the flavor and eating quality of the fruit have declined to the point that consumers don’t want to waste their valuable money on tasteless fruit. They have so many other choices like juicy watermelons and mixed melons, easy-peel citrus (like Cuties®) that they vote with their dollars. And those dollars aren’t going to soft fruit.

Based on Mas’ comment on water, a big part of that decline in flavor is over-watering in order to get bigger fruit.

So what if other fruit farmers use Mas’ methods and start cutting back their water usage and grow smaller fruits with big, bold flavor? Can you imagine juicy peaches and nectarines like you had as a child?

In an interview a year ago, I was asked, “What would you change about the produce industry?” My answer was to change the USDA grades and standards so that all imperfect fruit that never makes it to market and goes to the dumpster can be sold. I believe this could help alleviate hunger by making fruit produce more accessible and affordable.

And have you noticed that all over the world supermarkets are launching campaigns to sell “imperfect fruit?”

Well, my prediction this week is that farmers will be forced to reduce their water consumption, but will continue to farm. The unintended benefit will be smaller, more flavorful fruit.

And who knows, maybe consumption of fresh peaches, nectarines, and plums will start to go up as consumers fall in love with their flavors all over again. And smaller sizes of apples, bananas, and strawberries will encourage better snacking and encourage people to eat more of them.

Something to think about.

Karen

In early June, I was having dinner at the Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant Chotto-Matte, one of the hippest places in London. Imagine sushi meets root vegetables—on steroids! It was one of the most amazing, enjoyable, and inspiring dinners I’ve had in a while.

Yes, that was in England, which in the past has not been known for the most adventurous cuisine. (Fish and chips and meat pies, anyone?)

So, out came a plate filled with thin, roasted green peppers. I said, “Oh, look at these Shishito peppers!” My friend gave me a quizzical look and said, “But the menu says they’re Padrón peppers.”

Hmm…I wondered why they looked and tasted just like Shishito peppers, which I have enjoyed many times at my favorite sushi bar back home in California. So, I immediately texted my chile pepper buyer and asked him, “What is the difference?”

Almost all commercially sold peppers are “cousins.” In fact, both Shishito and Padrón peppers are from the cultivar Capsicum annuum var. annuum.

Shishito peppers are the East Asian variety of the cultivar and are named because the tips of the peppers resemble the head of a lion—shishi (or jishi) in Japanese.

A handful of Shishito Peppers. Photo credit: ChristinasCucina.com

On the other hand, Padrón peppers are from Spanish seed of the cultivar from the municipality of Padrón in northwestern Spain, hence its name.

You can see from the photos that Shishitos are a little thinner than Padróns. Also, Shishitos are not usually hot—you may find 1 in 10 that is medium-spicy. Padróns are also mild with slightly more chance of being spicy—2 in 10.

Both peppers are very trendy right now, along with the rise of tapas bars, izakayas (Japanese bars with food), gastropubs, and small plate offerings. So, don’t be surprised if you find them showing up in your neighborhood establishments.

Blistered Shishito Peppers

And now you know!

Karen

Last week I had the opportunity to share my thoughts, and a bit of my personal history, with a few hundred produce friends—both men and women—at the Women in Produce Reception at the annual United Fresh Produce Convention in Chicago.

For most of my life, I have told my company’s story and the story of how my mother founded our business, but never before have I talked about what it was like to grow up as the daughter of entrepreneur Frieda Caplan and labor negotiator Al Caplan.

Most people think my mom was a tough business person, but she was a pushover compared to my father. His mother died when he was 13, after which he rode a freight train from Chicago to California, so he never graduated from high school. He was a labor union negotiator and eventually moved into labor relations management consulting. He may have been tough at work, but he was tougher on me, the first born. But obviously that toughness just prepared me for running our family business and dealing with everyday business challenges.

One of my professional highlights was when I was chosen to be a Director of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Los Angeles branch. It was an interesting time to be at the monthly meetings and voting on the Fed rate. I had the opportunity to meet many interesting people, including then Chairman Alan Greenspan and current Chair Janet Yellen.

Many times when I speak, I get asked my advice for being successful in business. So at the end of my presentation, I shared these tips:

Work/life balance

Balancing your work and your life is up to you. Think of each day as a “pie.” You wake up each day and get to decide how to divide the pie. Will the pie today be evenly divided between work and family? Or will it be primarily work, or primarily family, or just a “you day?” It was explained to me this way by a female executive at Walmart, and to me it makes the most sense. I will tell you that I am pretty sure I missed the first day of school every year for both my girls as it always seemed to fall during a scheduled business trip. But I was there for their third day of school. And I missed many birthdays, but we made lots of other memories. And as you can see, my girls turned out just fine.

Ask questions

When you don’t know something, ask. Don’t be afraid. I guarantee that you won’t look dumb. To the contrary, you will be admired for having the guts to ask the questions everyone else wishes they had asked.

Ask for what you want and set high goals for yourself

And be prepared to get feedback on what you have to do to get there.

Be a lifelong learner

In my more than 30 years in the business, every year I have attended workshops, seminars, webinars, and read books to keep current and learn about new things. I read everything that comes into my company even if it takes me weeks and months to get to it. (Thank goodness for long airplane flights). Because I always learn something new, I feel ahead of the curve and that is one of my competitive advantages.

Always take the high road

And finally, this is something I learned from my mother (and she learned from her mother). It’s tempting to badmouth your competition, your coworker, or your boss. But really it is better that you don’t. Offering honest criticism is one thing, but like the saying goes, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” We will all be in this industry for many more years, and you never know who you will be working for or who will be your boss. I’ve found it the best practice to be positive whenever possible.

The best part of my presentation was that my entire immediate family was able to be there with me. As you can see, I have a beautiful and radiant family.

My daughter Sophia, Frieda, me, sister Jackie, and my daughter Alex.

Please feel free to share my tips with any young person who has just graduated and is moving into the “real world.” You can also read my entire speech here.

Karen

There is a new business disease. It’s called “conference burnout.” You may have it. It goes like this:

Every morning when you look through your emails, in between all your necessary and urgent company and client emails, are email invitations highlighting the “latest and greatest” conferences. You can attend conferences put on by INC. Magazine, Fast Company, Fortune, Hubspot, and other experts in New York City, Austin, or Chicago.

You get excited about the subjects you’re interested in, or speakers who you would love to hear and meet in person. But then you look at the dates and you realize that you would have to give up your day job to attend all of the conferences.

Dejected, you delete all of those emails.

Sound familiar?

With that being said, I managed to attend a conference for the first time in May that was put together by the Western Association of Food Chains.

I have seen the name of this industry conference for many years and never understood it. It looked just like another supermarket retail conference in a nice location. (Hello, Palm Springs!) Except this time, my good friend Sue Klug, executive vice president of Unified Grocers, who happens to be the chairwoman of WAFC, personally invited me.

“You really should come,” said Sue. “I know you will like it. It’s different.”

Sue can be very convincing, so I did a little research on the organization and the event. Even though I was not entirely convinced it would be worth it, I ended up attending. After all, I could give up a couple of days to support my friend.

Only retailer supermarket executives can be a member of WAFC—no vendors or suppliers—however, vendors and suppliers can attend the conference. So I did.

During one of the cocktail parties, I spoke with another board member, Oscar Gonzalez, who is the Co-President of Northgate Gonzalez Supermarkets here in Southern California. All these retail competitors were in constant meetings every day with each other and I knew they could not be discussing their competitive strategies. So, what were all the meetings about?

Me and Oscar. (Photo credit: Bob Reeves, The Shelby Report.)

Oscar explained it to me beautifully. He told me that back in 1921, the supermarket industry on the West Coast realized there was a shortage of management personnel for their retail stores. Most employees got their start in supermarkets by bagging or checking groceries while in high school. They made good money, and many of them had no incentive to go to college. After being a front-end checker, you could move up to be a supervisor and then eventually a store manager. In most cases, a store manager would be making a six-figure salary. Seriously, there was no incentive for their employees to get a professional education.

So all the retailers got together and created the WAFC with the sole purpose of designing and funding management education programs for company employees!

Education is the primary mission of the WAFC. Since 1958, with the support of scholarship donors, the organization established and has funded the Food Industry Management Program at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business. Then in 2000, WAFC launched the “Retail Management Certificate Program,” an accredited community college program specifically designed for food industry associates, which is available online nationally and at over 160 college campus and satellite locations in the Western United States.

Having spoken with some of the students who graduated from either USC program or the Retail Management Certificate Program, they all said two things:

“It changed my life forever” and “I would never be in the career position I am in now without this program.”

One of the graduates has now been promoted to the most senior sales/marketing executive in his company’s regional retail chain of more than 100 stores!

Oscar and WAFC scholars. (Photo credit: Bob Reeves.)

Not only was it very exciting to hear, honestly, it was very refreshing.

A bunch of competitors identified that they had a common need, and banded together for this noble cause of not only designing and managing a management training program, but also of helping change the lives of their employees.

Now that I understand the purpose of WAFC, I was all in! But as a vendor (and a newcomer), what could I possibly do?

Well, as it turns out, vendors can actually join another organization called the Illuminators. WAFC was started in 1921 and a few years later the vendors formed their own, supportive group. The sole purpose of the Illuminators is to provide volunteers to run the WAFC conferences and events. So I paid my dues and signed up within the first hour of getting there, and joined all the other volunteers right away. I sold raffle tickets, served lunch, and staffed a silent auction, among other duties. It was so much fun!

The grocery industry is often accused of being stuck in the “old business model,” e.g. brick and mortar, but the WAFC found an innovative way to collaboratively tackle an industry-wide hurdle, and at the same time, develop a retention strategy for our companies and industry!

It makes me so proud to be a part of the industry!

Karen

I don’t usually get star-struck. I have no interest in getting autographs of famous people or visiting the homes of the stars in Hollywood.

But about six weeks ago, my daughter Alex and I attended an NCAA Sweet 16 Championship game at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Afterwards, we decided to grab dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Border Grill, which is owned and operated by longtime business partners, Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken. They are big users of fresh produce and offer flavorful and fresh authentic Mexican cuisine.

So there we were in an almost empty restaurant (typical of downtown L.A. at 5 p.m. on a Saturday evening), munching on chips and salsa, when a familiar-looking man walked in.

I would recognize Mark Bittman anywhere.

Photo credit: MarkBittman.com

Mark currently writes for The New York Times, but I first learned about him when I bought one of his books, “How to Cook Everything,” more than 10 years ago.

His writing covers agriculture, health, the environment, and, of course, cooking and eating. He is a regular on the “Today” show and has hosted four TV series. But when he went mostly vegan a few years ago and wrote “VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00,” he really got my attention. (As you may recall, I went vegan for about a year in 2012.)

The premise of VB6 was that Mark loves food, but he needed to make some dietary changes due to health concerns. That is when he ingeniously realized he could be a vegan before 6 p.m. each day, then eat pretty much what he wanted in the evening.

So, when I saw him walk into the restaurant and sit at a table by himself, I took a deep breath, put on my lipstick, and went over to say hello.

We chatted for a bit about my mom, Frieda, about why he decided to go vegan, and which restaurant I should dine in during my next visit to New York City to celebrate my youngest daughter, Sophia, graduating from college. I also learned that he is temporarily living in Berkeley, Calif., thus his recent story on Monterey Market. I think he was impressed that I had seen the article.

After I went back to my table, I had my regrets. Shouldn’t I have gotten a picture with Mark? So I recruited Alex to return with me about 30 minutes later to chat some more and get his permission for a photo together.

What I loved about talking with Mark is that for someone who is such an authority on EVERYTHING, and so well connected, he was, well, human—a little funny and very humble. He was not annoyed that I interrupted his dinner twice.

I have met another pretty famous person. His name is Shaquille O’Neal and I met him at O’Hare airport in Chicago. As it turns out, a friend of mine, Michael Downing, is a business partner with Shaq in a company called Tout, which has been around for more than four years, before Vine videos became so popular. Tout is a next generation video platform for media companies to share content.

So, when I saw this HUGE man walk past me in the airport, I took a chance and approached him, asking if he knew Michael. I think Shaq was taken aback that I was not asking him for his autograph or photo.

After I said hello, I walked away, and then realized I should have asked him for help. You see, and you may not know this, but Shaq is a bit of a computer geek. So, I walked back to him and asked him if he could show me how to use Tout. I had downloaded the app, but did not know how to use it!

And there I was in the middle of O’Hare airport with this giant man showing me how to use an app on my phone.

So my lesson learned is that most of those famous people are human like the rest of us. And if you treat them like an old friend, and have a sincere conversation, they might just let you get your picture with them.

Karen

This is how you pronounce Turmeric: TWO-mer-ick. And if you’re wondering what I’m talking about, here’s a picture:

To me, turmeric looks like a cross between a small piece of ginger root and a carrot. In fact, turmeric (Curcumic longa) is related to ginger. You may have noticed it showing up in recipes and food blogs more frequently and wondered why.

Well, in recent years, we have seen a surge in consumer interest and demand for this root.

The first reason is that Indian and Southeast Asian cuisines have gained popularity in recent years. Naturally, the key ingredients in those cuisines, like turmeric, ginger, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and yuzu, have also become better known.

In addition, turmeric has been used in Indian ayurvedic medicine for more than 2,500 years to treat joint pain, digestive and liver problems, and skin conditions. As a matter of fact, National Geographic recently published a special guide entitled, “Nature’s Best Remedies,” and devoted an entire page to this “yellow ginger.” More and more, we Westerners are finding that Asian homeopathic treatments and remedies turn out to have scientifically confirmed health benefits. But there is currently no significant government-supervised and -approved research available on turmeric.

Did you know that turmeric is the main ingredient in curry powder and mustard powder? It’s what makes those two powdered spices yellow. Besides its purported health benefits, turmeric adds a yellow-orange color and a light earthy flavor to curries, soups, and rice. You can also steep slices of turmeric in hot water to make tea. I’ve heard of people adding the grated root to their smoothies and freshly pressed juices as well.

Personally, I’ve started buying small pieces of fresh turmeric at the store to add to my soups and veggie dishes. I have yet to try it in my morning juices, but that’s next on the list!

Hopefully, you’ll now be encouraged to try turmeric. And who knows, adding the root to your meals may actually help relieve your arthritis, muscle pain, or digestive issues. You’ll just have to let me know if it works!

Enjoy!

Karen

Sometimes it really does feel like I have a crystal ball. For example, I gave a speech over two decades ago and predicted some future happenings in the supermarket industry, and now one of them is happening!

I’m referring to the “sudden” focus and presence of registered dietitian nutritionists, or RDNs, in supermarkets.

Back in 1994, I referred to RDNs as “consumer relations specialists.” I predicted that supermarkets would soon employ consumer relations specialists who would make sure supermarkets were focusing on the needs of their shoppers, instead of just selling food in their stores.

Fast-forward to 2015, and it seems as if almost every supermarket chain offers the services of an RDN either in individual stores or at its corporate offices. Of course with the current obesity crisis, offering nutritional counseling and recommendations for healthy choices at no charge for shoppers is a win-win.

Just a few weeks ago, a produce industry organization, the Produce for Better Health Foundation, held its annual conference. It was so exciting to see that many retailers have RDNs and to see that these young (predominantly) women have so much enthusiasm for their positions and the difference they can make.

Left to right: Kayla Womeldorff of Harmons Grocery Stores; Dani Lebovitz with Robins Air Force Base; Erin Dragutsky with the Transformation Center in Memphis; and Lindsey Kane of Whole Foods.

The conference provided many opportunities for people to network and chat. We learned quite a few new things by meeting with RDNs in attendance:

Nutrient-dense vs. Energy-dense

Nutrient-dense foods give you the most nutrients for the fewest calories. Fruits and vegetables are definitely nutrient-dense. On the other hand, energy-dense foods are high in calories and do not have many nutrients. The “empty calorie” foods you keep hearing about would be considered energy-dense.

Productive Spending

The concept that educated shoppers will spend their food budget on foods that address their health and wellness priorities.

Orthorexia

This was a new word for me! Orthorexia is being proposed as a new eating disorder: extreme preoccupation with avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthy and a fixation on food quality and purity. Orthorexia is not just being conscious about what you eat, such as going gluten-free or vegan. It’s when that consideration turns into an obsession and starts to affect your life. An example might be cancelling social events due to the fear of accidentally eating something “unhealthy.” Coincidentally, CBS news featured a story on this over the weekend as well.

Clearly, the RDNs are making an impact in supermarkets around the country. I’m not sure if they are able affect store merchandising decisions like moving candy away from the check stands to curb impulse buying, or adding more fruits and vegetables to store newspaper or online ads, but I am sure those subjects and many more are very much on their minds.

I’ve often wondered if First Lady Michelle Obama’s goal of eliminating obesity in one generation is possible. Well, with the brain power of these women, I think we have a good shot at it.

Here’s to our good health!

Karen

Everyone, this is Carlos. And I love him.

Carlos works in the produce department of my local Ralphs grocery store. He’s the guy I go to when I can’t find something. I love his smiling face and we always say hello when he is there. He works on Sundays, when I usually shop, so I see him almost every week.

I wonder if non-produce people get to know the produce personnel at their regular grocery stores? I hope so. It comes in so handy to have a personal relationship with the produce guy or gal.

Do you know why I love Carlos?

Just this weekend, I went into my store and was looking for a head of white cauliflower. I couldn’t find it anywhere. All they had was green cauliflower, so I picked up a green head and put it into my basket. As I was leaving the department, I mentioned to Carlos that they were out of regular white cauliflower.

Carlos insisted that I wait a moment while he went to the back to look. Sure enough, they were out of the conventional cauliflower, but they did have them in organic. He offered one to me at the same price as regular cauliflower. As in many produce departments, the organic items are separate, and I didn’t even think to look there. Problem solved!

I mention this story because there is a national holiday this week that honors produce managers! It’s called “Love Your Produce Manager® Day” and it is Thursday, April 2.

Now, in full disclosure, our company conceived of this national holiday to acknowledge produce managers, the unsung heroes in produce departments. This is the fourth year it has been officially celebrated and listed in Chase’s Calendar of Events.

As with any national holiday, you can post about it on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter! Give a shout-out to your favorite produce manager or post a photo like mine, then use with the hashtag #LYPM between now and April 3. You might just win a $25 gift card for you AND your favorite produce manager!

I don’t think it’s just me who thinks the produce manager is important. Check out what Meryl Streep has to say:

Get out there and get to know your produce manager!

Karen

“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women”—Madeleine Albright, First female U.S. Secretary of State

Earlier this week, I attended the March meeting of the Food Industries Sales Managers’ Club of Los Angeles. Since 1993, the March meeting of this group has highlighted women in the food industry. During the luncheon, I learned that this event started out many decades ago as an acknowledgment of National Secretary’s Day, but as more and more women joined the ranks of sales executives, the focus changed. Plus, after all, March is Women’s History Month, so it is perfectly timed to give recognition to women in the grocery business.

Two female executives were inducted into the Women in Industry Honor Roll at the luncheon.

Mimi Song immigrated to the U.S. with her family in 1977 from South Korea. Her family of five was allowed to bring a total of $5,000 with them. Mimi told the story of her family and her first job as a cashier at a Korean grocery store in South Central Los Angeles. This beautiful and very funny woman founded Superior Grocers in 1981 with a single former Smith’s Food King store in a less than prime location. In 30 years, she has grown the company into close to $1 billion in sales and more than 40 stores. Yes, I said One Billion Dollars in sales!

Almost all of Mimi’s stores are in markets that serve the Hispanic community. Mimi is actually a friend of mine, and she told me that, as an immigrant, she feels a special allegiance and responsibility to other immigrants. During the luncheon, she recounted for us that during the Rodney King riots in 1991, her stores were the only retail outlets that were not looted or robbed. She attributed that to her deep commitment to the communities in which she operates.

Kim Sentovich is the Senior Vice President of the Pacific Division of Walmart Stores, covering all stores in California, Oregon, and Washington. It’s a bit mind-boggling, but that means she has almost 100,000 employees who “report” to her (not directly of course).

Kim started her career at Home Depot, and seven years ago was recruited by Walmart. During her remarks, she shared many words of wisdom, but my favorite was her comment on work-life balance. She equated each day to a pie. She said, that each day when she gets up, she decides how to divide her pie of 24 hours of time. Sometimes, her kids get a bigger piece, or her husband does. And of course, some days, work gets a large portion of the pie. She said the key to her success in providing work-life balance is that she looks at it day by day.

Her final comment was about her personal commitment to giving back, especially to causes that support women. When Kim was introduced, the list of organizations she is actively involved in was long, and most of them revolved around supporting and mentoring other women. And that’s when she shared that Madeleine Albright quote.

What a great reminder for all of us, both women and men. As we grow older and move further along in our careers, we should make time to help those who follow us and look up to us, so they benefit from our experiences.

At the end of the luncheon, all past honorees were invited to introduce themselves. There were 16 of us in attendance. It was hard to believe that my mother Frieda, my sister Jackie, and I were honored back in 1996. Look at the company of amazing women we are in now!

Karen

P.S. Thank you Bob Reeves, The Shelby Report, for these photos.

We all have many types of friends.

First, we have “friends,” who are really acquaintances. But we call them friends, as it may seem a bit awkward or cold to label someone an acquaintance, plus they might be a bit more than that.

Then we have “true friends.” People whom we know well. We may know their families or we may hang out in a circle of friends together, such as a GNO (Girls’ Night Out) group or a running club. We spend enough time with them that we know a fair amount about them and do activities together.

And then we have our “really great” friends. These are people who would do virtually anything for us, and we would reciprocate for them. Some of us are lucky enough to have one or two really great friends at any one time. I have found that my closest great friends have changed over the years.

When I had my first daughter, Alex, I met Jill in my Lamaze class. We were really great friends, and inseparable for years, then she moved away. We have remained friends, but are not as close. When my girls went to elementary school and I was involved with their school classes, my closest friends had kids who were similar ages and did similar activities. And we socialized regularly.

So, I have been thinking lately about what actually makes a really great friend.

I don’t think spending a lot of time with someone necessarily makes them a great friend. Or the fact that they remember your birthday each year or attend a family life-cycle event.

I believe a great friend responds to what is important to you. They know you. They know if you need a hug, or a glass of wine. If you need to spend time talking, or time alone. If you need your butt kicked at kickboxing, or you need a quiet walk in the neighborhood. Or if a card or a bouquet of flowers (for no reason) is just the right thing.

I am fortunate to have a few great friends (some of whom are also my relatives), who know me and take great care of me. And for that I am eternally grateful.

I’m sure you have at least one great friend on whom you count and love. Why not forward this blog to them so they know how much you appreciate them?

In friendship!

Karen

About this time each year, Fortune Magazine publishes its list of Top 100 Best Companies to Work For. Many of our supermarket clients are on this list: Wegmans (NY), Whole Foods, Publix (Southeast), and Nugget Markets (Northern California).

A supermarket industry friend of mine, Kevin Coupe, who pens a daily blog wrote an insightful comment about this list:

I always try to keep lists like this one in perspective. The companies that made it are to be congratulated, but they also are the ones that invested time and energy in making the applications. Also…does the fact that Wegmans and The Container Store have dropped down the list from number one at various times really mean that they’ve lost a step? Not really…I think it actually means that Fortune needs to keep rotating the leaders so that there’s some suspense.

I think the real issue is that with unemployment at a historic low—the national number just dropped again this week—those employers who truly value their employees will be the ones who not only are able to hire good help, but they are also able to retain them. And having reviewed the paperwork and the process involved in applying for the “Best Places to Work For” moniker, it is easy to see that big companies put a lot of work into applying for these awards. Although I’m sure each of them is a wonderful place to work, it is clearly a retention strategy for them and something to brag about when recruiting.

But let’s talk about why people really do stay at a company and what they like most about those companies.

At my company, we had a new employee, Frank, who started earlier this week in our sales department. On Frank’s first day, there happened to be a sales department meeting, so, as we always do, we welcomed him to the department by going around the room and introducing themselves. In addition to their names and how long they’ve been at Frieda’s, everyone was asked to say what they liked most about working at Frieda’s.

Although I was not in the meeting that day, this is what I heard:

The question was why we love working at Frieda’s. Most of us said the people. Everyone is like family. It’s fun coming to work every day because you are seeing your friends every day. And work doesn’t feel like work because, well, we’re happy to be here.

It made me so proud and happy to hear this! And I can’t take all the credit for why most of our team is so happy—it’s actually because of them! But I can say that we have built a culture of freedom of expression, friendship and, well, family.

And fun.

Actually, one of the women from our Marketing Department gave herself a new title: Director of Fun. At first I heard that some employees were kind of skeptical, but I know Oakley very well, and she is loads of fun. She is quirky, creative, fearless, and can laugh at herself.

Oakley, our Director of Fun, wears many hats–literally and figuratively.

Here are a few photos from some of our Director of Fun’s in-house happenings in the past few months.

Talk Like A Pirate Day. Arrgh! Halloween potluck. That’s my sister Jackie the Mouse up in front.

And here’s our holiday “card,” 12 (business) days in the making!

So, you do not have to be named by Fortune Magazine for your company to be a great place to work. You just need to be sincere, empower your employees, and be willing to give up control and laugh at yourself every so often.

And it goes without saying that we are always looking for more great people who share our values and are passionate about produce. In case you know someone who wants to join our team…wink wink.

Have fun out there!

Karen

I really don’t have time to read magazines at home. Honestly, I have tried reading them when I crawl into bed at night, and it’s like taking a sleeping pill. Read a paragraph. Instantly fall asleep.

But there is one magazine I like to get at home: Prevention Magazine, published by Rodale Inc., which also publishes other health and wellness magazines like Women’s Health. So, when a postcard came in the mail reminding me my subscription had lapsed, I immediately signed up for another two years.

As you can see, it is small, approximately 5-by-7 inches, but it is packed with interesting articles on health, food, and fitness, plus human interest stories. Last week, the February issue came. Because it is only 130 small pages, I was able to get through it in a few evenings.

Last night, one article in particular caught my eye: “The Natural Superbug Cure No One Is Telling You About.” The article talks about MRSA—Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureusinfection, caused by a strain of staph bacteria that’s become resistant to the antibiotics commonly used. I think we’ve all heard about MRSA and how scary it is. It is also one of the reasons I rarely if ever let a doctor prescribe an antibiotic for me when I can get well by resting and using natural herbs, etc.

The article talks about Laura Roberts who had been ill for seven years with what started as a sinus infection and nearly ended up in death. While watching TV, she learned about bacteriophage therapy and then found the Phage Therapy Center in Tbilisi, Georgia, in Eastern Europe.

Bacteriophages or phages, also known as bacteria eaters, are viruses that infect bacteria but not humans. I found it incredibly exciting to learn that alternative treatments for bacterial infections are being developed in other parts of the world.

In a time when people use hand sanitizer as a preventative for getting ill (when in fact it would be causing you to be less resistant to fighting infections, colds, and viruses), and when drug companies advertise on television, on billboards, and in magazines suggesting we ask our doctors to prescribe medicines for us, it’s good to know that researchers are working on more natural options to fight illness.

Of course, in my business, we know that eating a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, filled with nutrients and fiber, not to mention flavor, can help build healthier bodies. I wonder how long it will be before a doctor writes out a prescription for “at least 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables each day, and see me in 3 months.” But then I found out a produce prescription is a reality in New York City. The Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program provides low-income obese or overweight children and their families with a “prescription” of redeemable vouchers to use for produce at participating retailers or farmers markets after a consultation with a doctor and nutritionist.

But, sometimes, our bodies can only do so much and we need medicines prescribed by a doctor or practitioner and plenty of rest. A perfect time to curl up with a few more magazines, I’d say.

Stay healthy!

Karen

I actually saw that quote in a video on excellence that a local real estate company sent me today.

The reason the quote caught my eye is it made me think of some recent experiences I have had with customer service (like Zappos). I would say the vast majority of companies offer “good service.” They have been trained in “good-service speak.” You know what I mean—they say all the right words, but their hearts are not really in it.

To me, it’s the heart that makes great service—when someone sincerely goes the extra mile or when a company or organization empowers its employees to make the customer truly happy no matter what.

One of my coworkers dropped me a note last week that reminded me of the joy of experiencing great service:

“I recently called the Almay consumer line—I NEVER do this kind of thing…But I had just bought some makeup and I wasn’t happy with it…and I hate returning things at stores. (It’s really a pain with kids!) I was hoping they would do what we do here at Frieda’s—and they did! Full refund voucher—no real questions asked (just logistical details and code date stuff).”

I hope that we all have a similar story to tell about a great customer service experience we’ve had. You know, when you were sincerely surprised and delighted with how something was handled. Of course, one of the best known companies these days is Zappos and founder Tony Hsieh’s philosophy of total satisfaction.

But the real question is this: Have you ever gone the extra mile for your customer? Have you thought about how you could give excellent customer service, so much so, that your client, or your supplier, or your friend or family would never leave you?

I think the key to anyone going the extra mile is that they have to be happy, appreciated, and respected. I guess you could call that the key to great company culture.

I would love to hear about other awesome experiences of customer service. Please share yours in the comment section.

My daughter Alex, our consumer specialist at the time, demonstrating how to go above and beyond: answering the phone from another cubicle with her hands full!

Meanwhile, when you get up tomorrow, think about how you can make it a great day for you and everyone you encounter, not just in business.

Karen

One of the ways I know it’s kumquat season is that I look out into my backyard.

Look at my tree!

When I moved into my house 12 years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had an orange and a kumquat tree in my planter, and this week my kumquat tree is completely filled with fruit. This weekend, I plan to harvest them and try my hand at making Kumquat marmalade.

Kumquats are the smallest citrus fruit and are quite unique. Unique because, unlike all other citrus fruits, you do not peel them or juice them—you just eat them whole! That’s right, you pop them in your mouth, skin and all.

I learned about kumquats when I first started working for my mom on the produce market after college. My mom put me right into sales. So I came in to work every day at about 4 a.m., stood outside our stall at the produce market, and waited for the produce buyers to walk by to make the sales until about 11 a.m. Then we would go down to the basement to take inventory of what was left over from the day. And then, after lunch, I would work in the office filing paperwork and answering consumer letters. Yes, those days were long—but that’s the way you learn the business!

When January rolled around, I was assigned to sell the kumquats. They came from the farm packed in 10-pound boxes. I learned quite a few things—first of all is how to eat them. The skin is sweet and the inside is tart. So, after washing them, I would pop them in my mouth and eat them whole. By knowing the product, I was able to explain it to my customers.

The second thing I learned is that even if the kumquats are a little bit green, that’s perfectly OK. They will eventually turn a darker orange, which means the skin gets sweeter.

Finally, I learned that the kumquats should not get too cold in the refrigerator as the cold causes chill damage, and the outside skin can get kind of translucent. And that’s one of the reasons that we decided to repack those 10-pound boxes into 8-ounce consumer packages. Our first package was a green mesh bag with a recipe card and information stapled to the top.

Believe it or not, there are a few commercially available varieties of kumquats. You can tell most of them apart by their shape. Check out these pictures and see if you can tell what variety kumquat you buy next time at the store! (Photo credits: UC Riverside Citrus Variety Collection.)

The most common variety is the Nagami Kumquat—that oval-shaped bright orange fruit you know and love with thick, sweet rind and juicy, sweet-tart pulp. This variety is about 90 percent of the entire crop.

Nagami Kumquats.

The next variety is the Nordmann Seedless Kumquats. The teardrop-shaped fruits have thick, sweet rind with juicy pulp.

Nordman Kumquats

Then there are the Meiwa Kumquats. The large, slightly oval fruits have very thick, smooth, sweet rinds with just a little bit of pulp.

Meiwa Kumquats.

Grown in limited quantities are the Marumi Kumquats, which are small and round with thick, medium-sweet rind and moderately juicy pulp.

Marumi Kumquats

And finally, the Hong Kong Kumquats are grown ornamentally. The small fruits have large seeds which pretty much make them inedible.

Hong Kong Kumquats

With Chinese New Year right around the corner, starting on February 18, you may find kumquats prominently displayed in your produce department. The kumquat tree in Cantonese is called Gam Gat Sue. The word Gam rhymes with the Cantonese word for gold and Gat rhymes with luck. In Mandarin, kumquat is called Jin Jiu, which means “golden orange.” For these reasons, kumquats are deemed auspicious for Chinese New Year, symbolizing wealth and prosperity, and presented as gifts.

I hope that you’ll give these little citrus fruits a try!

Karen

Back in the “good old days,” when we didn’t have year round supplies of almost every kind of produce from different parts of the world, January and February signaled the peak of citrus season. Of course that means “normal” citrus varieties like navel oranges, pink and white grapefruit, and regular lemons. But my produce world is anything but “normal.”

So, I’d like to introduce you to a few of the more unusual varieties of citrus fruits that you will probably find in your local supermarket and on the menus of restaurants right now and in the months to come.

First, the grapefruit department:

Also known as Chinese Grapefruit, the Pummelo is the largest of the citrus fruits, ranging in size from a small cantaloupe to nearly the size of a basketball. No wonder it symbolizes abundance in Chinese traditions! The Pummelo has thick rind with white, pink, or rosy red pulps, and a sweet and tart flavor without the bitterness of a grapefruit.

Translated to “white gold” from Spanish, Oroblanco is a cross between a Pummelo and a white grapefruit, developed back in the late 1950s. It has a sweet, juicy grapefruit flavor with low acid and without the bitterness.

A cousin of the Oroblanco, Melogold is also a cross between a Pummelo, but with a different variety of grapefruit than the Oroblanco. The result is a juicy citrus with the taste of orange and grapefruit overtones.

Now, over in the lemon department:

Did you know that a Meyer Lemon is actually a hybrid? Believed to be a cross between a lemon and orange, F.N. Meyer first imported this hearty citrus to the U.S.A. from China in 1908. Meyer Lemon is sweeter, milder, and less acidic than regular lemon, with light herbal notes.

Seedless Lemons really don’t have seeds. (Well, once in a while, Mother Nature does surprise you with one.) Definitely takes a lot of the work out of making lemonade, I tell you.

Variegated Pink Lemon isn’t only striking on the outside with its striped green and cream rind. Inside, the flesh has a faint pink blush that gets deeper as the fruit ripens. The flavor is still very much lemony, but with floral and berry hints.

And finally, in the orange department:

Source: EatLikeNoOne.com

Some call them Cuties. Some call them Halos. But guess what? They are both Mandarins! That’s right. Originally, there were only Cuties, which belonged to Paramount Citrus. The company Sun Pacific then split from Paramount Citrus, taking with it the name Cuties. Halos thus became the new name by which Paramount Citrus calls its Mandarins.

Other Mandarin varieties include Murcott, Tango, Shasta, Yosemite, Gold Nugget, and Pixies. Each one has a distinctive outside look and shape, internal flavor, and acidity. You’ll just have to try them all to find the one you like best!

I’ll tell you more about the smallest citrus fruit next time. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear what your favorite citrus fruit is and why. And feel free to ask any questions!

Enjoy!

Karen

One of my passions is food (obviously) and because I live in Southern California, one of the most amazing food meccas in the world, I continue to explore different areas of the Los Angeles basin for delicious destinations. Even as a native Angeleno, I am amazed and surprised at what I have learned the last few years.

We are truly a melting pot of people here in SoCal, and it’s so much fun to explore!

In late December, I signed up for my third Melting Pot Food Tour. I have written about my tour of the Los Angeles Farmers Market and Thai Town, so this time I decided to try “East L.A. Latin Flavors.”

So, at 9 on a beautiful Saturday morning, I met up with my daughter, Alex; her boyfriend, Ben; and his mom, Alyse, in South Central Los Angeles. From my previous two food tours, I knew NOT to eat breakfast because we would have plenty to eat throughout the day.

Ben and his mother Alyse

Our tour consisted of about 10 people, most of whom had recently moved to L.A. Our tour guide, Nick, grew up here in L.A. Due to my friendly and naturally curious nature, I started asking him questions about what he did when he wasn’t giving tours on Saturday mornings. And it turns out he works for the company that used to do Frieda’s printing. What a small world!

Our tour guide Nick

For the next four hours, we visited 10 places, including a couple of bakeries. Lucero’s Pasteleria is a second generation, family-owned business. Lucy, the daughter of the founder, is now the owner and works beside her mother. One of my coworkers confirmed for me that they have the reputation for the BEST Tres Leches cake around, which is a favorite for birthdays. We each had a slice for breakfast!

Lucy and her mother, decorating a Tres Leches cake

One of my favorite stops was La Gloria Foods, which makes over a million corn tortillas a day! They work six days a week, and use Saturdays to clean the equipment. While we were disappointed to miss seeing the factory in action, we got to come back at the end of our tour to chat with Mr. Behar, one of the owners. We learned that this is yet another multigenerational family business, and that they supply all the Whole Foods stores across the U.S.! And, of course, we bought some of their fantastic corn tortilla chips to take home.

La Gloria’s historic entrance is decorated with tortilla presses

We also enjoyed goat stew—Birria in Spanish—at Birrieria de Don Boni. You can see from the photo that we thoroughly enjoyed the food!

Another favorite was when we went to El Mercado de Los Angeles. We entered this large building only to find aisles and aisles of small vendors selling everything from gelato to every kind of sausage, chorizo, and mole (pronounced mow-lay). Mole is a traditional Mexican sauce that goes through a long, slow process of cooking, starting with dried chiles, spices, and chocolate. I had no idea there were so many kinds of mole!

Gelato stop: Mine was green cucumber with chili, while Ben enjoyed the more conventional mango.

We traveled mostly on foot for the tour, but also got to ride the L.A. Metro line. I was amazed at how clean the trains and stations were. I was told the secret is that there are no bathrooms and there is absolutely no food or drink allowed on the trains. You will get a ticket for eating food or drink. So, in case you come to Los Angeles and wonder if it is safe to ride the Metro,I say, go for it! Of course, we were traveling in early morning and who knows what it is like late at night.

The Metro stopped at Mariachi Plaza. Yes, there really is such a thing! If you are looking for a Mariachi band to serenade at a party, you have to come here. It’s the weekly meeting place for people to hire authentic Mariachi groups from Mexico. We got to look inside a store that makes custom outfits for the men and women who perform, and learned that the tailor charges a relatively small amount to make the matching costumes. If the group does well, they are expected to come back and pay a little more to the tailor. What a nice way to support the community!

Overall, it was a fabulous experience and makes me want to return to that cozy neighborhood whenever I am looking for authentic Mexican food or want to show visitors one of the amazing cultural centers of Los Angeles.

Or, if you are looking for a saddle for your horse, you can find that too!

My daughter Alex with the saddle.

Bienvenidos a Los Angeles! (Welcome to Los Angeles!)

Karen

I just can’t resist offering up my thoughts on a few produce trends for 2015. The great thing is that fresh produce is front and center for all things healthy, and retailers and restaurant operators (and chefs) are even more in love with fresh produce than they ever have been.

Plant-based Protein

Yes, that’s right. Who knew that many produce items can be a source of protein? This is super important to vegans and vegetarians, but the spillover is that all consumers are finding out about fresh produce as a source of protein. In addition to potatoes and broccoli, consider Colored Cauliflower, Baby Brussels Sprouts (green AND purple!), Edamame, and Green Artichokes. Next time you want to make a light meal at home, why not grill a Cauliflower Steak? (Don’t laugh. There really is such a thing. At a fancy dinner I attended earlier this year, since the honoree was vegan, we all had Cauliflower Steaks, and they were delicious!)

Food52: Dan Barber’s Cauliflower Steaks with Cauliflower Purée. Click for recipe.

Digestive Health

We are all concerned with the health of our “gut,” which is why probiotics and yogurt have become so popular. But did you know that fermented foods, which are trending heavily right now, are good for your digestion too? Try Kim Chee (spicy Korean pickled vegetables) or one of my personal favorite vegetables, Sunchokes® (also known as Jerusalem Artichokes).

Meatless Monday

You may not be aware that the Meatless Monday campaign has been around since 2003. The concept is that if going vegetarian or vegan full-time is scary, why not try just one day a week? An amazing fact is that the Meatless Monday movement helps with the drought in California. One of our top crops in California is hay, which is used to feed cattle and other animals. Producing hay uses a lot of water. So, by cutting out meat one day a week, who knows how many gallons of water we will save!

And here are other top trends that you’ll notice in the months to come:

Gluten-free

Well, of course! Because I have a daughter who is allergic to gluten, I have become super aware of the plethora of gluten-free foods. We only purchase foods that boldly state “Gluten-free” on the label. If it doesn’t say it on the label, we don’t take a chance. But be prepared for some backlash on gluten-free, just as there has been on “low fat” and “high protein” foods. Healthy and balanced nutrition is important!

More Root Vegetables

Whether it is parsnips, celery root, carrots, beets, rutabagas, or turnips, roasting vegetables whole as a main course has become very chic!

Ugly Produce

I cannot wait for this trend to catch on! A blemish here or a wilted leaf there does not affect the eating quality of the produce. And just think of how much more produce will NOT go to waste if we purchase and prepare “ugly-looking, misshapen produce.” Here’s a great campaign by French grocery chain Intermarche.

Intermarche – ‘Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables’ from Goodvertising on Vimeo.

Small Supermarkets

Smaller stores are easier to shop. Even Walmart is opening “Neighborhood Markets,” smaller versions of its supermarket. Chefs in some smaller markets are willing to pre-cook “gourmet” food to go, or you can ask them for recommendations on the spot. It’s more personal!

Local, Local, Local

I just heard a radio commercial for a restaurant chain advertising the name of the grower of its greens! We’re used to seeing local growers’ products at farmers markets, but supermarkets and restaurants alike have realized that we want to know who grows our food and if it’s nearby, even better!

Looks like we will continue to have more healthy options available too. Hooray! More fruits and veggies make me happy!

Happy New Year!

Karen

Do you or your firm have interns? Have you thought about how you could potentially change that person’s life by the way you structure the internship?

This is our fifth year hosting an intern from EARTH University in Costa Rica. We were first introduced to EARTH when it began in 1990 in the rainforests of eastern Costa Rica. We were fascinated with its focus on true sustainability.

Each year, EARTH brings approximately 100 students from the tropics around the world—starting with Central and South America, and now including students from Africa, Asia and North America—and teaches them to be agriculturalists. The university gives them the skills and education to go back into their communities when they graduate four years later and create enterprises that improve the economics of their home countries.

It is a noble mission and University President José Zaglul told me when we had lunch a few months ago that the university’s fundamental goal is to create ethical leaders.

José Zaglul with my mom Frieda Caplan, Frieda’s founder.

Each September through December, third-year EARTH students are required to have an internship in a carefully selected company somewhere outside their home country. The students go out and do real work, applying what they have learned in school and learning what it’s like to be in what I call “the real world.”

President Jose Zaglul, with two other EARTH interns, and Isaiah (R)

This year, our intern was Isaiah Lekesike. Isaiah is originally from Kenya, the fifth of eight children in his family. Since the age of 10, he has supported himself by qualifying for scholarships at the top junior high and high schools in Kenya. And through his hard work, his excellent grades and his inner drive to succeed, he ended up receiving a full scholarship to EARTH, over 13,000 miles from his home.

As I mentioned, Isaiah is our fifth intern. We have had two interns from Costa Rica, two from Haiti, and this year two students from Kenya applied for one position. It was a hard choice, but after multiple Skype interviews, we chose Isaiah. He was very excited to come to Southern California.

The first night Isaiah arrived, we went to dinner together. It was difficult to understand him as he spoke with an, of course, Kenyan accent. But with his big smile and pleasant attitude, I knew he was perfect for our culture at Frieda’s.

Isaiah and me…in my gym clothes.

After a few weeks of working under the supervision of our Category Business Analyst Leslie, Isaiah and I met for a feedback session. I asked him if he had a bucket list of things he wanted to do while in California. He looked at me, puzzled. “Why did I want to know?” I told him if he shared his goals, then I could help him achieve them.

It turns out he wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco Bay and the Hollywood sign, and go to Disneyland and Las Vegas (of course), among other things. Fortunately for us, we had many volunteers within the company who made sure he got to do almost everything on his list.

Isaiah’s 15-week internship flew by so quickly. His final day in the office was spent finishing up his work, and then presenting a 30-minute recap of his experience at Frieda’s. Everyone in the office was invited and we ended up with over 20 people crammed into our conference room! After the presentation, we celebrated his success with a quick lunch, then he was off to Las Vegas for the weekend.

So when I drove Isaiah to the airport for his flight back to Costa Rica on Monday night, I asked him what surprised him during his Internship and what he learned. This is what he told me:

I know each year that the EARTH student whom we select to be an intern will have his or her life changed forever. What always surprises me is how they change MY life and the lives of other members of the Frieda’s family.

Isaiah with many of our Sales, Buying and Marketing teams.

Happy Holidays!

Karen

P.S. If you haven’t received my blog for the last six weeks, I took a little break. Sometimes we need to do that.

I call it “media fatigue.” I think you know what I mean. You turn on the TV or radio, and listen to various pitches for the upcoming news. It usually includes some “sensational” one-liner that is meant to catch our attention and make us not want to miss the news.

“Fire threatens hundreds of homes near you!”

“The cure for cancer is near!”

“Watch this exclusive video of the Police Chief of Los Angeles in handcuffs!” (This one was really in the headlines a few days ago.)

And what do you usually find out? That maybe they weren’t telling the whole truth about the story, but they just wanted to get you to tune in.

Well, I’ve noticed a trend. Many companies in my industry have begun to use this same sensational headline approach with their press releases. I assume they do this to improve the chances that a paper or magazine will print the release in the hope that it will help increase sales.

But I don’t think readers are that naive.

Sometimes it’s easier to see this in a visual form. Thanks to my friend Liliana who posted this on Facebook.

Bottom line is this: if you do marketing for a living—which most of us do, in some way, shape, or form—please give your audience credit and recognize that they will appreciate hearing REAL news and HONEST information. Plus, they don’t want their email inbox filled up with JUNK. It’s just a turnoff.

Keep it real out there,

Karen

P.S. This is also why I asked my marketing team to put a moratorium on all of our press release a few weeks leading up to the biggest annual trade show last month. I figured that our trade publications would be deluged with dozens of other companies, all “shouting” loudly and only getting louder. I felt it was pointless to add to the noise and encouraged other companies to do the same.

Let me put it this way: Mercury is in retrograde.

That sentence may or may not make sense to you, but I have written about that silly, menacing planet before. Here’s a quick recap.

In astrology, Mercury is the planet that rules communication, both interpersonal and electronic, as well as clear thinking, truth, and travel. Three to four times a year, the planet appears to move backward in the sky, known as “Mercury in Retrograde.” During such periods, you will find that things go wrong—more so than usual.

According to Greek mythology, Mercury represents the god Hermes who, in addition to being the messenger, has a reputation as a prankster. Hermes is a patron god of messengers and commerce, so no wonder everything business- and communications-related goes haywire when Mercury is in retrograde!

Interpersonal communications, such as speaking and listening, buying and selling, and negotiating, and commerce-related functions like transportation and logistics, travel, and negotiation, are affected when Mercury is functioning in its sluggish state. Delays and challenges are more probable, and these random mistakes or glitches can be costly.

Needless to say, it is not advisable to sign contracts, engage in important decision making, or launch a new business when Mercury is in retrograde. It’s also a good idea to plan for travel delays, communication disruptions with loved ones or customers, and technological failures during this time. (For goodness’ sake, back up your computer and network before Mercury goes into retrograde!) It’s like Hermes himself is pulling a prank on you.

Unbeknownst to me, Mercury went retrograde on October 4 and remains so until midday October 25.

If you’re skeptical about this whole Mercury business and want some evidence, this is what I’ve witnessed during the last few days:

Mercury in retrograde is not all bad for everyone. If you are the creative type or like to think outside the box, then this is the period when you can make great progress. For everyone else, this is the time to sit back, relax, and wait for the tide to change.

So you can plan ahead, here are the dates when this celestial phenomenon will occur in 2015:

Good luck!

Karen

P.S. You can read more about Mercury in retrograde in the Huffington Post and TIME Magazine.

As the “vegetable lady”—my friends all call me this—anything that has to do with fruits and vegetables always makes me happy.

You may recall, a little over two years ago, I decided to go vegan for a month. The difference between being a vegetarian and being vegan means that not only do you eat a diet filled with plant-based foods, but you do not eat any animal-derived products. So, no dairy or eggs. For some vegans, that also means no honey since bees are technically an animal.

You could call us the Veggie Family. Frieda is a vegetarian and Jackie also eats mostly plant-based.

I chronicled my Vegan Journey for a month and something interesting happened. I found that I felt better—all my aches and pains seemed to disappear—and people told me I looked younger, which is always a plus. Well, after a year of being vegan, I found that I needed more protein. Because I am allergic to soy, I added egg whites, fish, and chicken back into my diet.

Nonetheless, my diet continues to be primarily made up of fresh fruits and vegetables. For example, today, which is a typical work day, I have snacked on cucumbers, colored bell peppers, strawberries, Cherub® tomatoes (IMHO the only ones with amazing flavor), broccoli, and a fresh apple. Plus, I had mushrooms and spinach in my egg white omelet this morning. That’s nine servings for the day already and I haven’t even had dinner!

I think that’s the point of National Vegetarian Month. It’s to call attention to how easy it is to be a part-time—or even full-time—vegetarian. New York Times writer Mark Bittman calls it VB6 (Vegan before 6 p.m.).

A well-known dietitian, Sharon Palmer, RDN, gave us five awesome suggestions, which I totally love, in her October newsletter on what you can do to introduce more fruits and veggies to your diet during this month.

Make a plant-powered goal.

Whether you’re an omnivore or a vegetarian, you can make your own plant-powered goal to eat more whole plant foods at every meal. For starters, try out Meatless Monday by enjoying one entirely plant-based meal per week as a great entry into plant-based eating. Or if you’re vegetarian, you might want to try a month of vegan eating.

Have a meat-free morning.

Breakfast is one of the easiest meals to skip the meat. With so many delicious breakfast foods, such as whole grain cereals and breads, fruit, and even vegetables, there’s little reason to rely on meat for your first meal of the day.

Plants for protein.

It’s a widespread misconception that it’s difficult to get enough protein from plant foods. Evidence indicates that it’s simple to achieve an adequate intake of protein from plant-based sources. Legumes, soy, nuts and seeds are your best bets, but whole grains and veggies have protein, too!

Change the center of your plate.

When planning your meals, start with the vegetable or plant protein component to get your creative juices flowing. Meat or “faux meat” doesn’t need to be the “center of the plate.” If kale and cauliflower are calling to you, plan your meal around those veggies, with perhaps some simmered savory lentils and a quinoa pilaf on the side. Yum!

Try a new veggie recipe each week.

It’s easy to get in a rut! But why not dish up some new fabulous foods to celebrate National Vegetarian Month. Just try out a new plant-based recipe on your easiest day of the week. My website and books can get you started. And invite over your friends and family to share them. Spread the plant-powered love!

So, when you hear “vegetarian,” I want you to think it’s OK to be a part-time vegetarian. Consciously make the center of your plate fruits and veggies. Celebrate Meatless Monday! When you stop by the market for your fresh produce, walk the department and look for something new, colorful, and interesting. You never know when you will find your newest “favorite produce item” to entice you to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Shift the way you eat, starting now!

And enjoy!

Karen

Last Sunday, my mother, Frieda, and I were invited to participate in a panel discussion at the Hotel Irvine in Irvine, California, to share our experiences as members of a family business. (By the way, a family business is defined as one that has two or more family members in positions of authority.)

You know, our lessons learned that we could share with others.

We were invited by my longtime friend and fellow woman business owner, Patty DeDominic. Patty founded of one of the largest staffing companies in Los Angeles County, PDQ Personnel Services, more than 30 years ago. She sold her company a few years ago and is now running Maui Masterminds, an organization that helps business owners build businesses that they love through private business coaching.

Joining us on the panel was Brian Thomson, who is the second generation in and current President of LH Thomson, a manufacturer of aerospace parts for companies like Boeing. And for the last 20 years, the company has also run a niche business in patented bicycle parts.

After 30 minutes of our facilitated discussion, it was time for my favorite part, Q&A with the audience.

“How do you deal with all the different generations of workers in your business and how different they are?”

I especially like that question! Here at Frieda’s, we make a concerted effort to hire and retain all age levels—from the early 20s to older than 50s—because we like our team to be well-rounded so it mirrors our customer and supplier base.

I also shared my thoughts on Millennials (aka Gen Y) about their supposed lack of work ethics or inability to work hard. I am sick and tired of hearing that because it simply is not true. Millennials just have a different perspective from us Baby Boomers.

Instead of growing up expecting to have just one or two careers in their lifetimes, Millennials now know they will have multiple career changes through out their lives—maybe 10 or more careers—some of which don’t even exist yet! They want to be challenged and valued, and to be upwardly mobile in a short time.

Photo credit: Flickr/State Farm

“What do you do about all the instant messaging and texting in the workplace? How can you control it?”

That question was asked by a fellow Baby Boomer or possibly a Gen Xer (also known as the “skeptic generation”). I had to confide to the audience that it had been an adjustment for me to walk through the office and see people looking at Facebook or texting while at their desks “working.”

But I came to the conclusion years ago—with some coaching from my HR Manager and many seminars—that instead of worrying about controlling the social media activity and texting, I should ask myself one question: “Did they make their numbers?” or “Are they getting their work done?”

You see, the paradigm has shifted in offices today. And we can thank the multitasking Millennial generation that grew up being connected 24/7 to their friends and family.

We Baby Boomer bosses cannot judge others solely by how we were raised and trained. We have to condition ourselves that in order to attract and retain the best employees and team members, we need to be flexible and understand what motivates them. And we need to provide coaching and mentoring.

Although many of us grew up separating “business from personal” (e.g., limiting socializing with the folks you work with), for Millennials, some of their closest friends are those they work with. If we want to keep them, we’re going to have to be their friends too!

The Maui Masterminds session was only 45 minutes and it flew by. When it was over, the man who asked me the question about instant messaging and texting stopped me in the lobby and said, “Thanks for your honest answer. I guess texting in the workplace is here to stay.”

Just something to think about,

Karen

Frieda’s EARTH University intern Isaiah Lekesike from Kenya, Maui Mastermind Patty DeDominic, Frieda, and me

I could tell it was autumn last week while I was traveling in the Pacific Northwest, even though the temperatures were in the 80- to 90-degree range.

How?

Because I saw HUGE hard-shell squash displays in every supermarket.

(Note: It is normal procedure at most supermarkets to do a “fall reset.” Pumpkins, squashes, apples, and oranges are moved to the front of the department. Displays of cooking vegetables get bigger. And summer fruit displays become much smaller or disappear altogether.)

Doesn’t this make you think of fall? Beautiful displays of squash and pumpkins on centerpieces and the aroma of squash baking in the oven fills the air!

Photo: Paleo Nutrition Notes

Every produce manager I spoke with said they sell lots of squash during the fall season. Up in Oregon and Washington, hard-shell squashes are a local crop, so I think part of the appeal is that consumers are supporting local farmers—a huge trend these days.

But I also think a few other trends explain the popularity of hard-shell squashes.

One-Dish Meals

It’s easy to bake—or even microwave—a squash and stuff it with rice, ground meat, or steamed veggies for a simple and tasty meal. For those who are in a time crunch, this is an easy and yummy dinner.

Vegetarian and Vegan Cooking

Forget the meat! Someone following a plant-based, whole-foods diet can have a tasty meal by stuffing halves of cooked squash with protein-rich, ancient grains like farro and quinoa. (One of the most successful produce managers I spoke with last week went vegan last year and has lost over 60 pounds!) The hard-shell squashes are also excellent sources of vitamins A and C.

Flavor, Flavor, Flavor!

Hard-shell squashes are some of the most flavorful and richest tasting vegetables. As much as I love green salads, when it gets cold outside, I want something warm and delicious. And squash fits the bill!

This year’s darling is Delicata Squash, which has a flavor reminiscent of corn pudding. A produce manager told me he thinks one of the reasons it is so popular is that it’s the only variety with an edible skin!

More than a dozen varieties of hard-shelled squashes are available in local supermarkets. Click on the image to learn more about them.

I would love to hear what your favorite squash is. Let me know by posting a comment below.

Enjoy autumn’s abundance!

Karen

One of my favorite songs these days is “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.

Every time it comes on the radio, I get a huge smile on my face.

So, when I was returning from a weekend trip in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., this past weekend and we were dropping off our rental car, I must have been thinking of that song. As I got out of the car, I smiled at the attendant. His reaction was amazing.

“What a great smile you have!” he said.

“Thank you!” I replied.

“It’s not just your smile, or your teeth. It’s the way your whole face lights up!”

I told him that he really made my day, and he told me that I made his.

How many times do we have something on our minds, completely preoccupied, and don’t think about what we look like to others? You know what I am talking about—that slight scowl or tense look. That’s not a face that is fun for people to look at.

What if we each conscientiously put our efforts into walking around with a smile and saying hello to everyone we see? It doesn’t really take that much extra effort.

I learned this from a speaker who presented at our recent company sales meeting: when you say something positive and kind to someone else, it gives energy and strength to both you and the person to whom you are speaking.

And conversely, when you say something negative or critical, you weaken both yourself and the other person.

So, why not try it for a week? Smile at everyone you see. I would love to hear about the reactions you get, if you would share with me in the comment section below.

Big smile from Avery Maes, Frieda’s future intern and unofficial mascot, daughter of our production artist Mark Maes.

Karen

P.S. I have never seen a YouTube video that has more than 410 million views before! That’s how many Pharrell has for “Happy!” I guess happiness is catching on.

Last month, as I sat at an industry luncheon, I prepared to hear my friend Marty make a few remarks. During this particular luncheon, our industry comes together to support the City of Hope, an amazing local, world-renowned research hospital that has pioneered bone marrow transplants and a host of other cutting-edge cancer treatments.

Marty sells mushrooms for a living. I’m a little partial to mushrooms, as that is the first product that my mother, Frieda, sold when she entered the produce business in 1956. So, I was pleasantly surprised with what Marty said: “I’d like you all to see what’s going on with white mushrooms in the field of medicine.”

As you can see in this three-minute video, the researchers at City of Hope freeze-dried regular white mushrooms into a powder, then made 500 mg tablets with the powder. In a clinical trial, they gave prostate cancer surgery survivors the capsules and monitored their Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA). The results were very dramatic and amazing.

The researchers also noted that cinnamon, blueberries, and pomegranates may have beneficial qualities that they are testing in clinical trials.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if medical research began to verify what many “health food nuts” have known for decades? A diet rich in plant-based foods may be the key to a long, healthy life. And, changing your diet at any time in your life—preferably sooner rather than later—might also be a way to get yourself healthier.

I feel fortunate to be in an industry like fresh produce, where our products do no harm and are good for you. Young and old—everyone has to eat!

Thanks, Mom, for getting into the produce business!

Karen

 

I think it’s time to proclaim 2014 as “The Year of the Dragon Fruit.”

It’s been 20 years since we first introduced Pitaya (also known as “Pitahaya”). Yes, that’s what Dragon Fruit was called 20 years ago, and we sold the first fruit.

Dragon Fruit is native to Mexico and is the fruit of several types of cactus (Hylocereus is the official genus). I have visited Dragon Fruit plantings, most recently in Israel earlier this year. They are beautiful and green. When the fruit is in season, the bright-colored fruits are picture-perfect. Unlike most other plants, these cacti flower at night. When the heat is just right, the plants can go from flowering to being filled with ripe fruit within 24 hours!

Two main types of Dragon Fruit are available in the U.S.—white-fleshed and red-fleshed. For much of the year, the white-fleshed fruit comes from Vietnam. We bring it both by boat and by air. When the U.S. season starts, we have fruit from California, Texas, and Florida; because Dragon Fruit are subtropical, they naturally grow in warm states. You can read more here about the three main types of Dragon Fruit.

The red-fleshed fruit is rarer. We have a few growers here in California and in Florida. This season we are bringing in the red-fleshed Dragon Fruit from Nicaragua.

The great news is that both the white-fleshed and red-fleshed fruit are available right now. I predict you will start to see a large display in your supermarket very soon. If you shop in an Asian market (like our local Ranch 99 Markets in Southern California), you may see a HUGE display in the produce department.

What do Dragon Fruit taste like? To me, they have the texture and flavor of a mild Kiwifruit. Nutritionally, they are rich in antioxidants and in vitamin C. They also supply fiber.

In addition to that wonderful flavor and those nutritional benefits, Dragon Fruit is very eye-catching! So, next time you’re making a summer fruit platter, add a little pizzazz by slicing up some Dragon Fruit.

Enjoy!

Karen

Last week I learned a new produce term, “the last 10 yards.”

One of my produce colleagues and I sit on the advisory board of a start-up produce company, and we were advising the owners about the ins and outs of the produce industry.

We were talking about how to get sales of their new product and how challenging it can be.

And that’s when my friend said, “It is all about the last 10 yards.”

Photo credit: Flickr/jayneandd

He was referring to the fact that you can sell your product or idea to the executive of a retail or foodservice company. But the sale is not complete until your product actually makes it from that executive, to the administrative assistant who makes sure it is listed in the order guide, the buyer who places the order, the sales rep who talks to the customer about it, out of the backroom of the store, and finally out on display at the store or onto a menu and then the plates of a restaurant meal.

“The last 10 yards” refers to your product moving from the backroom of a retail store onto the produce shelf, properly signed, priced, and cared for.

Most of us don’t even think of that. We just make the sale and cross our fingers that the rest happens flawlessly.

It got me thinking.

Where else in our lives does the importance of “the last 10 yards” show up?

• Calling to confirm that a package got delivered by “tracking a package” on the FedEx or UPS website;
• Confirming dinner reservations before you depart;
• Sending a confirmation email a couple of days before or on the morning of a meeting;
• After giving instructions, having the person repeat back what they heard to confirm their understanding; and
• Doing a run-through before an important meeting to make sure everyone knows their part.

And there are dozens of more personal examples of what that “last 10 yards” is and how important it can be.

So, next time you want to rush a project or are counting on someone else and doing a hand off (like in a relay race), make sure you’ve done everything you can to guarantee your success.

Your family, your clients, and your colleagues will thank you!

Karen

I’m guessing you might think of Cauliflower as kind of a boring, white vegetable that is smelly when you cook it.

But things have changed.

First of all—have seen all the fabulous colors of Cauliflower?

Purple, green, and orange!

And then there is the distant cousin, Romanesco, which is actually its own vegetable, although it resembles a Cauliflower…kind of.

Although we have been selling baby Cauliflower since the 1980s, you can now find miniature versions of it and Romanesco at farmers markets, upscale supermarkets, and restaurants.

 

During one of my recent visits to New York City, when I ordered roasted Cauliflower for dinner, I guess I should not have been surprised that the chef roasted and served three colors of it—white, purple and green. It was a nice surprise!

Why has Cauliflower become so popular? In addition to being a cruciferous vegetable touted for its extreme health benefits (other well known cruciferous veggies include broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale), Cauliflower has a “meaty” texture that is quite versatile to work with.

When one of my vegan friends was honored at a dinner a few months ago, the vegan meal option was a Cauliflower steak! As you can see from the photo, instead of breaking the cauliflower into florets to cook, they cut the head crosswise, roasted it in the oven, and served it like a steak!

Dan Barber’s Cauliflower Steak with Cauliflower Puree – Food52.com

Yesterday when I was skimming through one of the dozens of e-newsletters I receive, I found an article in The Shelby Report about what is perhaps the most imaginative and surprising use of Cauliflower—in pizza dough!

Absolutely Gluten Free Cauliflower Crust Pizza

As you can see, this very creative company, Absolutely Gluten Free, has found that Cauliflower is a great ingredient for gluten-free pizza dough. (Yes, you can order online!)

What will they think of next?

Bon appétit!

Karen

Each of us has two lives: our personal life and our professional life. You know, like the weekend vs. the rest of the week.

Some people say you are two different people: the You that is at work—and the You on your personal time. But I do not subscribe to that philosophy. I believe there is one true You.

If you know me, you know that a big part of my personality has always been that I want people to like me.

When I opened up an April issue of “Inc.” magazine recently, I was attracted to a two-page article entitled, “Management Playbooks: Reading business tomes by sports celebs is great fun. Oh, and you might learn something.” The article highlighted Phil Jackson’s bestseller “Eleven Rings” and how his most famous management trick was dealing with Chicago Bulls megastar Michael Jordan.

Jackson said, “I learned to dial my ego back without surrendering my authority.”

Image from Inc. Magazine: Management Playbooks

Even though I am not a big sports fan, I learned that sports coaches are important in my life and I can learn a lot from them.

So, is it more important to be liked or to be respected?

I was made to face that very question many years ago. I was on a mother-daughter vacation with my friend Liz, and we got into a discussion about work and management styles each night over some wine after we spent time at the pool with our daughters during the day.

At that time, Liz ran a large retail store for a national chain and I could tell she was a no-nonsense kick-butt manager. She posed that exact question.

That was tough for me because I knew what I should answer. But, deep in my heart, I knew that my whole life had been spent making sure I was liked.

When we returned home, she lent me one of her favorite management books, “Wooden” by legendary basketball coach John Wooden. I’ve read a lot of management books in my life, but had never read one authored by a sports figure. It’s a short book and a quick read, so each night I would read a few chapters, allowing myself to soak in Coach Wooden’s management style.

I learned some of my most meaningful lessons from that book.

One of the first chapters was about how Coach Wooden instructed his players to put on their socks.

Yes, their socks.

The reason the socks were so important was that if a player put them on wrong, and there was a wrinkle in the sock when they put on their shoes, it could cause a blister while they were playing. A blister might affect their performance on the court, and ultimately the score.

A tiny little wrinkle in your sock may not sound like a big deal to most people, much like something basic in your job like promptly returning phone calls. But it can be the difference between winning and losing on the court, or making or breaking a sale in business.

I applied that lesson as a leader in both my personal and professional life. I made sure to mentor my team—and my kids—to learn the basics and to do them well. Accuracy first, and momentum will follow. My team and my kids may not like me very much for pointing out these little things to them to get right, but I realized that I could accept some people not liking me, and that as a leader, it truly was more important to be respected.

What lesson have you learned recently? Share with us in the comments so we can all learn something new!

Karen

One of the first jobs I had when I started working for my mom after college in the early 1980s was ordering and designing packaging.

And one of my projects was to look over our then-bagged Blackeyed Peas. We had introduced the “rehydrated dried, quick-cooking” Blackeyed Peas to the market in 1970, and it was about time we redesigned the package.

Before I could give direction to our design firm, my mom suggested I go visit the head of the Food & Drug Administration in Los Angeles, whose office was a few miles from our location in the Los Angeles Produce Market. She thought talking directly to the source was a good idea, plus it would give me a big picture view of what the FDA looks for in truth-in-packaging.

Our old Blackeyed Pea packaging

So, one afternoon, equipped with some packages of our Blackeyed Peas, I went down to see Mr. Lloyd Lehrer. And he taught me a lesson that I still use today:

“Even if you are in exact compliance with FDA and USDA regulations, you should always ask yourself: will the consumer be able to easily understand what your product really is?”

He was referring to the statement about our Blackeyed Peas that I mentioned earlier: “rehydrated dried, quick-cooking Blackeyed Peas.”

Our Blackeyed Peas were dried beans rehydrated so they looked like they were fresh. Because they looked fresh, we were obliged to be clear on the front panel of our package that they were indeed “rehydrated dried beans,” so a consumer would not think they were buying fresh beans.

I was reminded of this entire experience with the FDA when I read about the recent ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court regarding POM Wonderful v. Coca-Cola.

POM Wonderful, the marketing geniuses who made pure pomegranate juice a household staple, asserted that Coca-Cola-owned Minute Maid was misleading consumers by labeling a juice blend made primarily of apple and grape juices as a pomegranate-blueberry juice blend.

Of course, POM had an interest in this particular labeling because the Minute Maid juice blend is considered a competitive product. But the lesson here is the same one I learned from the FDA, and it is worth repeating.

“Even if you are in exact compliance with FDA and USDA regulations, you should always ask yourself: will the consumer be able to easily understand what your product really is?”

As consumers, we are all aware of food products that are not exactly what they purport to be.  Sugar is called other names like sucrose, maltose, dextrose, and fructose, and salt content is listed as “unsalted” or “low-sodium.” Calorie counts are for “serving sizes,” not the entire package or can which we might typically consume.

As consumers, we are entitled to truth and simplicity when we purchase food and beverages. It should not be hard to figure out what we are consuming. I am quite pleased that the FDA is working on Nutrition Facts label reform for more practical serving sizes and clearer nutritional information.

Have you ever purchased a food product and discovered surprise ingredients? Feel free to share in the comment section.

Karen

You’ve probably noticed that some weeks I post a blog and some weeks I don’t. When I do, it’s because I have something important to say. When I don’t, it may be because my travel schedule has gotten out of hand or, more likely, because I don’t have something meaningful to write about.

I feel that it’s better to skip writing a blog post if it’s not going to make a difference to you, my readers. I know many bloggers post daily or weekly without fail—even when they don’t have something relevant to write about. I don’t see the point in that. It only wastes my time—and yours.

Fortunately, I’m not alone in this principle.

I was thumbing through the May issue of one of my favorite magazines, “Fast Company,” from the back as I was taught years ago by a very smart person from the University of New Mexico. I turned to page 112—the back page. It’s always an op-ed piece by Baratunde Thurston, author of the New York Times best seller, “How to be Black and CEO,” and co-founder of the creative agency, Cultivated Wit.

His op-ed piece was entitled “A New Social Contract – What if brands stepped away from trying to be part of the conversation and made products worthy of being talked about?”

I loved what he had to say about companies that treat social media as if it were the same as advertising or public relations, instead of an honest conversation with consumers. His bottom line is: why don’t companies concentrate on making great products and services, rather than trying to have the “best” Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat strategy?

Baratunde says the best strategy is to make darn good products.

That’s how I see my blog. I only write when I have something important to say. I’m not just checking it off my list of things to do each week.

So, next time you don’t see a blog from me, don’t worry. It’s just me being honest and relevant.

Karen

Most of us have certain apps on our smart phones that we use regularly. For example, I oftentimes check in on Facebook when I am at interesting places, and I use my airline app to check on the status of my flight times and departure gates.

But it’s not very often that I post a review on Yelp.

This past weekend, my husband and I were in Monterey, California. We walked through Carmel, went to see the Pebble Beach Golf Course (it is stupendous), and did the 17-Mile Drive, a scenic road through Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove on the Monterey Peninsula.

And, of course, we went out to eat. I chose restaurants I had tried before or those that were recommended to me by friends. Since we were on vacation, I wanted our food and wine experience to be over the top. So it was fun, yet nerve-wracking, to pick places to dine. I feel like I did a pretty good job of selecting places that fit the bill, so to speak.

However, we did have one poor dining experience. I will not share the name of the restaurant, but it was a steakhouse, one that has received rave reviews for its steaks for many years. It came highly recommended by one of my closest friends.

So, you can imagine how baffled and annoyed we were at the poor experience we had. I was actually so frustrated that as we walked out of the restaurant, I decided to post a review on Yelp.

“Seriously the worst experience ever. Sent dirty wine glasses back three times. Butter dish was already used. Salad did not have toppings. Side dishes were not hot (room temperature). We spoke to the manager twice. And we were a bit surprised that all they did was comp us our wine. Waste of $95.”

At the time, I did not realize that my Yelp account was set up so that my review immediately posted to Twitter. That turned out to be a good thing though, because the next morning I got what appeared to be an auto-response on Twitter that said, “Thanks for stopping by and for sharing your review on Yelp.”

I was annoyed. I have written before about companies that do not respond personally or quickly to posts on Facebook or Twitter.

An appropriate, personal response is imperative with social media. Anyone who is active on Twitter or Facebook will instantly judge a company based on how responsive and truthful it is. If you made a mistake, your product was bad, or your restaurant was having a bad day—admit it. Social media is just like working with your friends and teammates—the truth is always best.

Then, a few hours after that tweet, I got a response on Yelp from the owner himself!

“We’re so sorry to hear this, Karen, but we appreciate you speaking up when you were here. The issues you experienced absolutely are not common around here; we’re just sorry the service was so uneven the night you stopped by. Please know that we plan on putting this feedback to good use immediately!”

My faith in this restaurant was immediately restored.

The owner was honest about them having a bad night and personally responded with no excuses. By doing so, he exceeded my expectations, and I will definitely give the restaurant a second chance.

My first job at Frieda’s back in the 1970s was to answer all consumer letters. We received between 300 and 500 letters a week asking for recipes, and at least a dozen a week required a personal answer. My rule was to respond within 72 hours. That’s right—within three working days I answered all those snail mail inquiries. Now that we have the Internet, email and 800 numbers, our goal here at Frieda’s is to turn around all inquiries within 24 hours, on the same day if possible.

I realize that my expectations are pretty high. Nonetheless, I expect other companies to be as attentive as I was at returning inquiries, and I think it’s fair to expect a comment or a reply when you post on a company’s website or social media platform.

How many of you post reviews or comments online? Do you feel like you are heard when you have a complaint or suggestion? Do they answer you back?

Karen

You may have heard of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in south Orange County. Many years ago it was decommissioned, and there was much controversy about how the vacated base should be used. Last weekend, I was finally able to visit what is now called the Orange County Great Park with my good friend, A.G. Kawamura.

A.G. and his brother, Matthew, own Orange County Produce. Their two main commercial crops are strawberries and green beans. I found out a few years ago that our two companies are the two largest produce company contributors to our local food bank, Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County.

You may recognize A.G.’s name as he is the former California Secretary of Agriculture. He has since returned to farming full time on his family’s farm.


Before heading off to the Great Park, we had a quick breakfast together at Knowlwood Restaurant, which is in a restored blacksmith shop. I found out that for decades, like many other farmers, local Orange County farmers get coffee and breakfast each morning at Knowlwood to catch up on the local farming gossip and to discuss prices, customers, etc. Seriously, the local farmers’ gathering place is an important part of farming vibrancy.

 

In addition to its commercial strawberry and green beans acreage, Orange County Produce also farms at the park’s Incredible Edible Farm, growing fresh produce specifically for the local food bank! I saw acres upon acres of Cauliflower, Kohlrabi, huge heads of Lettuce, and Kale.

(Click on the thumbnail to view larger image.)

Volunteers are recruited on a daily basis to harvest the food. Teenagers from local high schools, adults from churches and synagogues, Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, along with families (large and small), come to learn about how food is grown and to participate in the harvest of this fresh produce.

Due to the heat wave in Southern California, a bumper crop of Cauliflower had to be picked on the morning we were there. You can see that the large bins—holding close to 1,000 pounds each—were being filled to the brim. Then they went to a warehouse to be cooled and then distributed through a local network for food banks and distribution facilities.

This gleaning process is so educational for our local kids. They see how food is grown, and we hope that some of them decide to choose agriculture and/or farming as a career. In the meantime, they are helping feed those who are less fortunate.

Adjacent to the fields are some demonstration gardens to show visitors how they can have a garden at home, even if they don’t have much room or even soil. The vertical gardens were amazing—check out the Strawberries, Chile Peppers, and Kale!

And for the final educational piece, there is the Farm + Food Lab (click on “Things to See” tab). Staff members and Master Gardeners from the