How Kiwifruit got it's name.      AND NOW, THE REST OF THE STORY!

 

Frieda Caplan was the keynote speaker at the International Kiwifruit Organization Meeting held on Wednesday, September 14, 2005 in the host country, USA.   Here are her remarks:

 

BEING HERE TODAY IS A MEMORY-ENHANCING EXPERIENCE FOR ME AND I CANíT TELL YOU HOW PLEASED I WAS WHEN MY OLD FRIEND. . .JOHN FAGUNDES, SR. . .INVITED ME TO BE PART OF YOUR FESTIVITIES.. HIS ONE REQUEST WAS THAT I BE PREPARED TO TALK ABOUT SOME OF THE QUIRKY THINGS THAT HELPED INFLUENCE HOW THE KIWIFRUIT INDUSTRY BECAME WHAT IT IS TODAY.

BOTH LINDY LaFRANIS AND JOHN CAUTIONED ME, HOWEVER, THAT MANY OF YOU MAY NOT HAVE A REAL BACKGROUND ABOUT HOW OUR HISTORY EVOLVED AND SOME OF THE FUNNY THINGS THAT HAPPENED ALONG THE WAY.

THERE ARE A LOT OF MYTHS THAT I MAY BE EXPLODING, OR PERHAPS CHALLENGING.. . .BUT IT WILL BE UP TO YOU TO DECIDE.

FIRST. . .BE AWARE THAT THE CREDIT IíVE BEEN GIVEN FOR INTRODUCING AND NAMING THE KIWIFRUIT. . .BOTH IN THE UNITED STATES AND WORLD WIDE.. .MAY BE SOMEWHAT EXAGGERATED. . .DEPENDING ON WHO IS TELLING THE STORY.

ACCORDING TO THE LATE SAYCE RUST FROM TURNERS AND GROWERS, THE FIRST REAL INTRODUCTION OF THE CHINESE GOOSEBERRY TO THE UNITED STATES WAS BY THE EXOTIC RESTAURANT CHAIN Ė TRADER VICíS. . .AND SOME OF THEIR SITES ARE STILL IN EXISTENCE.

MY FIRST INTRODUCTION TO THE CHINESE GOOSEBERRY WAS THRU REUBEN HAAS, PRODUCE MERCHANDER AT FRED MEYERS. . .A MAJOR RETAILER IN PORTLAND, OREGON. IN THE EARLY 60íS I RECEIVED A CALL FROM REUBEN ASKING IF WE WOULD HELP BAIL HIM OUT OF A LARGE SHIPMENT OF THIS WEIRD NEW FRUIT HE HAD PURCHASED. HE HAD OVERESTIMATED HIS ABILITY TO MOVE THE FRUIT IN A TIMELY MANNER AND BEING ONE OF OUR SPECIALTY PRODUCE CUSTOMERS, ASKED FOR OUR HELP.

SKIPPING OVER THE DETAILS. . ., THIS FIRST LOAD OF CHINESE GOOSEBERRIES EVENTUALLY LED TO MY MEETING STAN CONWAY FROM NEW ZEALAND WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR MARKETING CHINESE GOOSEBERRIES INTERNATIONALLY AT THAT TIME. STANíS PROBLEM WAS THAT HE WAS PROMOTING THE ABBOT, BRUNO AND MONTGOMERY VARIETIES . . .NONE OF WHICH HAD THE KIND OF TASTE THAT WOULD ENCOURAGE U.S. SHOPPERS TO MAKE A SECOND PURCHASE.

ON APRIL FIRST OF 1962. . .AT THE AGE OF 39 (YES, I TURNED 82 IN AUGUST) I OPENED PRODUCE SPECIALTIES, INC. (NOW KNOWN AS FRIEDAíS, INC.) ON THE LOS ANGELES WHOLESALE PRODUCE MARKET. AND THATíS WHEN ALL THE EXACT DATES GET A BIT MIXED UP. SOMETIME DURING THAT YEAR OR THE NEXT. . .THE BUYER FOR SAFEWAY STORES CALLED LOOKING FOR THE CHINESE GOOSEBERRY. . .BECAUSE A SAFEWAY SHOPPER (A MORMON MISSIONARY WHO HAD JUST RETURNED FROM A VISIT TO NEW ZEALAND) WANTED MORE OF THIS SWEET-TASTING FRUIT SHE HAD HAD IN NEW ZEALAND. NO ONE ON THE MARKET HAD HEARD OF THIS FRUIT EXCEPT ME. AND MY PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE HAD BEEN DISASTROUS BECAUSE OF THE TART TASTE OF THE FRUIT WE HAD EARLIER.

AGAIN, SKIPPING OVER THE DETAILS. . .SHORTLY AFTER THIS REQUEST BY SAFEWAY, A NEW BROKER IN TOWN. . .BILL BENNETT OF C.H. ROBINSON COMPANY. . .OFFERED ME A TRIAL SHIPMENT OF THE HAYWARD VARIETY. . .240 Ė 10# FLATS. . .AND THATíS WHEN THE FUN AND THE STORIES AND THE MYTHS BEGAN.

WHEN THIS TRIAL SHIPMENT ARRIVED. . .AND IT TOOK US FOUR MONTHS TO SELL OUT, WE LEARNED ABOUT ITíS WONDERFUL SHELF LIFE AND BEING THE HAYWARD VARIETY. . .THE TASTE WAS EXCELLENT, ESPECIALLY AFTER THE FRUIT BEGAN TO RIPEN.

IN ORDER TO GET CHAIN STORE BUYERS TO EVEN TRY THE FRUIT, I WENT TO HARRY AND BARBARA VICKMAN WHO OPERATED THE "FEED BAGí". . .THE LOCAL RESTAURANT AND BAKERY WHICH LOS ANGELES PRODUCE PEOPLE PATRONIZED ON A DAILY BASIS. . .I MADE A DEAL WITH HARRY. . .IF HE WOULD MAKE SOME FRUIT TARTS WITH THESE CHINESE GOOSEBERRIES, I WOULD PROVIDE THE FRUIT AT NO CHARGE. AND THATíS HOW WE FINALLY GOT PRODUCE BUYERS INTERESTED. . . . WE FED THEM KIWIFRUIT TARTS.

AND HEREíS WHERE SOME OF THE MYTHS ABOUT MY ROLE IN NAMING "KIWIFRUIT" TOOK SHAPE. THE CUSTOM BROKER FOR THE FRUIT WAS NORMAN SONDAG OF N. ZIEL & COMPANY FROM SAN FRANCISCO. IN DISCUSSING HOW WE COULD BUILD MOVEMENT, NORM SAID "FRIEDA, YOU ARE NEVER GOING TO GET MARKETING RESPONSE BY TRYING TO SELL A FRUIT CALLED THE CHINESE GOOSEBERRY. SINCE THIS FRUIT

LOOKS SO MUCH LIKE THE KIWI Ė THE NATIVE BIRD OF NEW ZEALAND Ė WHY DONíT YOU SUGGEST TO THE GROWERS THERE THAT THEY CONSIDER RE-NAMING IT "KIWIFRUIT". . . THATíS EXACTLY WHAT I SUGGESTED. . .AND AS THE POPULAR SAYING GOES.. . THE REST IS MARKETING HISTORY.

ABOUT NINE-TEN YEARS AGO. . .MY MEMORY IS JUST A BIT FUZZY AS TO THE EXACT DATE, WE HAD A VISIT IN OUR OFFICES FROM GRAHAM KERR, KNOWN WORLDWIDE AS THE "GALLOPING GOURMET". HE WAS LAUNCHING A WORLD TOUR VIA THE QE II AND WHEN HIS SHIP LANDED IN THE LOS ANGELES HARBOR, HIS STAFF CALLED AND ASKED IF THEY COULD VISIT FRIEDAíS. SINCE WE HAD NEVER MET, WE WERE THRILLED AND FLATTERED. WHEN I WALKED INTO OUR LOBBY AND STUCK OUT MY HAND TO GREET HIM, GRAHAM LOOKED AT ME AND SAID. . .(WITHOUT STICKING OUT HIS HAND). . ."FRIEDA, IíVE HATED YOU FOR OVER 3O YEARS". I WAS STUNNED AS HE EXPLAINED THAT HE HAD REPRESENTED THE NEW ZEALAND GROWERS OF CHINESE GOOSEBERRIES IN THE EARLY 60S AND WHEN HE PROPOSED THEY RE-NAME IT THE "GOLDEN BERRY", THEY TURNED HIM DOWN AND CHOSE MY NAME INSTEAD. AND THATíS ONE OF THE WAYS THAT THE STORY GREW.

IN 1979, I WAS FORTUNATE TO BE SELECTED AS THE FIRST WOMAN RECIPIENT OF THE PACKERíS "PRODUCE MAN OF THE YEAR" AWARD. . AS THEY HANDED ME THE TRADITIONAL PLAQUE, I TURNED AROUND AND IMMEDIATELY HANDED IT BACK. THEY GOT THE MESSAGE AND THE AWARD WAS SOON RENAMED "THE PRODUCE MARKETEER OF THE YEAR" A FEW WEEKS LATER, THEY SENT ME A NEW PLAQUE. BUT THEREíS ANOTHER TWIST ON THAT EVENT. IN THE YEARS FOLLOWING. . .WHENEVER "THE PACKER" RAN STORIES HIGHLIGHTING PREVIOUS WINNERS OF THIS AWARD. . .THE ORIGINAL 240 Ė 10# FLATS. . SUDDENLY .BECAME 200,000 FLATS SOLD ON THAT FIRST TRIAL SHIPMENT, WHICH IíVE NEVER BEEN ABLE TO GET THEM TO CORRECT. . .SO MUCH FOR HOW MYTHS GROW.

THE FIRST INDUSTRY SPEECH I EVER GAVE WAS AT A MORNING BREAKFAST IN THE LATE 60S AT A UNITED FRESH FRUIT AND VEGETABLE CONVENTION. . .YOU MUST REMEMBER THAT SPECIALTY PRODUCE WAS STILL CONSIDERED ODD BALL IN THESE YEARS SO THERE WERE A LOT OF QUESTIONS FROM THE AUDIENCE. . .AND I WAS A RATHER INEXPERIENCED SPEAKER. . .AFTER I PRESENTED THE STORY OF OUR NEWEST ITEM Ė KIWIFRUIT. . .SOMEONE IN THE AUDIENCE ASKED TO ME DESCRIBE THE LOOK OF THE FRUIT (AS THEY HAD NEVER SEEN NOR HEARD OF IT). . .AND WITHOUT GIVING IT A SECOND THOUGHT. . .WITH A ROOMFUL OF PEOPLE STILL EATING BREAKFAST. . I REPLIED. . ."WELL, IT LOOKS LIKE A HORSE TERD". . .YES, I MADE A LASTING IMPRESSION ON THAT AUDIENCE.

A FEW OTHER TIDBITS YOU MIGHT FIND OF INTEREST. . .WHAT REALLY GAVE A BOOST TO KIWIFRUIT AND GENERATED A LOT OF LOCAL, NATIONAL AND INDUSTRY ATTENTION. . .WAS THE FACT THAT EARLY ON OUR LARGEST ACCOUNT Ė ALPHA BETA STORES (NOW OWNED BY ALBERTSONíS) AGREED TO FEATURE KIWIFRUIT AT 10 CENTS A PIECE ALL SUMMER. . .AND CONTINUED TO ADVERTISE EVERY WEEK AT THIS PRICE. WHILE THEY DIDNíT MAKE ANY MONEY ON THE KIWIFRUIT, ALPHA BETA FELT THAT IT BROUGHT A LOT CUSTOMERS TO THEIR STORES WHO BOUGHT OTHER ITEMS AND THEY CONSIDERED FEATURING KIWIFRUIT AN INVESTMENT. . AND THIS BECAME AN IMPORTANT TURNING POINT FOR THE KIWIFRUIT GROWERS..

JUST A BIT OF BACKGROUND INFORMATION. . .IN THE EARLY DAYS, THE KIWIFRUIT WAS SENT TO US ON CONSIGNMENT. RATHER THAN KEEP OUR EARNINGS, WE CHOSE TO SEND ALL THE MONIES BACK TO NEW ZEALAND THE FIRST COUPLE OF YEARS,, REQUESTING THAT

THEY COME UP WITH PROMOTIONAL MATERIALS TO HELP US SELL THE FRUIT. . IN THE EARLY SEVENTIES, WE SENT OUR DIRECTOR OF MARKETING TO NEW ZEALAND (FOR A SECOND TIME) THIS TIME WITH THE SPECIFIC TASK OF INTRODUCING NEW ZEALANDERS TO THE CONCEPT OF PALLETIZATION BECAUSE THE COST IN TIME AND MANPOWER IN LOADING AND UNLOADING SEA CONTAINERS MANUALLY HAD BECOME VERY EXPENSIVE. . .SO THIS SOLIDIFIED OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE WHOLE PRODUCE INDUSTRY IN NEW ZEALAND .

THE GROWTH OF THE CALIFORNIA CROP IN THE EARLY 70S BROUGHT THEIR SHARE OF INTERESTING STORIES AS WELL. I CAN CLEARLY REMEMBER RECEIVING THE FIRST "LOAD OF CALIFORNIA KIWIFRUIT" FROM GEORGE AND JIM TANIMOTO OF GRIDLEY, CALIFORNIA. WOULD YOU BELIEVE IT CAME IN A MASSIVE WOODEN COFFIN!. . .ALL LOOSE AND ALL DIFFERENT SHAPES AND SIZES. BECAUSE OF THE INTEREST DEVELOPED IN KIWIFRUIT BY THAT TIME, WE WERE ABLE TO RETURN TO THE TANIMOTO'S, A DOLLAR A POUND.

JOHN AND A FEW OTHER OLD TIMERS WHO MAY BE HERE MAY REMEMBER THE FIRST MEETING OF CALIFORNIA GROWERS IN SOMEONEíS LIVING ROOM SOMEWHERE UP NORTH WHERE I LITERALLY BEGGED THE ASSEMBLED GROWERS NOT TALK ABOUT THE KINDS OF RETURN WE WERE GIVING THEM. . .BUT, THEY DIDNíT LISTEN AND NEWS STORIES STARTED TO ABOUND ABOUT THE KINDS OF RETURNS THEY WERE GETTING FOR THIS AMAZING NEW FRUIT. WELL, SOME OF YOU HERE KNOW OF THE DISASTER THAT FOLLOWED A FEW YEARS LATER. "IF SOME IS GOOD, MORE IS NOT ALWAYS BETTER. . .ITíS JUST MORE."

ABOUT SIX YEARS AGO, ORANGE COAST MAGAZINE Ė A LIFE-STYLE PUBLICATION IN ORANGE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA, DID A FEATURE ON ME WHICH THEY CLEVERLY ENTITLED "MOTHER GOOSEBERRY" WHICH PUBLICIZED WHAT MOST OF MY INDUSTRY FRIENDS NOW KNOW. . .THAT IíM ALLERGIC TO KIWIFRUIT AND THAT, TOGETHER WITH THE FACT THAT I CANíT COOK, OFTEN IS THE LAST LINE OF ANY STORY ABOUT FRIEDAíS AND KIWIFRUIT.

SO THIS IS A FITTING END TO MY BRIEF REVIEW OF SOME OF THE MYTHS SURROUNDING OUR ROLE IN HELPING DEVELOP THE KIWIFRUIT INDUSTRY. . .YOU MAY HAVE CORRECTIONS AND ADDITIONS TO MY COMMENTS, WHICH I WOULD CERTAINLY WELCOME.

AND THANKS AGAIN TO JOHN FAGUNDES FOR REACHING OUT TO INCLUDE ME IN TODAYíS FESTIVITIES. . .AND A VERY SPECIAL THANKS TO LINDY FOR ARRANGING TO HAVE PETER ALBIEZ PICK ME UP IN LOS ALAMITOS AT 4:30 THIS MORNING. HE EVEN ARRANGED FOR A SPECIAL BREAKFAST IN A FAVORITE RESTAURANT.

KIWIFRUIT AND KIWI GROWERS WILL ALWAYS HAVE A SPECIAL PLACE IN MY HEART. . .BUT NOW, AS YOU KNOW. . .NOT IN MY STOMACH.

FRIEDA CAPLAN 

 

Frieda Caplan founded her company "Frieda's" in 1962. "Frieda's" is the first wholesale produce company in the U.S. to be founded, owned, and operated by a woman -- and remains a family-owned and operated business today. Frieda Caplan is founder and Chairman of the Board, while her daughters Karen and Jackie serve as President/CEO and Vice President, respectively.

Frieda's has introduced such table-staples as Kiwifruit, Brown Mushrooms, Alfalfa Sprouts, Spaghetti Squash, Jicama, Shallots, Mangos, Donutģ Peaches and a wide variety of Latin and Asian specialties.   Visit her website at:   www.friedas.com

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