Sustainability Series: Frieda’s Specialty Produce

December 04, 2009

Frieda’s Specialty Produce

Based in Los Alamitos, California, Frieda’s, Inc. is the nation’s leading marketer and distributor of specialty produce. Supplying grocery retailers and foodservice distributors with more than 600 varieties of unique fruits, vegetables and gourmet items, Frieda’s, Inc. is also the first wholesale produce company in the United States to be founded, owned, and operated by a woman. Frieda’s, Inc. is credited with introducing such table-staples as Kiwifruit, Brown Mushrooms, Alfalfa Sprouts, Spaghetti Squash, Jicama, Shallots, Mangos, Donut Peaches and a wide variety of Latin and Asian specialties. We talked to Karen Caplan, President and CEO of Frieda's Specialty Produce, about how the demand for specialty and exotic produce is helping both small, community and large-scale farmers to produce in a more sustainable manner.

How does your business define sustainability?

At Frieda's, we have a passion for produce. Back in 1962, my mother, Frieda Caplan, began the company with a small stand at the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market. She developed relationships with small family farms around the globe to introduce many produce specialties to supermarkets across the U.S. (Frieda is credited with introducing the Kiwifruit to the United States). Efficient business practices and resource conservation has always been cornerstone to the success of Frieda’s operations. Today, we’re making even greater efforts on our sustainability practices. 

We have learned that diversity is nature’s way of ensuring a healthy planet. Similarly, diversity in natural fruits and vegetables ensures that we get all of the necessary nutrients for a healthy body and experience a wide variety of tastes to nourish our soul. Frieda’s continually strives to make a wide variety of fresh produce available to consumers.

Frieda’s describes sustainability as delivering the highest quality specialty produce while minimizing our impact on the environment. 

How are you incorporating sustainable practices into your business?

Efficiency is key at Frieda’s – whether it’s reducing our energy usage in the warehouse, operating on an earlier schedule to avoid rush hour traffic, using less packaging and more sustainable options, or reducing waste with recycling programs and food bank donations. Efficient business practices translate into sustainable practices. In addition, Frieda’s sustainable business practices include:

  • Working with many small-scale specialty farmers and suppliers based within our own geographical region
  • Developing relationships with food producers who practice organic and sustainable growing practices
  • Utilizing reusable plastic pallets, RPCs and other sustainable storage products
  • Continuously evaluating our packaging and procedures for greener opportunities
  • Transitioning to a paperless invoicing system
  • Using energy-efficient lighting and office equipment throughout our facilities
  • Encouraging employees to shut down computers, turn off lights and carpool
  • Recycling all paper products in our facilities with an in-house bailing system
  • Educating our employees on ways to be more sustainable and environmentally responsible at home and at work

What are your short term and long term goals?

Short term: 

While many of the products we distribute are bulk produce, which already come in nature’s perfect package, we would like to develop additional eco-friendly options for our packaged consumer products. We also have an ongoing goal of educating employees on our facility’s green practices and emphasizing the importance of small steps toward sustainability each day.

Long term: 

We at Frieda’s are on a mission to change the way America eats by bringing to market a diversity of fruits and vegetables and making them available in every community. We do this by partnering with enlightened retailers and chefs and the finest growers and food producers around the world. In addition, it is our goal to continue to inform, educate and inspire consumers about the abundance of fresh produce available.

The food we eat is our fundamental source of health and joy. A key contributor to declining health in American is poor food choices. America’s food choices greatly influence and impact others around the world. If we want to create a healthy and joyful world, we must first change the way America eats!

In order to succeed with our long-term goals, sustainable practices must factor into the equation – whether it’s efficiently transporting pallets to warehouse docks, educating produce retailers about product handling to reduce waste, or inspiring consumers to cook at home, rather than hit fast-food drive-throughs.

Where do you think you’ll have the biggest impact?

As we succeed in changing the way America eats, our greatest impact will be on future generations. We are already seeing young people who are more interested in lesser-known produce varieties, and we believe that the American taste palate is continuing to expand. 

How do you measure your progress?

Over the past few years, our employees, practices and facility have become even more efficient, resulting in significant cost savings. This is one way we measure our progress. Another indicator of progress is when we receive community recognition for our efforts, such as our recent Community Partner Award form the Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County. Thirdly, when our employees, customers and partners share the same vision, mission and values as us, we are making progress.

How do retailers factor into your efforts?

We are already aligned with many of our retailers’ sustainability initiatives. Together, we are working  to streamline every facet of the supply chain in a manner that reflects our commitment to sustainable food sources, from the field to our warehouse to the supermarket shelf.

Why are sustainable business practices important to the consumer?

In addition to organically-grown foods, consumers are looking for manufacturers and sources they can trust. Based on the letters and emails we get from our consumers every day, we believe we are a trusted source for the highest quality, best-tasting and sustainable produce, as well as a valuable source of information (storage, cooking, selection) that a consumer needs. Consumers are more interested than ever about where their food comes from, and if that source is based on sustainable agriculture practices.

Why are sustainable business practices important to the food industry?

In the produce industry, we rely on the earth for our products, so it only makes good sense to act as good stewards. Part of what makes Frieda’s special is our amazing selection of unique and exotic fruits and vegetables from all over the world. The nature of our business makes it imperative that we maintain a global awareness about protecting our planet. So, if it’s good for the earth, it’s good for Frieda’s.

For more information, visit or click here for Frieda's Facebook page. Or Follow Frieda's on Twitter: @FriedasProduce 

In upcoming issues, we will feature interviews with food companies that are making strides in their sustainability efforts. If you are interested in telling us more about what your company is doing to get involved please contact Allison Bloom