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Frieda's Inc.

Gold Stevie Award Winner 2013, Click to Enter The 2014 Steve Awards for Women in Business

Company: Frieda's Inc., Los Alamitos, CA USA
Company Description: Frieda's Inc. is a leading wholesale distributor of specialty fruits and vegetables to supermarkets and foodservice distributors across North America. Founded in 1962 by Frieda Rapoport Caplan, the company is still a women-owned and family-run business today.
Nomination Category: Individual Awards Categories
Nomination Sub Category: Lifetime Achievement – Business

Nomination Title: Frieda Caplan, Founder

Describe for the judges the nominated individual's lifetime of accomplishments (up to 525 words):

Many of the produce items at supermarkets today, such as kiwifruit, “champagne grapes,” and sugar snap peas, would have been utterly unfamiliar to shoppers half a century ago. Back then, most of the fruit and vegetables passed through wholesale terminal markets, which were completely dominated by men. Frieda Rapoport Caplan, who revolutionized both of these fields in a long, legendary career as a specialty produce wholesaler, celebrated her 90th birthday in August 2013. Frieda founded Frieda’s Inc. on the Los Angeles Wholesale Market in 1962. Today, the business, now owned and operated by her daughters, still thrives.

Frieda has always been a trailblazer. Frieda was the first woman to run a business on the LA Market, and in fact, was the first woman to run a produce business in the United States. At a time when it was more common for women to be housewives and stay home, she never gave it a second thought.

Frieda’s greatest fame came from her role in the commercialization of kiwifruit, which was native to China, grown on a small scale in New Zealand, and hardly known in the United States at the time. The way she tells it, in 1962 a customer of a Salt Lake City market who had recently visited New Zealand raved about “Chinese gooseberries,” as they were then called, to the produce manager. He contacted the Los Angeles wholesale market to see if such a fruit were available, but it wasn’t.

Frieda heard of this interest, and when an importer happened to offer the fuzzy fruit, she bought some, since she knew she had a customer. A friend told her that she would never succeed in selling something called Chinese gooseberries, so she promoted an alternative name suggested by a broker, kiwifruit, and the name stuck. Even so, it took 18 years, she recalls, for the fruit to become truly popular here.

Over time her company introduced many items that were previously unknown, or available only at small ethnic markets, to mainstream supermarkets, such as sugar snap peas, seedless watermelons, spaghetti squash, and habanero chiles.

Sometimes she was way ahead of her time: in 1970 she brought in mangosteen, a delicious but perishable tropical fruit, that only became a viable commodity in the past decade. She’s always had a special fondness for purple produce, and recently was tickled to introduce California-grown sweet potatoes with deep purple flesh.

Her company is now located in Los Alamitos, California. Female executives now are common in the produce industry, so it’s no surprise that her elder daughter, Karen Caplan, is president, and a younger daughter, Jackie Caplan Wiggins, is vice president. Frieda, who is founder and chairman of the board, still comes to the office each day, and signs all the checks to produce suppliers.

Her gait has slowed, but her mind, her wit, and her enthusiasm for family, business and political affairs are as effervescent as ever.

In 2013, Frieda received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the United Fresh Produce Association, and in 2012, she received a Legacy Award from the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) – Los Angeles.

Provide a brief biography of the nominated individual (up to 125 words):

In 1962, Frieda Caplan established Frieda’s Finest/Produce Specialties, Inc. on the male-dominated Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market. At that time, Frieda was one of very few women in the produce industry, and was the first to own and operate a U.S. produce business. She debuted with a purple sign, which later became the company’s signature color, and se quickly developed a reputation for buying and selling new and unusual produce specialties.

Caplan’s marketing abilities were recognized worldwide after her success in introducing and promoting the Kiwifruit, earning her the title, “Queen of Kiwi.” Her ability to create consumer demand for unusual foods has helped Caplan and her daughters make success stories out of many more items, including Sugar Snap Peas™, Habanero Chiles and Kiwano® Melons.