OC-based Specialty Produce Co. Fights Food Waste, Helps Community

Students and officials from Oak Middle School in Los Alamitos, California enjoy a new salad bar, thanks in part to Frieda’s Specialty Produce. (photo courtesy of Oakley Boren/Frieda’s Specialty Produce)

Students and officials from Oak Middle School in Los Alamitos, California enjoy a new salad bar, thanks in part to Frieda’s Specialty Produce. (photo courtesy of Oakley Boren/Frieda’s Specialty Produce)

Though involved to a greater extent in the sourcing and national distribution of exotic produce, Los Alamitos-based Frieda’s Specialty Produce has deep roots in Orange County and a commitment to helping the local community eat healthy, fresh food.

Founded in downtown Los Angeles in 1962 by Frieda Caplan, the company moved to its present location in Los Alamitos in 1994 and has been operating from there ever since.

Frieda’s deals with exotic specialty fruits grown around the world. The trend toward exotic fruits and vegetables began when Frieda imported the first kiwifruit to the United States in 1962.

“We imported the first spaghetti squash, shallots, pine nuts, and purple potatoes,” says Karen Caplan, Frieda’s daughter and CEO of the company. “This changed the landscape of American diets.”

While the company procures much of what it sells from around the world, 50 percent of the produce that it sources is grown in California.

“We view local as within a 200-mile radius,” says Karen, noting that Frieda’s obtains some of its produce from farmers in San Diego, Riverside and Ventura counties.

Frieda’s sells between 400 to 500 different products that come from around 1,000 different suppliers.

The vast majority of that produce ends up being distributed across the country, but as is expected when dealing with so many suppliers and products some it is flawed, or ugly. “There’s a movement toward ‘ugly’ produce,” Karen says. “There’s quite a bit of opportunity for farmers to do better in terms of food waste.”

So rather than allowing this flawed, but edible and fresh fruit to go to waste, Frieda’s developed a relationship with Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County to make sure it reached community members in need.

“We have been donating edible but not saleable produce to Second Harvest since the company moved to Orange County more than 20 years ago,” said Karen in a company press release.

According to Second Harvest Food Bank sourcing manager Jason Hatcher, last year Frieda’s donated 272,400 pounds of produce.

Frieda’s involvement with the community also extends to local schools.

In April, as part of the Let’s Move Salad Bars to School initiative, Frieda’s donated new salad bars to three Los Alamitos public schools through the United Fresh Start Foundation.

The salad bar donations were prompted by a community showing of “Fear No Fruit,” a 2015 documentary film showcasing company founder Frieda Caplan’s life as an entrepreneur. According to Karen, the mayor of Los Alamitos attended the screening and approached her about the possibility of donating salad bars to Los Alamitos schools. Karen readily obliged.

“We’re so pleased to be able to support salad bars for schools in our local community, encouraging healthy choices for children in our hometown,” said Karen Caplan, president and CEO of Frieda’s in a company press release. “These donations are especially meaningful as my sister Jackie [Caplan Wiggins, vice president and COO] and I both attended Los Alamitos schools.”

The Schools in Los Alamitos that received new salad bars were Oak Middle School, McAuliffe Middle School and Los Alamitos High School. The donations will impact 5,500 students.

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