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Small Business, Social Responsibility, Job Creation and Pride

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Posted March 28th, 2012 in News, Posts

 

Wow the Queen of Tarts is getting deep this week!

Oregon Fruit Products has been recognized for a couple of important awards in the last couple of months.  As a company we have a culture of not “tooting our own horn” so much so that I was personally unaware of something incredible that we have done and I feel compelled to share it with my readers.

Recently we received an award from the West Salem Rotary for our efforts to assist them in raising money over the years for their charitable efforts.  As some of you know, I have been involved as a founder in non-profit work for the last several years and I know first hand how difficult but necessary it is to raise money.  Oregon Fruit has teamed up with 9 local Rotary clubs over the last 18 years to sell tubs of berries to the community.  Oregon Fruit sources the fruit, cleans it and packs it for the sale. The Rotary clubs sell it to community members, pick it up and deliver it.  This partnership has raised more than

ONE  MILLION DOLLARS !

since inception. The money is used to provide scholarships to local kids heading off to college as well as support the local food banks and other worthy efforts in the community.  That is A LOT of money and also a win-win-win for all involved. Local growers sell their fruit, the Rotary Clubs have a turn key project that they can count on year in and year out with a predictable return and the people that buy the fruit get to enjoy delicious local berries all ready to eat at a great price.  The Oregon Fruit employees that work on this project fit it in while we are in the busiest time of our year.  I was extremely proud of our company when I learned about this and we were extremely grateful to receive the Community Service Award from the West Salem Rotary this year!

A second, equally important recognition came our way this year as well.  The gloom and doom recession news has hit our nation hard. Unemployment has affected families and communities in profound ways. The small business owners are carrying a greater load than ever and many have found it impossible to carry on. In light of all that the Gehlar family made it a priority to sell their company to someone who would keep the business open in Salem and keep the employees employed. Not only have we stayed open we have grown and added jobs.  The Maletis family, another third generation family business from Columbia Distributing fame in Portland, Oregon has purchased the business and are continuing the tradition of local production of local products.  Recently Oregon Fruit Products was honored by the Oregon Department of Agriculture for our efforts to produce “High Value Products” and successfully exporting them.  Our new owner, Ed Maletis and our President, Joe Peterson accepted the award on behalf of all of us.

I am personally proud to work for a company that has integrity and values and is part of the economic engine that will help fuel a recovery. This company also understands the importance of giving back.

Lots of food companies do good works and from time to time I will be sharing examples of these acts of good citizenship on the part of our customers, the retailers that stock our products.  Big or small, quiet or public, acts of kindness add to our humanity.

 

A Healthier Nation Starts with Kids!

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Posted March 8th, 2012 in News, Posts

The USDA has issued new regulations regarding the food our kids will get at school. The new rules take effect in July and school meals will have to offer fruits and vegetables to students every day. The meal programs, which feed about 32 million students in public and private schools, will have to reduce sodium, saturated fat and trans fats. Schools must also offer more whole grains as well as fat-free or low-fat milk varieties.

The new nutrition standards are largely based on recommendations by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, as part of efforts to curb childhood obesity. Recent numbers show that about 17% of children in the United States are obese. Michele Obama has been at the forefront of this issue. Her “Let’s Move” campaign has focused on getting kids off the couch and playing again.  Now she speaks out on these new regulations:

“When we send our kids to school, we expect that they won’t be eating the kind of fatty, salty, sugary foods that we try to keep them from eating at home,” Obama said in a news release. “We want the food they get at school to be the same kind of food we would serve at our own kitchen tables.”

However, a serious problem is getting kids to eat the new healthier menu.

“If it’s not delicious, kids aren’t going to eat it,” said Sam Kass, assistant White House chef. “I have lots of confidence in school chefs across the country who are working very hard to try to put delicious foods on the plates of kids.”

My daughter, Kaitlin, is an elementary school music teacher in the central valley of California. One of her schools is testing a plan to get kids to eat fresh vegetables by giving them portion controlled packages of raw broccoli and cauliflower. Sadly a lot of it ends up in the trash. Kids that are not exposed to these items at home are not necessarily open to even trying them.

Jamie Oliver has been leading this charge for over a year. His position is that we all have to change our approach both at home and at school.

We’re losing the war against obesity in the US. It’s sad, but true. Our kids are growing up overweight and malnourished from a diet of processed foods, and today’s children will be the first generation ever to live shorter lives than their parents. It’s time for change. It’s time for a Food Revolution. The problem stems from the loss of cooking skills at home and the availability of processed foods at every turn, from the school cafeteria to church function halls, factories and offices. This Food Revolution is about saving lives by inspiring everyone: moms, dads, kids, teens and cafeteria workers to get back to basics and start cooking good food from scratch.” Jamie Oliver

This weekend I will be attending the Farm to School Showcase at the Oregon School Nutrition Association Conference. The mission is to increase the variety and availability of healthy, regionally sourced foods served at school, helps to stabilize markets for regional food producers and helps give children a sense of where their food comes from.

Schools have a hard time offering fresh fruit at all times due to the extreme perishability so canned fruit can be a good alternative. Particularly Oregon Canned Fruit with minimal processing and just three ingredients: fruit, water and cane sugar.  I came across a recipe from the US High bush Blueberry Council that I thought exemplified what they want to accomplish. It is low fat and high fiber owing to the use of mashed sweet potatoes, contains whole grains and fruit and is DELICIOUS!  I don’t think kids will be throwing this breakfast treat in the trash.  This recipe is nutritionally dense and a far cry from the enormous hunks of greasy, sugary coffee cake they served in my junior high for the morning break referred to as “NUTRITION”!  Go figure.

 

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber Enjoys Our Own Berry UP! – In Korea

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Posted October 7th, 2011 in News, Posts

 

Oregon Governor and First Lady Enjoy BerryUP! in Korea

 

There is so much economic bad news these days that many psychologists are talking about a collective “depression” not economic but emotional amongst Americans.  In light of the fact that the news is full of the exporting of jobs to foreign countries, Oregon Fruit is successfully exporting our delicious Berry UP! beverage base to Korea made by Oregonians from fruit grown in Oregon.  Even the Governor’s office is taking notice.  Asian consumers love the fantastic fruit we grow in the Pacific Northwest. They are drawn to the health benefits as well as the quality. On a recent trade mission to Asia, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, the first lady and Oregon Director of Agriculture, Katy Coba enjoyed their BerryUp! smoothies with the Managing Director of Café Bene, Mr. Hwang and our agent Claire Kim from G&L Food Co. Look at Ms. Kim sporting her Oregon Fruit shirt!

The Governor’s office reports that Oregon Exports are one of the bright spots in the state’s economy with international trade growing by 19%.  Oregon Fruit Export Sales Manager, Bryan Brown, would like to think we had a hand in this growth. Bryan has been selling Oregon Fruit in many forms internationally for years. He has A LOT of frequent flyer miles. Our canned fruit is found on the shelf all over Asia, the United Arab Emirates,  in South Africa,  India and Indonesia, we pack a private label for canned customers in Australia and New Zealand and now we are selling BerryUP! in Korea and China!  Berry UP! is delicious fresh tasting fruit you can pour for creating cocktails, mocktails, smoothies, shakes dessert toppings and more. In the US it is the foundation for the signature drink menu at Ruby Tuesday restaurants all over the country and soon to be found in more and more restaurants and college campuses.

 

A Grocery Store in Abu Dhabi

 

The international markets are an interesting and challenging opportunity for us as we are still a very small business by American standards and represent something of the American dream-a family owned and operated business.  Bryan partnered with another small business in Korea- G&L Food Co., Ltd established in November 2004 with a company mission to create the best value for customers, and employees developing, marketing and selling high-valued foods and food ingredients all over the world. It’s a small company comprised of just 15 employees. They import and distribute our products in Korea and one of their major customers is Caffe Bene. Caffe opened their first store in 2008 and are up to 600 stores throughout the country now! Caffe Bene built their success by differentiating themselves from western café chain brands such as Starbucks using marketing tools like promoting through celebrities and product placement in soap operas or movies to appeal to the younger generation.

The Oregon Fruit Chinese business was developed by our own Dey Tu, IT Manager turned salesman.  Dey is a naturalized American citizen who started his career handling our IT department at Oregon Fruit about 11 years ago.  When our President, Joe Peterson decided to try to export BerryUP! to China he looked around the table and found a native Chinese speaker and said “your it” and Dey responded to the challenge. Today you can find BerryUP! in a 200 restaurant chain in China called “Houcaller”.      

That’s the way things happen at Oregon Fruit, a little like the way I became the Queen of Tarts- Joe looked around the table and said “your it”.   Working for a small company is a fun experience. We get to try new things, step out of our comfort zone on a regular basis and explore new territory. Sometimes that territory is THE WORLD!  If Joe wants to take our products to the Moon I am going to duck. 

 

Sushi Smackdown Blueberry Style

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Posted September 23rd, 2011 in News, Posts

I am a huge fan of the Food Network competition shows and recently, to my delight, I found out about a pilot being filmed in Sacramento called Sushi Smackdown. Four local restaurants are competing for bragging rights to the best sushi in town.  There were four rounds on four consecutive nights. They serve 18 sushi items over a three hour period served family style. You sit at tables with strangers, share sushi, sake and laughs while voting on your favorite items. IT WAS CRAZY- loud, raucous, delicious and way over the top.  One restaurant pulled out after week 3 citing “management meltdown”. This is not for the rookie restaurateur.

The second time we went we actually employed strategy so as not to eat ourselves sick.  The second restaurant was A LOT better than the first and we were excited to be on hand when my local sushi place, Miso, located walking distance from my house, won first place! 

My dining companions Kelly and Kitty and I had a blast.  Our table mates were delightful-two young Asian men one a student and the other a former sushi chef turned HR manager and a really nice couple I would enjoy getting together with again.  I would be sharing a photo but I look really bad in it and I am way too vain to share such an ugly picture.

During a brief food interlude I lamented to my tablemates that I really wanted to write about this experience and I was having a hard time working Oregon Fruit into Sushi and then it hit me-Dessert Sushi!!!  I shared my idea and we brainstormed.  I met my friend Kitty at a cooking class so she is a creative cook and has already shared some good new Oregon Fruit ideas.  So for today I give you: BLUEBERRY SUSHI!!!  I have to say, it rocks!  I think I will run it by Miso to see if they want to use it at their next Sushi Smackdown. 

Customer Service Still Alive at Oregon Fruit

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Posted September 16th, 2011 in News, Posts

I just got off the phone with a company that exemplifies the downside of technology.  If you want to cancel one of those online subscription services it appears to be impossible. The goal is to frustrate the customer into giving up and just leaving the subscription active. After all….its only X$ per year.  The cancellation instructions are 10 pages long!!!! 

Oregon Fruit is an old fashioned company-in a good way.  We have a live person “Anna” who answers our consumer line. She is actually nice and her goal is to actually solve the customer’s issue. Our corporate culture still supports old fashioned values: integrity, responsibility, producing the best possible product and satisfying the customer.

Some people call or write to find out where they can buy our products, some have trouble with one of our recipes (hard to believe, but the Queen makes mistakes on occasion), sometimes people even have complaints about our products or questions about the expiration dates.  Anna patiently tries to find a solution and for the most part folks leave their conversation with her very happy. Sometimes they even call her back just to chat.  We are still making friends at Oregon Fruit and that is refreshing.

The retailers that sell our products know that we are going to take care of the customer whatever it takes and in the end it makes both of us look good. Not sure why more companies don’t get that but I just wanted to share a couple of letters that we have received just in the last month that highlight how seriously we take this and what a great job Anna does.

 Dear Oregon Fruit Products Co,

Earlier this month I sent you a cherry pit I found in a pie I made using your product.  On the label of that can there was an “Outlaw Pit” program.  Last week I received a replacement can of cherries in the mail with an enclosed letter informing me that the “Outlaw Pit” program ended four years ago.  Imagine my surprise that I had that can of cherries in the pantry for that long.  It sure didn’t diminish the high quality of the fruit.  As impressed as I was with that bit of information I must say I was blown away with the integrity of your company to replace my can of fruit after such a lengthy period of the program being discontinued.  Many thanks to you for the wonderful products you produce and for standing behind them which unfortunately is becoming a thing of the past in America today.  My hat’s off to you and a resounding round of applause.  Kit, Portland

 And Peggy in Indianapolis had been disappointed to get several cherry pits in a can of cherries she bought at Wal-Mart.                               

This is Anna’s response:

Dear Peggy,

It is rare to have a can of pitted cherries with lots of pits.  They are machine pitted, and if you have the can code on the bottom of the can that would be helpful, our quality control will be able to go back to the production records to access any issues for processing that day.  I know that this was a huge inconvenience for you, I will send you free product to replace the cherries if you could send me your address I will replace the fruit. Thank you for bringing this incident to our attention.  Again, I apologize for the inconvenience this caused; I would be equally disappointed too.  Anna, Consumer Division

 And Peggy’s response:

Thank you so much for the cans of cherries.  I wanted to let you know I sent Wal-Mart a message.  It went something like this: I just wanted to send you an update on a complaint I had earlier.  I bought a can of cherries and they had 5 pits in it.  I had company and was very upset.  I just wanted you to know the company has taken care of it. They said it was unusual and they sent me several cans to make up for the bad one.  I waited till I used most of them to send you this message.  The cans I opened were just fine and I wanted to let you know that.  I thought they took the matter to heart and I was very impressed with their follow up. I will be buying this product in the future.  Thank you for your time. Peggy, Indianopolis

From Melinda in Portland: I can’t tell you how much I love your canned fruit! In these tough times … what a comfort and a joy to find something that is as good/or better, as what I remember as a kid!  Case in point, your canned Bing cherries are like I am 7 swinging from my uncles 70 year old cherry tree … Your canned fruit is now a regular stable in my pantry … IT CAN’T GET MUCH BETTER – AWESOME PRODUCTS … Keep it up – Blessings and Good Profits to you and your growers … Thank You! And I don’t have to can it!  Yours are just the best!

The expiration codes are obvious on the top of our cans. They say “Best Used By October ___”.  We started doing this about 20 years ago. No one made us. It was just our way of ensuring the highest quality product for your recipes. If you have product in the cupboard past the date it is not dangerous it just might not look its best.

If you have questions, just call Anna at (800)394-9333

 

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