Produce pioneer Frieda Caplan passes away

Caplan is credited with introducing a myriad of exotic fruits and vegetables to the U.S.

Frieda Caplan, the woman credited with introducing kiwifruit and other specialty produce to North America, died Saturday at age 96.

Caplan first became acquainted with the produce industry in the 1950s when she started working as a bookkeeper at a produce house managed by her husband's uncle and aunt. Caplan was asked to fill in as a cashier at the produce house, while her bosses were away on vacation, and she quickly became hooked on the produce industry.

She went on to start her own company--Frieda’s Specialty Produce--in 1962, becoming the first woman in the U.S. to own and run a wholesale produce company on the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market. It was that same year Caplan started marketing the Chinese gooseberry as the kiwifruit-- named after the flightless, fuzzy kiwi bird, which like the fruit, is native to New Zealand.

Caplan focused her career on specialty produce and was successful in persuading supermarkets to carry more exotic fare such as shiitake mushrooms, passion fruit, bean and alfalfa sprouts, starfruit and much more. Caplan's life and career are chronicled in a 2015 documentary titled Fear No Fruit.

Caplan received many accolades during her storied career. She was the first woman, for instance, to receive The Packer newspaper’s “Produce Man of the Year.” According to her obituary in the Los Angeles Times, Caplan rejected the honour until it was renamed “The Produce Marketer of the Year.”

Today, Frieda's Inc. remains a family-owned and operated business with Caplan's two daughters and one of her granddaughters overseeing operations. From a warehouse in Los Angeles, the company delivers specialty produce to customers across the United States and Canada.


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