The president and CEO of an Orange County specialty produce firm is the College of Agriculture’s recipient for the 2016 Jim Hicks Agricultural Achievement Award.
Karen Caplan heads Frieda’s Inc., a wholesale company in Los Alamitos that was founded by her mother, Frieda Rapoport Caplan. Frieda Caplan is a pioneer who blazed the trail for women in the produce business and introduced the kiwifruit, along with many other lesser known fruits and vegetables, to the United States.
But Karen Caplan has made her own mark in the business: she was the first woman to serve as chair of the United Fresh Produce Association board of directors, a national trade organization, and as president of the Los Angeles-based Fresh Produce and Floral Council. She also has served as a director on the Federal Reserve Bank Board of San Francisco, Los Angeles branch.
“Karen has spent her career working in the produce industry, marketing new and different types of fruits and vegetables,” says Mary Holz-Clause, dean of the College of Agriculture. “She also is an outstanding example for other women who want to become entrepreneurs or own their own businesses.”
The College of Agriculture will present Caplan with the Jim Hicks Agricultural Achievement Award at its 2nd Annual Spring Harvest Farm 2 Table Dinner on Saturday, April 9.
Although Karen Caplan grew up around the family business, a career in produce was not pre-destined.
“From the time I was 14 years old, vacations and weekend were spent working at my mother’s side at her stand in the Los Angeles Produce Market,” Karen Caplan recalled. “She never encouraged or discouraged me to join the business, but when I suddenly announced as a sophomore in college that I wanted to make the produce industry my career, my mother was thrilled.”
Karen Caplan joined her mother’s company after graduating from UC Davis in 1978 with a degree in agricultural economics and business management. She has worked in nearly every department at the company, from packing boxes to sales and marketing.
She was promoted to president and CEO of the company in 1986. Four years later, Karen Caplan and her sister, Jackie Caplan Wiggins, now the company’s COO, bought the company from their mother. Since then, Frieda’s Inc. has become the nation’s leading marketer and distributor of specialty produce, introducing more than 200 types to U.S. supermarkets, ranging from Stokes Purple® Sweet Potatoes to Sunchokes®.
For her efforts, Karen Caplan was named 2004 Produce Person of the Year by The Packer and was the 2015 Women in Produce honoree.
Caplan’s family business story is highlighted in the 2015 documentary film, “Fear No Fruit,” which was an official selection of the 2015 Newport Beach Film Festival, San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, Carmel International Film Festival and the 2016 Sedona International Film Festival. The film can be found via various online streaming platforms (iTunes, Amazon, etc.) as well as on DVD. It is also available for educational and community screenings via Kino Lorber EDU.
Caplan also shares her passion for produce and her thoughts and stories about the food industry on her blog, “What’s on Karen’s Plate?”, and her Twitter account. She is also a regular columnist for Fresh Fruit Portal, the Orange County Breeze, and The Shelby Report, where she writes about business, the produce industry, food and more.
The Jim Hicks Agricultural Achievement Award honors an individual for his or her accomplishments in the agricultural industry. It is named after Jim Hicks, the president and CEO of Jim Hicks and Co. in Brea, and a longtime supporter of agricultural education. Hicks was the first recipient of the Agricultural Achievement Award.
The Spring Harvest dinner is a celebration of agriculture, featuring local chefs cooking foods grown locally, including some raised by Cal Poly Pomona students using sustainable practices. For more information on the event, please visit http://www.springharvest.cpp.edu.