FEAR NO FRUIT chronicles the colorful and layered history of Frieda Caplan, a.k.a. “The Queen of Kiwi.” The first woman to start her own company in a man’s world on the L.A. Wholesale Produce Market in the early 1960s, Frieda defied the odds during the “Mad Men” era and saw no obstacles. With her daughters Karen and Jackie now at the helm as President/CEO and Vice President/COO, Frieda’s business is responsible for helping introduce over 200 exotic fruits and vegetables to the U.S. marketplace from every corner of the world. Tireless at 91 years old and still in the office five days a week, Frieda is an inspiration.
Born in the 1920s and living in Southern California her entire lifetime, Frieda attended UCLA for the duration of World War II before becoming a working mother. Her desire to breastfeed her first daughter, Karen, lead her to look for part-time work on the downtown L.A. market. Through her sheer tenacity and bold risk taking, she transitioned from bookkeeping to selling fresh mushrooms, a specialty at that time, often making deliveries with her own station wagon. After the Los Angeles Times published an article about her as a woman selling on the market, she soon became the “go to” person for anything out of the ordinary and hard to find, embracing that challenge by opening her own doors on the market and beginning her own business – and the rest is history.
After the groundbreaking introduction of the New Zealand Kiwifruit in 1962, the first new commercial fruit in the U.S. since the banana in the late 1800s, Frieda and her daughters transformed American cuisine and the supermarket produce department as we know it today. When Frieda’s oldest daughter Karen became president in 1986, the company’s sales volume more than doubled in less than 5 years, taking the Frieda’s brand to an entirely new level. Often compared to renowned celebrity chef and former friend Julia Child, Frieda revolutionized the produce industry, changing the landscape and perception the way Julia did for French cooking in America. Both Julia and Frieda had a hand in the birth of the California Cuisine movement in the early 1980s, which quickly spread throughout the country.
In the mid-1970s Frieda became a local celebrity as “The Green Grocer” on KABC TV, reporting live from the downtown L.A. market. Frieda was named Entrepreneur of the Year by Working Women Magazine, was highlighted in People & Time magazines, and then named one of “A Dozen Who Shaped the 80s” by the Los Angeles Times, appearing alongside Michael Eisner, Jane Fonda and Steve Jobs.
Frieda’s ongoing mission is to change the way America eats fruits and vegetables and to “eat one fruit a day that scares you,” knowing there are an estimated 20,000 to 80,000 undiscovered edible crops still to be found throughout the world – so their quest will never cease. Today’s U.S. produce department, the gateway to any supermarket, carries an average of 600 different items. Frieda’s stamp is monumental and her ability and skill to market these strange, misunderstood and often scary fruits and vegetables has been unparalleled.
Filmed in numerous cities and farmland in Southern and Central California, the documentary explores her daily business operation, influence and relationship with her peers in the produce industry, the growers she directly works with, celebrity chefs that have boldly incorporated her items, food journalists who help her source and market items, consulting scientists, and local politicians. It delves into how shopping patterns and eating habits have evolved and devolved, the rise and competition of Farmers Markets and the global influence of the Santa Monica Farmers Market where Frieda Caplan is a legend. With the ongoing threat and rise of childhood obesity, climate change and the current historic 2013-2014 California drought, their mission is challenged daily.
Frieda has resided in Los Alamitos, CA, in the same suburban home for almost 60 years, where her daughters Karen and Jackie grew up. With her granddaughter and roommate Alex now by her side, at home and in the office, Frieda’s Inc. has become a multi-generational business – women owned and women run. At 91, Frieda’s energy and passion for family, work and positive change is inspiring. She continues to be an activist and stays politically involved with a true zest for life.
The story climaxes with Frieda accepting an Honorary Doctorate at the 2014 graduation ceremony for California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, CA. There she addresses 30,000 attendees and graduates, honoring her life’s work that continues to evolve.
This is the 2nd feature documentary film from writer, producer, director Mark Brian Smith, who World Premiered OVERNIGHT at the Sundance International Film Festival in 2004. FEAR NO FRUIT was filmed on a limited budget of under $100,000 and tight and accelerated shooting schedule of 10 days over the spring of 2014. #FearNoFruit