Frieda Rapoport CaplanFrieda Rapoport Caplan

Entrepreneur/Agricultural Pioneer

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

Anyone who's ever eaten and enjoyed a kiwi should thank Frieda Rapoport Caplan, one of the nation's most successful female entrepreneurs. She is credited with changing the way Americans eat fruits and vegetables. By introducing unusual and exotic produce to supermarkets, Ms. Caplan revolutionized the produce industry during her 50-plus year career.

Ms. Caplan established Produce Specialties Inc. at the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market, becoming the first woman to own and operate a U.S. produce business. From her premier product—fresh brown mushrooms—she developed a reputation for buying and selling new and unusual produce specialties, including kiwifruit, elephant garlic, pine nuts, spaghetti squash, purple potatoes, Asian pears, habanero chiles and more. Her introduction of black garlic, which became a hit in the culinary world, earned her the prestigious Sofi Award from the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade.

In the early years, she worked from 2 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, building the women-owned family business now called Frieda's Inc. With more than 100 employees, it is the nation's premier marketer and distributor of specialty produce, supplying grocery retailers and foodservice distributors with more than 600 varieties of exotic fruits, gourmet vegetables and unique companion items.

Ms. Caplan has been widely recognized for her accomplishments, receiving the Legacy Award in 2012 from the National Association of Women Business Owners for establishing a legacy of entrepreneurial excellence. That same year, the United Fresh Produce Association presented her with a Lifetime Achievement Award for lasting contributions to the fresh produce industry.

In 1970, she was the first woman to receive The Packer newspaper's "Produce Man of the Year" award, which was soon renamed "The Produce Marketer of the Year." Ms. Caplan was the first recipient of the Harriet Alger Award from Working Woman magazine for being a "remarkable entrepreneurial role model for women."

In recognition of her accomplishments as an entrepreneur, businesswoman and role model in agriculture—one of Cal Poly's signature disciplines—the Board of Trustees of the California State University and California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo are proud to confer upon Frieda Rapoport Caplan the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.