UPDATED, Jan. 21 -- Industry pioneer Frieda Rapoport Caplan, 96, has died.
Caplan is widely praised for her role in elevating the role of women in the fresh produce business, and helping to introduce kiwifruit and other specialties to the U.S.
The subject of the 2015 documentary film “Fear No Fruit,” Caplan became the first woman to own and operate a company on the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market.
She helped introduce the kiwifruit to the American market in 1962 and later marketed more than 200 exotic fruits and vegetables, including Sunchokes (Jersusalem artichokes), dragon fruit, jicama and Stokes Purple sweet potatoes.
In 1979, Caplan was the first woman to receive The Packer’s “Produce Man of the Year” award, then renamed the “The Produce Marketer of the Year.”
In an e-mail, daughters Karen Caplan and Jackie Caplan Wiggins, owners of Los Alamitos, Calif.-based Frieda’s Specialty Produce, said she died at home on Jan 18.
After suffering a setback last June after a fall, her health declined rapidly in the last few weeks.
“She was such a remarkable woman, and was still very mentally sharp until the very end,” according to the e-mail.
“As you can imagine, she continued to ask us daily ‘what good things happened at Frieda’s today’ since she couldn’t go to the office any longer.”
Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the California Avocado Commission, said she felt fortunate to have been friends with Frieda.
“She was a tremendous leader with a brilliant mind who could always pick up where she left off with you,” DeLyser said. “She remembered birthdays and special life events, checked on those she cared about regularly and was absolutely the biggest fan a person could hope to have. Frieda’s imprint on our industry is indelible and will live on through Karen, Jackie and Alex as well as through all she touched as a caring mentor and friend. “
“CBS Sunday Morning,” which interviewed Frieda Rapoport Caplan for a tribute to her life in November, moved up the air date to Jan. 19.
“We are in the process of planning a celebration of life and will share the timing and details with you within the next few weeks,” her daughters said in the e-mail. “Thank you for your friendship and caring for our Mom! Feel free to wear something purple ... her favorite color!”
The Produce Marketing Association recognized Caplan with its Women's Catalyst Award at Fresh Summit 2019. (See video below.) The award recognizes people in the industry who cultivate women's potential with mentoring and fostering a path for leadership, development and participation, according to PMA CEO Cathy Burns.
"As a female business owner in an overwhelmingly male-oriented industry, Frieda provided an example to many aspiring women executives and, in conversations we shared, it was very apparent she always had an open door to those seeking a mentor and guidance," Burns said in a Jan. 19 statement. "She also delighted in the fact that her daughters and granddaughter were carrying forward the torch she lit when she founded Frieda’s, Inc. in 1962."
Caplan helped countless women in the industry, Burns said.
"Upon joining PMA, Frieda’s office was among my very first 'must do' member visits, and she literally welcomed me with open arms to our industry. In the five years since, it was not uncommon to open my e-mail and find a note from Frieda offering her unique insights on trends, innovation, and inspiration," Burns said in the statement.
She said Caplan has been described as a fearless entrepreneur, product innovator, produce pioneer, trailblazer, icon, and vanguard.
"She is all these accolades to others and me, but most of all I am incredibly blessed and proud to have called her a friend," Burns said in the statement. "PMA joins the Caplan and Frieda’s families in mourning the loss of their matriarch."