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Putting fruit to work

Jan./Feb. 2010 California Country magazine

'FruitGuys' service touts a unique approach to healthy eating on the job.


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With nonstop deadlines and the easy lure of the vending machine, the thought of eating healthy while at work may seem impossible. But not to Chris Mittelstaedt. Working in the Bay Area during the dot-com era, the entrepreneur saw firsthand how unhealthy workplace dining had become and set out to make a change.

"I asked people what they wanted the most and they said, 'If we could eat something healthy, we could avoid junk food and it would make our lives a lot better,'" Mittelstaedt said. "I thought, why not deliver something as simple as fresh fruit and see how that works."

So in 1998 he launched The FruitGuys, based on the premise that bringing healthy brain food to the office can boost productivity, improve wellness and help companies strengthen their bottom lines. The concept has proven to be a success.

"Employers quote that the fresh produce helps to reduce absenteeism, people seem more energetic and productive, and the culture of candy and that two o'clock sugar rush kind of goes away," said Mittelstaedt. "Those things may seem small, but they actually have a really big impact."

Headquartered in San Francisco, The FruitGuys delivers about a quarter of a million pieces of fruit a week to companies all over California and recently went nationwide. Mittelstaedt says he tries to source new varieties of fruit from all over the state so people don't get bored with eating the same thing every week. Plus, it's a great way to educate consumers about agriculture.

This past summer, Mittelstaedt took his partnership with farmers one step further by investing in Cruz Farms in Fresno. The 25-acre farm was owned by a family friend who wanted to keep his 40-year-old plum orchard going, but was having a hard time. So Mittelstaedt and his crew came up with a plan: The FruitGuys would get into farming. This is in addition to operating a Farm Steward Program, which helps support sustainable, small-family farming. They also donate 88,000 pounds of fresh fruit a year to nonprofit groups and food pantries nationwide.

"All of these little things we do are part of the bigger picture," said Mittelstaedt. "I think the interest in eating well and physical exercise is also parallel in understanding the farmer and getting back to our roots of understanding where our food comes from."

For more information about the FruitGuys, visit www.fruitguys.com.

Tracy Sellers is a reporter for California Country. She can be reached at 800-698-FARM or tsellers@californiacountry.org.


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