Great taste of Oregon attracts frozen fruit tech company

From Oregon Dept. of Agriculture,

Oregon’s berry industry gets a boost from “Froozer” — A Florida company with a new frozen treat product ready to unveil in the next few weeks has come all the way to Oregon for great tasting ingredients. Froozer- the product created by Cool Frootz, LLC- is giving local growers credit for what is used in some of its recipes by clearly stating on the product label, “Made with Oregon Berries.”

Oregon’s strawberry industry, in particular, is thrilled with the Froozer partnership. For a commodity in need of more visibility, the “state-of-origin” labeling is a big boost.

“Our strawberries mostly go into the processing market,” says Laura Barton, a trade manager with the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “Many companies use the berries to make ice cream, yogurt, jam, and other products, but don’t identify them as coming from Oregon. These companies like our strawberries but don’t commit to putting them on the label. Froozer is committed to using only Oregon berries and identifying them. It’s the only identified geographic region Froozer puts on the label for any of its fruit ingredients. This is really exciting to us.”

Patented technology has created the Froozer, giving it the appearance, taste, and creaminess of soft ice cream. But it is made entirely from frozen fruit and does not contain dairy products, added sweeteners, or any artificial ingredients. Froozer is being packaged into individual 1.5 ounce and 3 ounce servings in a pop-up or a cup. Rated a true fruit equivalent, the 1.5 ounce Froozer equals one cup of fruit or a school serving. A key target for the product is schools and supplying a healthy, nutritious food item that kids will enjoy.

“Our berries have exactly what they want,” says Barton. “We have the flavor, we have the color, we have the growing conditions in Oregon that really bring out the sweetness in the fruit.”

A year ago, ODA helped convene an Oregon strawberry industry summit, which identified focus areas to help keep the commodity from further decline in production. Finding suitors for the frozen strawberry is exactly the kind of thing the industry has been looking for. ODA helped to make it happen.

“We like to consider ourselves a matchmaker,” says Barton. “We work hard to bring together local suppliers with companies that are looking for products. We set up appointments, hold meetings in our office, or take companies out to visit with farms and processors. Whatever it takes, we do it.”

It was that extra effort that helped convince the Froozer folks. The company had an ongoing interest in finding states that had the raw product. But they also were compelled to find states interested in feeding their school students healthier foods. Oregon was on the list.

“The people from the Oregon Department of Agriculture welcomed us and worked closely to help us understand Oregon’s rich agricultural resources,” says David M. Klein, Ph.D., Cool Frootz consultant and executive board member. “Oregon welcomed us with open arms. They didn’t just talk the talk when it comes to bringing local products to their schools and residents. They actually worked to make it happen.”

Froozer’s nutritional chef, Wayne Philen, brought company officials to the Food Innovation Center in Portland. Philen has had an association with the FIC and was familiar with ODA’s marketing staff, also housed at the FIC. ODA’s John Kratochvil was first to work with Froozer, taking officials to the farms and berry growers who could teach them about local and sustainable agriculture in Oregon. By the time Kratochvil, Barton, and ODA Assistant Director Dalton Hobbs all contributed to bringing the company together with the industry, Froozer was ready to make some product sourcing decisions and a special notation of Oregon berries.

“We recognized the quality of Oregon berries and are proud to communicate that by identifying Oregon on the Froozer label,” says Klein. “We also recognized the economics of growing berries in Oregon. And Oregon strawberries are amazing- solid red from the outside to the inside. So, given all of this, we felt pride and a certain obligation to say thank you to the people and the state for helping to get us to market.”

The initial offering of Froozer will target schools, hospitals, and institutions. School trials were conducted in four states involving a thousand students. Kids overwhelmingly approve the product. The nutrition aspect is important, but Froozer officials also claim the product can save about $250 million yearly in wasted fruit that would have otherwise spoiled in schools and institutions throughout the U.S. Eventual plans will include offering products to the general public through retail distribution.

Froozer has prepared 2.2 million individual servings for its November product rollout. Ball park projections for the impact on Oregon’s berry industry are impressive.

“If we conservatively forecast a year’s worth of Froozers with modest introductions in U.S. schools and institutions, we would need about 150,000 pounds of blueberries, 50,000 pounds of blackberries, and 200,000 pounds of strawberries,” says Klein.

Oregon produced about 25 million pounds of strawberries last year. It would be no problem to source 200,000 pounds for Froozer. Still, the demand from one new company is welcome news, especially combined with existing food manufacturers who have a long history in using tasty Oregon berries.

“Haagen-Dazs is a known user of Oregon strawberries and is an international company,” says ODA’s Barton. “Many of our local companies not only use our strawberries, but advertise the fact. Those include Tillamook, Umpqua- two well-known ice cream makers- and Burgerville Restaurants.”

For ODA’s part, the agency will continue building relationships with the state’s agriculture industry and individual companies that want to step up to the plate, be innovative, and use Oregon ingredients. Froozer may be the latest to do so, but it won’t be the last.

For more information, contact Laura Barton at (503) 872-6600.

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