If you’ve eaten kiwi, thank this woman: The urgency and opportunity of innovation


If you’ve eaten kiwi, you have Frieda Rapoport Caplan to thank.

In the early 1960s, she began a business distributing
unusual fruit. One example was Chinese gooseberry, which was renamed as
kiwifruit (soon shortened to kiwi). Mrs. Caplan was instrumental in promoting
the fruit, which gradually took hold in the US.

At the time, she said later, “There wasn’t so much
interest in fresh fruits and vegetables, and we didn’t have innovative produce
departments. The mind-set of produce merchandisers was potatoes, onions,
grapefruit and apples. It was a matter of finding people who were innovative
and progressive and getting them together with people who had something to

She built her success as a woman in a largely male business.
By 2003, her company had annual sales of $50 million. Mrs. Caplan died January
18 at the age of ninety-six.

The urgency and opportunity of innovation

Reading the Times profile reinforced for me the
urgency and opportunity of innovation. Farmers were growing produce that
customers would want if only someone could overcome the inertia of traditional
companies. It took an outsider to see possibilities that changed the industry.

Frieda Caplan’s story is also a model for Christians who
want to impact their culture for Christ.

The mantra is worth repeating: we must always be willing to
change our methods to communicate our unchanging message.

Jesus fed hungry bodies to feed hungry souls. He used
momentary circumstances to teach eternal truth (cf. Matthew 6:26, where he
pointed to the “birds of the air” as illustrating God’s provision for
us all).

Paul quoted Scripture in synagogues (Acts 13:17–22) and
Greek philosophers with Greek philosophers (Acts 17:28). His strategy should be
ours: “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might
save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

Like Paul, you have been given influence by your Lord. Like
Jesus’ first disciples, you…

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