The owner of a very small and remote operation – the Dundee Fruit Company, located in the McMinnville Industrial Park – has won a very large and central appointment. Richard “Dick” Sadler has been named to the Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee for Trade in Processed Food, known in federal circles as ATAC.
The committee provides technical advice on the nation’s trade issues to the secretary of agriculture and U.S. trade representative. Sadler is one of three new appointees, the other two both representing major national players in the process, the American Frozen Food Institute and the Western United States Agricultural Trade Association.
Sadler will assume the post as soon as the FBI issues him the requisite security clearance, which requires a comprehensive review. His term is slated to run through mid-June of 2016.
"The ATAC plays a significant role in the trade policy process, providing advice on negotiating objectives and strategies and on other matters related to the development and administration of U.S. agricultural trade policy,” according to Sadler’s appointment letter, authored jointly by Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who holds ambassador status.
Sadler said the committee is part of a significant subgroup of the agriculture department called the Foreign Agricultural Service.
It oversees agricultural trade officers stationed at posts around the world. Traveling on diplomatic passports, they are responsible for trade activities in those countries.
As a member of the committee, he will review draft trade agreements and issue opinions on them.
Like President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, Sadler is a graduate of Harvard Law. Like them, he practiced law before getting involved in other pursuits.
Sadler and his wife, Lynne, settled in Dundee in 1975. They founded the Dundee Fruit Company there in 1995.
The first two years, they packed the fruit at an Oregon State University pilot plant. They built their own plant in the McMinnville Industrial Park in 1997.
They pack fruit for sale primarily in the U.S., Canada, Japan and China, but have plans for expansion into Taiwan, Korea and Hong Kong as well.
Sadler said Japan was the company’s first overseas market. He said he’s been working in partnership with a friend and traveling companion, Mamoru Fukumoto , on the Japanese side of the business.
He travels to Japan three to four times a year, and has a trip to China scheduled in September. He said the travel is interesting and enjoyable, but he books it because it is necessary.
“They work on a personal relationship level, much more than the United States,” he said. “You need somebody looking out for your interests on the ground."
Sadler produces artisan fruit products, including fresh fruit in light syrup, candied fruit and ready-to-bake pie fillings and preserves ,under the Red Hills and French Prairie labels. He also co-packs for others under private labels.
He can pack any product with a pH of at least 4.6, giving it sufficient acidity. That includes sauces and pickled products.
Among such products is the Czar’s Fine Foods line of unique sauces, which he packs for JackCzarnecki of Dayton's Joel Palmer House, one of Oregon's top fine-dining establishments. He said he serves customers as far away as Wisconsin, but still has room to further grow that side of the business.
All of his own products feature fresh fruit, which has to be packed when it’s in season. That leads to a flurry of activity as products ripen during the course of the summer.
However, co-packing often involves frozen fruit. That gives him an opportunity to keep his plant running other times of the year.
Sadler said his products are high quality and locally sourced. “We started the business in fruit because we recognized that the Willamette Valley and Pacific Northwest probably grow some of the broadest collection of really high quality fruit anywhere,” he said.
He says many Americans have gotten away from including a lot of fruit in their diets. He remembers when he was a child having peaches for dessert, rather than today’s more typical ice cream or chocolate.
“Fruit is honored and a big part of the diet in other places,” Sadler said. In Japan, which is one of his biggest markets, a dessert might consist of a plate of fresh, high quality cherries, he said.
“Having a beautiful piece of fruit as a dessert or a gift is a long-standing tradition,” he said.
In the United States, where his largest individual customer is Whole Foods, he has had the most success in the Rocky Mountains and the Southeast.
When Sadler started the operation, he was its only full-time employee. Now, he maintains three full-time employees and two to three part-timers.
His part-timer complement now includes Sunday LaRocca, who is taking over publicity and marketing.
When the plant is in full production, employment swells to 25 and includes a lot of students, both high school and college. He is particularly prone to hiring from Dayton High’s highly regarded FFA program.
Sadler said Ann Coleman has a history serving as his production manager. Her husband, Mitch, leads Dayton's FFA program, so bringing in students is a natural.
“It’s hard work here, but they love the challenge,” Sadler said. “They’re great kids.”
Most of the equipment is movable, which fosters the ability to process an array of different products in an array of different ways.
A pair of big boilers produce steam used to heat large kettles full of fruit. Products are pumped through to other pieces of equipment as they move through various stages of the process, then are packed into jars sealed with a cap.
A machine twists the lids tightly at precisely the proper moment, trapping steam that creates a vacuum as it condenses. Then the products are pasteurized in a process comparable to a home-canner, cooled in a water bath and labeled for sale.
There are tricks to keeping the product looking good. Pie filling is particularly tricky, so they make the gel first, then carefully blend in the fruit.
Sadler said the plant may look small, but is capable of putting out a lot of product. He said production speed varies greatly, as liquid products are much less time-consuming than products like pickles, where individual cucumbers have to be hand-stuffed into jars.
“Food processing facilities are some of the most complex mechanically,” he said. He said they are heavily regulated, but he has no problem with that.
"We’re making people’s food,” he said. “We want to, and are required to, be careful about what we do.”
Locally, Dundee Fruit Company’s products can be purchased at NW Food and Gifts, Harvest Fresh and Roth’s in McMinnville, at Blue Raven, Amity Foods and Amity Vineyards in Amity, at the Red Hills Market in Dundee, or online at www.dundeefruit.com.