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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, February 13, 2012, 6:30 am

Q&A: Andy Berliner, CEO, Amy’s Kitchen

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    PETALUMA — Andy and Rachel Berliner started Amy’s Kitchen in 1987, the same year as the birth of their daughter and the company’s namesake, to fill a need for healthful vegetarian convenience food.

    Since then, the company has grown from their kitchen to one of the largest prepared natural foods companies. Trade journal Refrigerated & Frozen Foods last year ranked Amy’s No. 19 in the meals and entrees category, based on 2010 category revenue of $270 million. Total sales were expected to top $300 million last year.

    From the first frozen pot pie, the line of products expanded to canned goods and foodservice sales. To keep pace with sales, company production expanded to Oregon and the United Kingdom in the past few years.

    Andy Berliner

    Before starting Amy’s, Mr. Berliner was a large shareholder and president of Magic Mountain Herb Tea Co., a pioneering mass-market herbal tea brand, before it was sold.

    In the following interview, he touches on the company’s growth in and beyond Sonoma County, the status of the planned South Carolina plan, potential for sales of prepared natural foods in foreign markets and the proposed ballot measure California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, which was submitted to the state Attorney General’s Office last month. Mr. Berliner will be a panelist at the 2012 Sonoma State University Economic Outlook Conference on Feb. 23 in Rohnert Park.

    Q. How has the scale and reach of Amy’s Kitchen been changing in recent years?

    Mr. Berliner: Amy’s dollar growth per year has remained pretty constant, as has employee growth in both Santa Rosa and Medford. In total, we employ about 1,800 people between the two facilities.

    Our U.K. plant started producing product last summer on the frozen side and soup production is just beginning. Amy’s products now appear in natural food stores and grocery stores representing about 70 percent of the market in the United Kingdom.

    Greenville, South Carolina, has been postponed, as it became clear that we would not be able to finish our plant construction in time to support the coming year’s growth. Instead, we are expanding production in our existing facilities in Medford and Santa Rosa.

    Q. What potential is there for exports of prepared natural foods?

    Mr. Berliner: We feel that there is a great deal of potential for natural foods in Europe as a whole and Asia. I have traveled through most of the world this year, and I was surprised at how much opportunity there is.

    Q. How are food-ingredient labeling laws and rules affecting the packaged-foods business?

    Mr. Berliner: The proposed ballot measure [California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act] hasn’t affected the packaged-food business yet, because it hasn’t passed. If it does — which we strongly support — people will be able to know which of the foods they are eating contain genetically modified ingredients.

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