Kay Armstrong is very happy with her job: she’s a tour guide who takes visitors around Harry & David’s 52-acre campus in Medford, where fruit and artisanal goods are decoratively packaged in welcome gifts.
She explains that the pears that made the fruit grower famous in the 1920s are still grown on 2,700 acres along the Rogue River Valley in southern Oregon.
This sprawling campus, the headquarters of Harry & David, stands on the site of the original orchards. Visible from Oregon Highway 99 is the company’s iconic Art Moderne-style packing plant.
The tour bus, which begins at the Harry & David Country Village store, heads south for about a mile before turning off the highway and into the campus to the Candy Kitchen and Bakery complex.
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After 33 years working for Harry & David, Armstrong still isn’t bored. The company that invented the Fruit of the Month Club in 1938 has continued to expand with gourmet food and wine, she says.
Surprisingly, despite high Christmas orders and the pace of 21st century production lines, work inside this fruit and candy factory is carried out much the same as it was a century ago: carefully, steadily, and very practice.
Bakers butter paper-thin sheets of pastry to create baklava while candy makers with gloved hands push truffles onto conveyor belts in an orderly fashion unlike the hilarious “I Love Lucy” scene.
Levers are pushed to release a river of dark chocolate over cherries, and trays of shortbread cookies are pulled from an oven, raspberry filling bubbling from the tree-shaped cutout.
During the holiday season, Harry & David’s gift wrappers process 70% to 80% of the annual orders received online and by phone, from businesses and individuals, Armstrong says.
Between the packing facility, orchards and on-site call center, the normal workforce of 1,700 swells to more than 6,700 at the peak of the holiday season, with up to 100,000 calls received in a single day, according to the site. Harry & David website.
There is also a distribution and call center in Ohio, which takes orders from Harry & David, as well as Wolferman’s breakfast foods, meats, and Stock Yard flower arrangements and houseplants from 1-800-Flowers.com, who has owned Harry & David since 2014.
In the Medford gift assembly area, workers hold each green pear and red apple for examination before wrapping them in branded tissue paper and placing them in a padded gift box, reusable tin or woven basket.
They tuck in a name card, secure the sweet and savory treats under clear cellophane, and add a hand-tied ribbon to the top.
Starting a high-end mail-order gift company is serious work, and marketing-minded Cornell grads Harry and David Rosenberg nailed it. They founded Harry & David by first shipping fresh fruit from the eastern Rogue Valley to Europe in the Roaring Twenties.
The brothers, who later adopted their stepfather’s surname, Holmes, named their Comice pear “Royal Riviera.” Each pear is still harvested by hand and one in each gift box is wrapped in gold foil.
When fruit exports to Europe dried up during the Great Depression, Harry & David sold gift subscriptions for Americans to receive monthly shipments of fresh fruit. Products were advertised in magazines and catalogs mailed to offices and homes.
“The brothers are credited with being innovators in the specialty mail-order catalog market that has come to dominate much of the country’s retail trade,” writes historian Jeff LaLande in the Oregon Historical Society’s digital encyclopedia. .
Now, phone and online orders are generated from the HarryandDavid.com website, which launched in 1997, two years after Amazon’s online bookstore.
Inventing new products is key, and trademark symbols follow Harry & David product names, such as Tower of Treats, which was introduced in the mid-1940s as a stack of decorative boxes filled with candy, dried fruit and fruits.
A box of golden reindeer-patterned Christmas treats ($29.99) contains a dozen shortbread cookies, three ounces of chocolate-covered cherries, assorted flavored truffles, and a six-ounce bag of Moose Munch Premium popcorn made in factory.
Tour-goers in the popcorn area watch bricks of unsalted butter slide into giant caramel containers before popcorn, made from carefully selected corn kernels and puffed under heat, is poured on top and mix gently.
Quality and tradition keep customers coming back, says Greg Sarley, senior vice president of merchandising, gourmet foods and gift baskets at Harry & David’s parent company, 1-800-Flowers.
This year, as people gather for holiday meals after two years of pandemic restrictions, the heat-and-serve Wow Holiday Meal has taken off, Sarley says.
The $399.99 box contains two entrees: a 7.5-pound spiral-sliced ham and a 10-pound oven-roasted turkey with chutney and spiced cranberry chutney.
Side dishes include nearly two pounds each of pecan stuffing with apple sausage, gruyère and garlic red mashed potatoes, brown sugar sweet potatoes, snap peas with bacon and zucchini and corn casserole, plus a pound of black truffle and kidney beans. greens with almonds
Desserts are a 2.5-pound American-style apple pie and a pound of cinnamon swirl and baklava, buttered and baked in Medford.
At the end of the hour-long tour, with the scents of cinnamon, maple bacon and butternut lingering, Kay Armstrong says the last two months of the year are the best time to see the Harry & David operation in full swing.
She pauses. “But the months leading up to Valentine’s Day are fun too,” she says with a smile.
—Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072
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