Berliner, Andy and Rachel
Berliner, Andy and RachelCareer
Founders of Amy’s Kitchen
A ndy Berliner born c. 1947, in Chicago, IL; son of meat buyer and a legal secretary; first marriage ended in divorce; married Rachel Berliner, 1985; children: Amy. Rachel Berliner born c. 1954; daughter of a private investigator and a librarian; first marriage ended in divorce; married Andy Berliner, 1985; children: Amy. Education: Andy Berliner: Earned degrees in biology and psychology from Purdue University. Rachel Berliner: Studied art at Santa Monica City College.
Addresses: Office—Amy’s Kitchen, Inc., P.O. Box 449, Petaluma CA 94953.
A ndy Berliner worked for Magic Mountain Tea Company, San Rafael, CA. Rachel Berliner worked as a physician’s assistant. Together, founded Amy’s Kitchen, c. 1987.
A ndy and Rachel Berliner founded Amy’s Kitchen, an organic foods company, in 1987 in the kitchen of their northern California home. Two decades later, the bustling organic foods enterprise is the No. 1 brand in the natural/organic category of the frozen foods industry and also makes a line of standard groceries that have proved equally profitable. “The consumer might not think so, but people in the food industry find it amazing to see that we make our products just like they would make it at home,” Andy Berliner told Rex Daven-port in a company profile that appeared in Refriger-ated & Frozen Foods, an industry trade magazine. “As opposed to how food is manufactured in most plants. I have been in food plants and have seen food running through pipes, having modified food starch or flavors added and then being cooked and deposited in a tray. We don’t do that.”
Andy Berliner was a native of Chicago who had grown up in a staunch meat-eating household, with a father who worked as a meat buyer. After studying biology and psychology at Purdue University in Indiana, Andy Berliner moved to the Sonoma, California, area in the early 1970s, and was working as a manager at the Magic Mountain Tea Company in San Rafael, one of the first successful herbal-tea companies, when he met Rachel in 1979 on a meditation retreat in India while he was married to his first wife.
Rachel Berliner grew up in the Los Angeles area, the daughter of a private investigator father and a mother who was a librarian, and both parents encouraged healthy eating habits in their children. “My mother always said, ‘If you can’t pronounce an ingredient on a label, it’s a good idea not to eat it,’” she told Julie K. L. Dam and Vicki Sheff-Cahan in People. Her brother and father were vegetarians, but Rachel Berliner did not become one until her teen years, when she met a champion of the cause who traveled around with a live lamb. “I was 16 years old, and I never really connected that what I was eating was once a live animal,” she recalled in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle’s Cynthia Wollman. “I just wasn’t aware of that.” After studying art at Santa Monica City College, Rachel Berliner married and worked as a physician’s assistant for a homeopathic doctor.
Both Andy’s and Rachel’s first marriages eventually ended, and the couple wed in 1985. Strict vegetarians, they even grew their own vegetables, but when they were awaiting the birth of their first child in 1987, they realized they might be forced to change their eating habits. ‘The more pregnant Rachel got, the less energy there was for gardening and cooking,‘ Andy Berliner told Wollman in the San Francisco Chronicle interview, but he recalled that when they visited the convenience-food section of their local health-food store, they ‘were shocked at the poor quality of prepared meals that were natural and organic,‘ he said. They decided that there must be other families like theirs who wanted healthy food but simply did not have the time to prepare such meals every day.
Amy’s Kitchen, named after their newborn daughter, was launched in 1987 with their first product, a vegetarian pot pie made from organic vegetables. They started the company with a loan from Rachel’s mother and cash from selling a watch, some gold coins, and even one of their cars; they also refinanced their house. Once the business was underway, they realized they needed to establish a line of credit line. ‘Every bank turned us down,‘ Rachel Berliner remembered when she was interviewed by Susan McGinnis, a writer for the magazine Kiwi, but they finally convinced a loan officer at a small bank in their hometown to approve them. ‘We said we’d be their biggest customer someday,‘ she remembered—a promise that they kept.
Amy’s Kitchen grew slowly, with new frozen goods such as spinach pizza and vegetarian enchiladas added to their top-selling pot pies. The groceries were available in health food stores nationwide. In 1999 they introduced a line of non-frozen foods, such as canned soups and chili, pasta sauces, and salsa. In 2001 sales for the company passed the $100 million mark, and thanks to a surge in interest in organic, healthy foods among more mainstream consumers, that figure doubled just five years later. Twenty years after creating their first recipe, the Berliners adhered to all of the same guidelines on which they founded their company. The 100plus line of Amy’s Kitchen groceries are made by hand and with the same principles—no additives or artificial ingredients, and with all-organic source materials. ‘We are deeply involved in the entire agricultural process,‘ Andy Berliner said in the Refrigerated & Frozen Foods article by Davenport. ‘So, if we want to create a new product that wasn’t planned, we have to see if we can find the ingredients or have it grown quickly enough. It helps that we are in California.‘
The Berliners still run a family business, albeit one with 1,600 employees and 2006 sales of $200 million. When they moved forward with plans to open a second manufacturing facility plant in Oregon, their decision prompted a phone call from California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger asking them to reconsider but Oregon had cheaper utility rates and a lower cost of living than northern California. Amy’s Kitchen is a progressive company that offers a profit-sharing plan for employees, as well as English-language and citizenship classes for foreignborn staffers; there is even a college scholarship program for the children of employees. The ‘Amy‘ in Amy’s Kitchen grew up and entered Stanford University, but still worked in the food plant during her summer breaks. ‘My first memory of solid food,‘ Amy Berliner once told Dam and Sheff- Cahan in the People interview, ‘was looking at Amy’s Kitchen macaroni and cheese and thinking, ‘Yummy!’ I had no idea I was the Amy.‘ Thirteen years old at the time of that article, she was proud of being her parents’ inspiration. “It’s nice for people to know that Amy’s Kitchen is family owned,“ she said in the same interview. “I love reading the consumer letters. I write back. I want them to know that my family really cares about them.“
Frozen Food Age, June 2007, p. S25.
Kiwi, July-August 2007, p. 45(3).
New York Times, November 8, 2000; February 23, 2002.
People, December 18, 2000, p. 151.
Refrigerated & Frozen Foods, January 2004, p. 28.
San Francisco Chronicle, January 25, 2002, p. 9.