BRIGHT FUTURE: Amy’s Kitchen in Pocatello keeps growing while taking care of people
POCATELLO — Amy’s Kitchen CEO and co-founder Andy Berliner told the Journal recently that the Pocatello plant is growing. In fact, over the next few weeks, Berliner anticipates the number of employees to rise from 616 to 646 with new hires.
The Pocatello plant — which in 2015 became the company’s most recent addition — along with its sister plants in Santa Rosa, California, and Medford, Oregon, produce more than 250 varieties of frozen and packaged gluten-free, lactose-free, soy-free, tree nut-free, corn-free, meat-free, Kosher and light-sodium products. The Santa Rosa plant in August was recognized as one of the best employers in the area by the North Bay Business Journal.
Berliner said that all three of the plants produce frozen entrees and soups, but The Meals for Two line of products is exclusive to the Pocatello plant. Amy’s Kitchen products are shipped all over the world. Berliner said the Italian meals are especially popular in India and Dubai, while the soups and pizzas are favored in Thailand and Singapore. Amy’s Kitchen has also passed the strict European Union guidelines to market their products as organic outside the U.S.
According to the Amy’s Kitchen website, the company is all about sustainability, which means taking care of the people — from the employee to the farmer to the person who eats the food.
“We are a family business, and we treat our employees like they are part of our family,” Berliner said when asked what his company is doing to help take care of its employees. “That’s why we originally started our health center with health providers on site.”
Just this past July, Amy’s Kitchen opened an on-site health care center at its Pocatello location to service the employees and their immediate families with convenient and free access to primary health care.
“This model reduces health care costs,” Berliner said, “because employees and their families are not always accessing health insurance through our medical plan for primary care, chronic care disease management and episodic care, which can be more expensive. In addition, and more importantly, by removing barriers, increasing convenience and eliminating the cost, we can support our employees and their families with preventive and wellness care and hopefully avoid or mitigate more serious medical issues.”
Another way Amy’s Kitchen has chosen to help its employees is through its scholarship program that started in 2000. In August, Berliner was in Pocatello to personally award some of the 100 scholarships — of at least $2,000 each — to college-attending or college-bound children of employees who work for Amy’s Kitchen.
Berliner said, “The scholarship program was started with the intention to increase accessibility to high-quality education for employees’ children.”
Amy’s Kitchen is completely owned by Andy, his wife Rachel and their daughter Amy — for whom the company was named. In 1987, while pregnant with Amy, Rachel was confined to bed rest and no longer able to cook the organic, vegetarian meals she valued.
“Rachel grew up in South Central (Los Angeles) where her mom made whole wheat bread from scratch and had an organic garden in their backyard,” Andy Berliner said. “We feel that organic food not only tastes better, it is (also) better the planet. It’s just a way of life for us. … I went to the natural foods store thinking that there be some organic, vegetarian-ready meals available in the store. Finding almost nothing that tasted good, we realized there was a market.”
Thus, both their daughter and the beginnings of their business were born the same year. Berliner said they helped pioneer the organic food movement. According to the website, Amy’s Kitchen is “the world leader in non-GMO and organic convenience foods.” The company bans the use any products that contain genetically modified organisms or bio-engineered products and only buys ingredients from suppliers that are organically certified. United States Department of Agriculture-certified growers must document their processes and get inspected every year for things like seed sources, soil conditions, crop health, weed and pest management, water systems, inputs, contamination and commingling risks and prevention, and record-keeping.
“We took a stand 20 years ago, long before prohibition by the USDA National Organic Program in 2001,” Berliner said.
For Amy’s Kitchen labels to display the USDA Organic seal, its products must use ingredients from certified organic suppliers. The meat the company uses must also be from certified organic farms where the animals have been fed 100 percent organic feed, given no antibiotics or hormones, and allowed to grow in a natural environment. In addition, the products cannot contain GMOs or artificial preservatives, colors or flavors.
On the Amy’s Kitchen website, the Berliners state that the USDA federal labeling regulations dictate that organic products must contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients and products labeled “Made with Organic” must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. Amy’s Kitchen follows these guidelines.
Berliner also said Amy’s Kitchen was also one of the first producers of gluten-free meals of which they now have more than 100 varieties. To reduce allergen risks, Amy’s Kitchen does not use peanuts, fish, shellfish or eggs in any of its products. The company also discloses all the ingredients on its packages “except for specific spices used in the products.”
Amy’s Kitchen produces more than 120 vegan options and most of its products are certified Kosher. The Berliners hope to certify all of their products Kosher as soon as “we find a Kosher vinegar that meets our standards.”
As the Berliners head toward retirement, Andy says the future of Amy’s Kitchen rests securely on its namesake’s shoulders.
Berliner said, “Amy’s is and will continue to be a family business. Although Amy and her husband Jace are raising their son Malachi, they are very involved.”