January 5, 2009

Stemilt Founder Tom Mathison Dies

Tom Mathison, the founder of Stemilt Growers and chairman of its board, died the day after Christmas. He was 82.

“He’s my hero,” said Roger Pepperl, the marketing director of Stemilt, Wenatchee, Wash. “He is an icon in the Washington fruit industry.”

Over the years, he pioneered many facets of fruit growing, cooling, storing and marketing.

He pioneered the move to bigger sweet cherries, sizing them, packaging them in bags and leading consumers to buy more of them. Stemilt is the largest shipper of fresh sweet cherries in the world.

He was the first to put stickers on apples, identifying them with the Stemilt name before PLU numbers were developed. He reached out to retailers, selling direct rather than through brokers.

In 1989, after the Alar scare, he added the lady bug to the Stemilt logo – and set out to find more ways to reduce chemical input in fruit production. Stemilt is a leader in packing organic apples for sale, Pepperl said, and has an IPM program that has reduced chemical inputs by 50 percent.

“Tom knew that fruit products need to be consumer-driven,” Pepperl said. “He believed that if you gave the consumer good flavor, taste and quality, the consumer would drive income back to the land and make it profitable.

“Tom always said, economics isn’t that hard if you don’t fight it.”

For more information, read the February edition of Fruit Growers News.


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