Washington is the nation’s leading domestic apple producer. A single acre of its fertile soil can yield 32,900 pounds, creating an annual market of more than $1.7 billion. As many as 12 billion are picked each year—all by hand—making the fruit the state’s top-ranked agricultural commodity.
Tree Top’s story begins in the 1940s, a time when orchardists grew apples for the fresh fruit market and had little use for blemished leftovers. After every harvest, immense piles of these culls were left to rot or dumped into the Columbia River. However, in the hands of visionary William H. Charbonneau, the previously worthless remnants turned to gold.
A beverage salesman, Charbonneau objected to the “”belly wash”” that masqueraded as healthy drinks, but actually consisted of mostly water and artificial flavoring. He was confident that wholesome, 100% pure apple juice would sell, and set out to create it. He migrated to the Yakima Valley in 1944, purchased a processing company in Selah, and started production. He consulted experts, replaced aging equipment, selected Tree Top as his premier brand name, and embarked on a lucrative advertising campaign. Sales revenues swelled, but a perpetual problem emerged—recurring shortages of raw product. To solve that dilemma, the juice pioneer transformed Charbonneau Packing Corporation into a growers’ cooperative, and in 1960, Tree Top Inc. was born.
Over the next fifty years, Tree Top expanded into multiple facilities in Washington, Oregon, and California. They continued to revolutionize the industry, becoming the first processor to produce and market frozen apple juice concentrate. That accomplishment was followed by a move into pear concentrate manufacturing. By 1970, they had achieved $1.7 million in sales. Then, in a period of substantial growth, multiple strategic acquisitions enabled Tree Top to enter the industrial marketing category and provide dried ingredients to the makers of muffins, oatmeal, ice cream, cake mixes, and other foods. The organization also successfully navigated many challenges, including devasting fires at two plants, a 1989 Alar scare, worldwide apple shortages, the pressures of a global economy, and intense competition from China, currently the top international grower.
Tree Top: Creating a Fruit Revolution describes the region’s apple history and celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the grower cooperative that has been a major contributor to the industry’s success.
Photographs / notes / bibliography / index / 120 pages