How Amy’s Kitchen Helped Lay the Groundwork for the More Than $61B Organic Food Industry


Who knew the makers of a humble veggie potpie would help spearhead the $60 billion-plus organic industry and one day dish up non-GMO food to millions? Certainly not Rachel and Andy Berliner, the couple behind Amy’s Kitchen, who were simply searching for vegetarian options when expecting their first child.

When the Berliners were growing their frozen food company, they began developing relationships with and investing in small local family farms throughout California. It was a fraught time for the American farming industry. Scary headlines abounded about cancer clusters in California’s agricultural heartland. The progressive couple, alongside industry colleagues, advocated for a standard and in 1990 teamed up with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to pioneer national guidelines as to what makes a brand truly organic.

“For Andy, it was a little more from a social perspective. He went out and met farmers and got to understand the farming side,” Amy’s Kitchen President Paul Schiefer shared on the “Responsibly Different” podcast. “And he had heard a few stories back in the late ’80s of just large cancer clusters in some of these farming communities and the impact that all the spraying was having on the people working in the farm or for their children. And for him, it just was more of, ‘This doesn’t feel right.’”

The seed the Berliners planted took root. The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 was born and in turn birthed the National Organic Program, which sets standards about what can be marketed as organic and established a National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances — what synthetic substances can and cannot be used in organic production.

USDA regulations require products labeled “organic” to contain at least 95% organic ingredients. Products tagged “made with organic” must consist of at least 70% organic ingredients — a designation more and more consumers consider before sitting down for dinner.

As the old saying goes, from little acorns come mighty oaks. By 2022, the organic food business skyrocketed to a mindblowing $61.67 billion industry.

Good To Grow

While the organic industry as we know it was slowly taking shape, in 1987 the Berliners were expecting their first child. And while perusing the supermarket shelves for a pregnant Rachel, who was on bedrest at the time, Andy became increasingly disenchanted with the lack of vegetarian options in the freezer aisle.

“Andy, unbeknownst to him, as part of having a child on the way, had to start cooking for the family and making the meals,” Schiefer shared.

Thankfully, The Berliners were already harvesting organic vegetables in a little patch of their very own. But like all busy families, they occasionally needed a faster, more convenient meal option — and when that was nowhere to be found, they created their own.

Schiefer says it became an aha moment that would forever change the course of their lives. The entrepreneurial couple created a vegetarian potpie over a stove in their cozy California kitchen — and the ingredients for a $600 million enterprise were born.

“Funny enough, they named it after their daughter because they couldn’t think of another name at the time,” Schiefer revealed. “So they basically had a child and a new company altogether in that same first year.”

The company slowly became a green giant in its own right.

Amy’s Kitchen: Then and Now

In June of 1988, Amy’s opened its first kitchen with a staff of eight. As the menu grew, so did that staff. Amy’s now employs a force of 2,700.

All of their organic do-gooding hasn’t gone unnoticed: Amy’s Kitchen won the prestigious Rodale Institute’s Organic Pioneer Award for leading the charge for an organic planet in 2015. And in 2020, Amy’s Kitchen was awarded B Corp certification, which is only presented to companies demonstrating the top standards of social and environmental performance.

Today, 36 years after that fateful potpie, Amy’s Kitchen is available in 11 countries and offers more than 250 products including 124 vegan entrees, 140 gluten-free choices, 28 light-in-sodium foods, and over 200 kosher-certified products. The company produces up to 1 million meals every day.

“I think it came from a really genuine place,” says Schiefer, “not necessarily a business strategy that predicted organic food would become this giant industry.”

Schiefer says he’s proud to be spearheading a food brand that’s made organic farming a priority, which in turn has been better for the environment by preventing eutrophication and the use of 700 chemicals from toxins to pesticides used in the day-to-day production of food.

“A lot of the new studies are showing more carbon sequestration in organic farms because of the health of the soil and less reactive nitrogen,” Schiefer said. “It seems to be reducing global warming potential overall. More biodiversity. So really great environmental outcomes that are being produced through organic systems.

“We found that organic farming, in addition to all the chemical benefits and preventing eutrophication and just the use of these 700 chemicals in the day-to-day production of food, it’s better for the climate,” said Schiefer. “A lot of the new studies are showing more carbon sequestration in organic farms because of the health of the soil and less reactive nitrogen. It seems to be reducing global warming potential overall. More biodiversity.”

About Carson Derrow

My name is Carson Derrow I'm an entrepreneur, professional blogger, and marketer from Arkansas. I've been writing for startups and small businesses since 2012. I share the latest business news, tools, resources, and marketing tips to help startups and small businesses to grow their business.

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