The Fruit Truck delivers fruit by the freight
The Sioux Falls-based company picks up fruit at farms and orchards across the country and delivers it directly to communities in 16 states.
ROCHESTER, Minn. — When Tom Klein pulled his semi full of strawberries into the parking lot of the Best Western in Rochester on March 12, there were over 200 people waiting for him.
The line of cars stretched past the hotel lot and into the neighboring one. Most of the occupants waited for the truck doors to open before they got out into the 20-degree, windy weather.
Klein, a driver for WIT Trucking who hauls for The Fruit Truck year round, estimated he had about 3,000 crates of strawberries for the crowd on March 12. He said from February through March, he's hauling mostly strawberries. The Rochester stop was his 14th of the weekend.
"Seven a day, so not bad," said Klein, who attempted and failed to take a nap on the Sunday night as customers rolled in post initial rush.
For fruit's sake
The Fruit Truck is a produce delivery company that picks up fresh fruit at farms and orchards and delivers it directly to communities in 16 states. Customers can reserve fruit online and pick it up at the scheduled delivery event near them.
The operation is ran by Irena Kleinsasser of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where a storefront for the company is also located.
Penny Olson is the brand ambassador for The Fruit Truck. She was a social worker in Sioux Falls when she met Kleinsasser through mutual acquaintances, and has since retired from that job and remained Kleinsasser's dedicated spokesperson and employee.
"I loved what she was doing, and how she's been able to do it, and what it's all about," said Olson of Kleinsasser. "That's the core that got me hooked right off the bat."
She described Kleinsasser as a "young mother wanting fresh, good, delicious fruit for her children," which became the impetus for starting the company around 2010.
But the impetus before that was actually Kleinsasser's father, who worked as a trucker and would return from his routes with fresh fruit for her.
"She was involved in trucking and became the owner of a trucking company, and so she had the trucks and the trailers and the reefers to go to the orchards get the fruit right from the orchard," said Olson of Kleinsasser. "And then we started setting up towns to go to, where people were interested."
The company started as a Facebook page and polled people if they would like fruit through this business model. Many of them did.
"I think the first load was a few pallets of cherries from Washington," said Olson. "And if I remember right, they sold out in about 30 minutes."
The Fruit Truck hires temporary crews to go on the fruit runs, said Olson, who are out for two or three days at a time.
"They have a semi truck and trailer, and we find locations for them to park in and give people fruit"
In recent years, business has picked up for The Fruit Truck, said Olson, at the same time more people got into canning. But she said the uptick in popularity is mostly due to the fondness that customers have for the fruits they get, including peaches from Peach County in Georgia and strawberries from Plant City, Florida.
Fruit is sold by the pallet, which offers more fruit than people are used to having at once, so Olson said customers have started to share recipes and tips for what to do with them online.
"We have posts all over Facebook, talking about what I'm doing with my strawberries, and I'm making this kind of jam," said Olson.
The Fruit Truck gets its Bing and Rainier cherries from Washington, which the company also gets apples, pears, peaches and nectarines from in the fall. Olson said they've also gotten pineapples from Costa Rica, grapes from California, blueberries from Michigan and some fruit from Iowa.
"Peaches, strawberries and cherries are probably our biggest, but the grapes have gotten really big," said Olson.
In Sioux Falls, at The Fruit Truck storefront, the company has its popular fruit options along with pies, jams, jellies, meat products and Eastern European imports, said Olson.
"But we also showcase South Dakota products," said Olson.
Olson said she's not aware of another company like The Fruit Truck, and credits Kleinsasser — who does a lot of the dispatching herself — for being able to handle the detailed logistics that make the operation run.
"The trucking aspect of it, she's just a wizard, she can put the schedules together, she can get the trucks where they need to go, when they need to get there, and it's up to the supporting staff to help make sure that there's a good place for them to go," said Olson.
Anyone interested in getting fruit from The Fruit Truck should visit the website which has an updated delivery schedule. Reserving fruit does not lock customers into having to pick it up, said Olson, but lets the company know how much to bring to a stop.
"We do all around Minneapolis, to Rochester, clear over to Winona, and we go into Wisconsin, down to Illinois, Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana," said Olson.
Jane Helgeson was one of the happy customers leaving with a couple pallets of strawberries on March 12. Helgeson said she found out about the company through Facebook.
"I was just down in Florida a couple weeks ago and the strawberries are absolutely phenomenal," said Helgeson. "I love having good food at this time of year."
The strawberries available in grocery stores across the city doesn't cut it for her.
"They don't compare," she said. "They just don't taste the same."