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Fridge Friend

Finally - Fresh Fruit When You Want It

© Joan-Marie Moss 1997

We all have things in our lives that irk us. Most of us learn to "make do". But Elmhurst's Sue Gehrke-LoPiano just won't let obvious opportunities slip by her. Because she is determined to find solutions, she has created a product that promises to revolutionize our food buying habits.

"It was just a case of my being the right person, in the right place and at the right time," said Gehrke-LoPiano, but in reality it required stick-to-it-iveness and determination for her to complete the two-year process of bringing a new product to market.

Because she wouldn't let go, consumers can now enjoy less waste of produce after purchase. The new product, Fridge Friend, will be available in stores within the next month or two.

"I simply capitalized on a well-known industry "secret" and with the help of Mike, my husband, and Bob Johnson a chemical engineer who has a company in the Bollingbrook-area and serves as our technical advisor. Together we developed a product that will keep fresh produce fresh much longer saving the average consumer about $12.00 a month," said Gehrke-LoPiano.

In her position as president and owner of Norton Rubble & Mertz Advertising, Gehrke-LoPiano makes contacts and learns industry "secrets". That's where she first became aware of the methods that are used to keep produce fresh between the time it's picked and placed in our grocery baskets and where she met Johnson.

"When I was single I found I was always throwing away fruits and vegetables that I had purchased because it went bad before I could eat it. I thought it would be different when I got married but found that even feeding a family, I throw away as much as $2.00 worth of spoiled produce each week," she said.

For years, produce distributors have used potassium permanganate to oxidize ethylene gas, a naturally gas that causes fruits and vegetables to decay. But, until Gehrke-LoPiano came along, potassium permanganate was not used to prohibit spoilage of fruits and vegetables in the home.

According to Gehrke-LoPiano, it was just a matter of simple economics and feasibility. "The consumer market is much tougher to crack, it takes more money and there is a lot more competition. Not many have the knowledge and know-how to successfully bring a new product to market," she said.

"Ethylene gas is used to our advantage every time we put a piece of fresh fruit into a brown paper bag to ripen," said Gehrke-LoPiano. "But as ethylene gas builds up fruit tends to spoil much faster."

"Packagers are aware of the importance of eliminating ethylene gas. They use potassium permanganate during transportation and storage to keep produce fresh. And they use special packaging with holes in it to allow the ethylene gas to escape and the produce to breathe," she said. "That's why produce looks so fresh in the store."

But then we bring that produce home and put it into our refrigerators where ethylene gas is trapped and the ripening process speeds up again.

Gehrke-LoPiano decided to find out what would happen if she were to put potassium permanganate into her refrigerator. It didn't take her long to find out. Shortly after beginning her research, Gehrke-LoPiano and her new husband decided to have their condo painted. The job was to have taken two weeks but the job stretched to five weeks.

"We couldn't even get to the kitchen during that time. I knew I had fresh fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator and was expecting the worst. But when I opened the refrigerator I found that all that produce was still good," she said.

Before she was ready to bring her new discovery to market, Gehrke-LoPiano wanted to ensure both product safety and value. Even though she knew that both potassium permanganate and ethylene are safe, she wanted to design a container that would guarantee that the product would never touch any food. She wanted to be sure that Fridge Friend would be a viable product and that it would be priced to appeal to the average consumer.

Fridge Friend meets both those criteria according to Gehrke-LoPiano.

Packaged in an innovative safety pouch inside a vented box, the product is designed to be placed in the refrigerator right along with the traditional box of Arm & Hammer.

Gehrke-LoPiano found that Fridge Friend has a tendency to help keep other foods fresh a little bit longer. With less ethylene gas in the fridge, consumers may find that their meat and milk stay fresh an extra day. The impact of Fridge Friend is certainly not as dramatic on these foods as it is on produce according to Gehrke-LoPiano.

In addition to simply keeping produce fresh longer, Gehrke-LoPiano said that Fridge Friend helps to eliminate cross-over tastes that might otherwise occur when you place a melon and an onion and an apple in the crisper together.

"With its low cost (just over $2 for a three-month supply), Fridge Friend is the perfect companion for price and health conscious consumers. Both single people and families will be able to stock up on produce when it's on sale, saving both time and money. Imagine how great it will be to buy produce and have everything stay fresh for weeks instead of days," said Gehrke-LoPiano.

No, Fridge Friend is not yet available in the stores although it will start appearing in the produce department of major grocers throughout the Midwest in the next month or two.

"A couple of big companies control the real estate in grocery stores. Grocers stock their shelves with products that they think consumers want. But they are hesitant to place new products until they are certain that the public will buy them," said Gehrke-LoPiano. "We're half-way there. We have food brokers calling on major grocery chains even as this article goes to press."

Gehrke LoPiano is certain that the product will be well received.

She said that she's certain grocers will welcome this new product. It allows customers to purchase larger quantities of produce with the assurance that it will remain fresh longer and that there will be less waste. This will, she said, make the grocers who are working very hard to promote their produce departments look good.

Consumers will, according to Gehrke-LoPiano, easily incorporate Fridge Friend into their current purchase and usage habits. It doesn't require re-training. We're already accustomed to having a box of baking soda in our refrigerators. And, with less spoilage, consumers will be more apt to keep more fresh produce on hand whether they purchase it at the grocery store or raise it in their backyard gardens.

All around, Fridge Friend, is a product that reflects today's fast, unpredictable lifestyle while making healthy shopping and eating a reality.

Meanwhile Gehrke-LoPiano is fulfilling orders personally. She suggests that anyone interested in purchasing Fridge Friend, contact her at NRM Consumer Products at (312)422-0155 and ask their grocers to stock Fridge Friend.

While Gehrke-LoPiano is very much involved in getting Fridge Friend to market at the moment, she ultimately plans to re-focus her energies back on her company, Norton Rubble & Mertz Advertising, a ten-year-old Chicago ad agency and its clients. She hopes to turn over the handling of Fridge Friend to others who will manage production and distribution.


A Note:

Numerous people have contacted us saying that they can't find this product. It is unfortunate. We have tried to find the product for our own use as well but have had no success. However, this is one of a number of features Joan-Marie wrote that were highlighted in Press Publications newspapers some time ago. We were not - and are not -- connected with any one discussed in this article. Nor is this article an endorsement of the product or anyone mentioned. Rather, it is included here to demonstrate the capabilities of the author and the impact that an article can have on the ongoing success of a venture. For information on this and other articles written by Joan-Marie contact her at

© Joan-Marie Moss and 1999-2017