National Frozen Foods Corporation, Chehalis: Eat Your Vegetables, and Create Jobs

National Frozen Foods was founded by William McCaffray Sr. in Olympia in January, 1912. Originally called the National Fruit Canning Company, its early focus was on canning berries grown around the region.

Six years later, it began cold-packing strawberries in 50-gallon barrels for sale to ice cream and jam makers, foreshadowing the eventual shift to a frozen foods company.

In fact, the company is responsible for some of the earliest frozen retail packaging, producing 1-pound cups of strawberries. By the 1930s, it was also selling frozen vegetables, mostly peas and corn, produced on one of the country’s first freezing tunnels.

By 1965, the company left the crowded canned food market and focused exclusively on frozen foods, a move that proved successful. Retail sales of frozen foods in the United States totaled about $56 billion in 2010. In 1988, it changed the name to National Frozen Foods.

Through it all, National Frozen Foods has exemplified the spirit of a family-owned business. For decades, the McCaffray family managed the company, and even after its sale in 1988 the unique corporate culture established by William McCaffray endures.

“Just give the other fellow a good break,” McCaffray liked to say.

It’s a culture that gives employees’ responsibility and authority to make decisions, that provides workers with family-wage pay and good benefits, and supports the communities in which it operates.

Today, National Frozen Foods employs more than 500 full-time workers throughout Washington and Oregon, and as many as 1,400 during peak harvest season. It has corporate offices in Seattle and operations in Chehalis, Moses Lake and Quincy, Wash., and Albany, Ore.

Pat Sauter, general manager of the company’s Chehalis plant, said the company is proud of its role of a job creator in Lewis County. More than 200 people work at that location, and as many as 1,400 around the state during peak harvest.

In order to continue growing and hiring, Sauter said, the company needs sensible regulations that don’t overlap or conflict.