MEDFORD — Kay Armstrong is pretty happy with her job: She’s a tour guide who takes visitors around the 52-acre Harry & David campus in Medford where fruit and artisan goods are decoratively packaged into welcomed gifts.
She explains the pears that made the fruit producer famous in the 1920s are still grown across 2,700 acres throughout southern Oregon’s Rogue River Valley.
This sprawling campus, Harry & David’s headquarters, is on the site of the original orchards. Visible from Oregon Highway 99 is the company’s iconic Art Moderne-style packing house. The tour bus, which starts at the Harry & David Country Village store, heads south for about a mile before turning off the highway and heading deep into the campus to the candy kitchen and bakery complex.
After 33 years working for Harry & David, Armstrong is still not bored. The company that invented the Fruit of the Month Club in 1938 has continued to expand with gourmet food and wine, she says.
Surprisingly, despite high holiday orders and the pace of 21st-century production lines, the work inside this fruit and confectionary factory is conducted about the same as a century ago: carefully, steadily and very hands-on. Bakers brush butter onto paper-thin phyllo pastry leaves to create baklava as glove-handed candy makers coax truffles down conveyor belts in an orderly fashion unlike the hilarious “I Love Lucy” scene.
Levers are pushed to release a river of dark chocolate over cherries, and trays of shortbread cookies are pulled from an oven, with raspberry filling bubbling from the tree-shaped cutout.
During the holiday season, Harry & David’s gift packers process 70% to 80% of annual orders received online and by phone, from businesses and individuals, says Armstrong.
Between the packing facilities, orchards and onsite call center, the normal workforce of 1,700 swells to more than 6,700 at the peak of the holiday season, with as many as 100,000 calls received in a single day, according to Harry & David’s website.
There is also a distribution and call center in Ohio, taking orders for Harry & David as well as Wolferman’s breakfast foods, Stock Yard’s meats and flower arrangements and houseplants from 1-800-Flowers.com, which has owned Harry & David since 2014.
In Medford’s gift assembly area, workers hold up each green pear and red apple to examine it before wrapping it in branded tissue paper and placing it in a padded gift box, reusable tin or woven basket.
They tuck in a card with their name on it, secure the sweet and savory treats under clear cellophane, and add a hand-tied ribbon on top.
Started by a pear
Harry & David Tower of Treats Signature Holiday Gift includes pears, milk chocolate Moose Munch Premium Popcorn, sweet chocolate-covered cherries, truffles, mixed nuts. Harry & David Tower of Treats Signature Holiday Gift includes pears, milk chocolate Moose Munch Premium Popcorn, sweet chocolate-covered cherries, truffles and mixed nuts.
Starting a high-end, mail-order gift enterprise is serious work, and marketing-minded Cornell graduates Harry and David Rosenberg pulled it off. They founded Harry & David by first shipping fresh fruit from the Rogue Valley east all the way to Europe in the Roaring Twenties.
The brothers, who later adopted their stepfather’s last name of Holmes, branded their Comice pear ”Royal Riviera.” Each pear is still harvested by hand and one in each gift box is wrapped in gold paper.
When fruit exports to Europe dried up during the Great Depression, Harry & David sold gift subscriptions for Americans to receive monthly shipments of fresh fruit. Products were advertised in magazines and catalogs mailed to offices and homes.
“The brothers are credited with being innovators in the specialty-item mail-order catalog market that has come to dominate so much of the nation’s retail commerce,” writes historian Jeff LaLande in the Oregon Historical Society’s digital encyclopedia.
Now, phone and online orders are generated from the HarryandDavid.com website, which was launched in 1997, two years after Amazon’s online bookstore.
Inventing new products is key, and registered trademark symbols follow Harry & David product names such as Tower of Treats, which was introduced in the mid-1940s as a stack of decorative boxes filled with sweets, mixed nuts and fruit.
A Holiday Sweet Treats box with drawings of golden reindeer ($29.99) contains a dozen shortbread cookies, three ounces of chocolate-covered cherries, an assortment of flavored truffles and a six-ounce bag of Moose Munch Premium Popcorn made at the factory.
Tour goers at the popcorn area watch bricks of unsalted butter slide into giant tubs of caramel before popcorn, made from carefully chosen corn kernels puffed up under heat, is poured on top and gently mixed.
Quality and tradition keep customers coming back, says Greg Sarley, senior vice president of merchandising, gourmet food and gift baskets for Harry & David’s parent company, 1-800-Flowers.
Harry & David’s Wow Holiday Meal is ready to heat and serve. Harry & David This year, as people reunited for traditional holiday meals, the Wow Holiday Meal, ready to heat and serve, has taken off, he says. “This is perfect for entertaining with elegance and ease, allowing [people] to spend more time with loved ones, and less time in the kitchen.”
Harry & David gift makers in Medford operate inside a fruit and confectionary factory much as they did a century ago.
Apron-wearing bakers brush honey onto paper-thin phyllo pastry leaves to create baklava as glove-handed candy producers coax truffles down conveyor belts in an orderly way unlike the “I Love Lucy” scene.
Harry & David’s Wow Holiday Meal is ready to heat and serve.Harry & David
This year, as people reunite for holiday meals after two years of pandemic restrictions, the Wow Holiday Meal, ready to heat and serve, has taken off, Sarley says.
The $399.99 box contains two main courses: A 7.5-pound spiral-sliced ham and a 10-pound oven-roasted turkey with gravy and spiced cranberry chutney.
Side dishes include almost two pounds each of apple sausage walnut stuffing, Gruyère and garlic red mashed potatoes, brown sugar sweet potatoes, snap peas with bacon, and zucchini and corn casserole, plus a pound of black truffle and almond green beans.
Desserts are a 2.5-pound American-style apple pie and a pound of cinnamon swirl and baklava, buttered and baked in Medford.
At the end of the hour-long tour, with the scents of cinnamon, maple bacon and butter pecan lingering, Kay Armstrong says the last two months of the year are the best time to see Harry & David’s operation at full speed.
She pauses. “But the months before Valentine’s Day are fun too,” she says with a smile.