Downtime with Chris Sarles

The CEO of Oregon Fruit Products discusses work, life and play.

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What I’m Reading

Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything by Stephen Covey. Traction: Get A Grip On Your Business by Gino Wickman.

What I’m watching

The Big Short. The movie did a good job sharing what was behind the financial crisis and housing-market crash. I watched it with my son, who is heading out into the world as he graduates in finance and accounting from Oregon State.


I love the CellarTracker app. It allows me to keep track of and rate the wine I enjoy and bottles I own, and it gives a history and description of wineries and vintages. There’s also a nice social network aspect that lets you see what your friends are drinking.

When I’m not working

Running, weights, spin class. It helps me to be personally disciplined and clear my mind. I find some of my best problem solving is done on a good run! When we’re having one of those stellar blue-sky Portland days, I love a long run by the waterfront.

No place like…

Cinque Terre, Italy. The five coastal towns that date to the 11th century are literally carved into the rocks along the coastline with a hiking trail that runs through them. The views are just spectacular, because you get the colors and diversity of the buildings, the fishing boats and the austere blue water all in one landscape. The locals are wonderfully welcoming to tourists as well.

Family time

When my boys were young, we started a tradition of an annual vacation, alternating between a sports-focused and an educational trip. We have visited many of the ballparks in America and spent time in D.C., Boston, New Orleans and other places in the South to learn about our nation’s history and the civil rights movement in particular. My boys happen to be big foodies as well, so they loved researching places that we were going to eat at during our trips.

Business role model

My first partner, Marsh Foerster. He was semi-retired at a fairly young age after building and selling a business when I was coming out of college. We decided to create a wine and beer distribution company together. He valued finding and nurturing great talent, sharing a mutual vision, empowering people to make decisions and celebrating the achievement as a team. So simple yet frequently overlooked.Marsh passed away a few years ago, but I still try to practice what he taught me every day.

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Why canned fruit is relevant in 2016 

Cans are relevant in 2016 and beyond. Often the fruit is just hours off the bush or vine as it makes its way into the container. Canned fruit is incredibly versatile, and chefs and cooks at home continue to be amazed at the quality of the fruit and the simplicity of use. One of our major tasks for the website this year is to enhance our recipe collection to include more ways to use the cans beyond the tried-and-true blueberry pie.

What we don’t know about Oregon Fruit Products

The iconic Oregon Fruit cans with the black label have been on the shelves across the country since 1935 – over 80 years! But we’re not just a canning company anymore. Most recently we created new fruit purees exclusively for the brewing/cider industry, as well as frozen purees that are used in restaurants to add fruit to milkshakes, parfaits, desserts, and cocktails.

Many people may also wonder if we’re still a locally-owned family company, and the answer is yes! The Gehlars, the original family who started Oregon Fruit, handed off the business to Ed and Cyndi Maletis in 2011. The two made the deal in a mutual desire to honor the family legacy and continue to grow the business in Oregon without outside investment.

The next big thing in food processing

Today’s consumer is a vigilant label reader, demanding a “clean” label so they can shop and buy with confidence. They want greater transparency as to what is in their food and where it came from. We are moving to a “no BPA intended” can, for example. Our new red tart cherries in jars note some of the health benefits associated with that fruit right on the label.

You met President Obama during his visit to Oregon last year

It was such an honor to be selected to meet and thank him for his support of global trade. It happened very quickly — I only got about 12 hours of notice that it was going to happen for sure. And when it did, a bunch of us were in a small room together, and without any fanfare, a curtain swung open and there he was. He was sincere, engaging and very approachable, and I was impressed with his ability to put each of us at ease so we could all tell our company story with as few nerves as possible. He even mentioned Oregon Fruit in his speech at Nike —
a bonus!