2017 Generational Development Finalist

Growing up in the family business helped shape new leaders at Higher Taste

From stamping pull dates on burritos to accompanying their mom on deliveries, you could say the second generation of Wrobels grew up in the family’s wholesale food business.

Literally, the garage converted to a commercial kitchen was in the backyard.

Thirty years later, Higher Taste is still very much a family affair. These days, the second generation helps run the company alongside the parents, who are still very much involved.

Higher Taste makes vegan and vegetarian grab-n-go foods that can be found in 173 locations. The company’s growth has given new leadership opportunities for the younger generation.

With a major expansion underway, the family has a clear vision to position the company for future success. Soon, Higher Taste will launch a frozen food line with the intent to take products to national and international markets.

Higher Taste began in 1987 when Hans and Rhonda Wrobel and their two oldest children relocated to Oregon from New York, where Hans had worked as a banquet chef, and Rhonda worked in a health food store.

They tried catering at first. The food was well received. But the hours, mostly weekends and evenings, were not conducive to raising a young family.

“We were overwhelmed,” Rhonda recalled.

So they switched to making wholesale foods. Often with kids in tow, Rhonda worked sales and deliveries, bringing sandwiches to mostly smaller stores.

It was serendipity that Fred Meyer’s corporate office was located next to one of the outlets that carried Higher Taste products. Fred Meyer’s food buyer would go out for lunch and bought a sandwich. After trying several more, she liked them so much, she decided to carry Higher Taste products in Fred Meyer stores.

“I never would have thought to get into such a big supermarket chain,” Rhonda said.

The Wrobels now had four children. Hans’s mom came from Germany to help care for the children. They rented additional space and hired employees as the customer base expanded to include schools and hospitals. Growth was limited only by the physical space to prepare the food and people do to the work.

That’s when the second generation came back to help. Jonathan Wrobel ran a burger restaurant and worked as an automotive technician. He now oversees operations. Abraham Wrobel studied at Portland Community College and worked at a pizza restaurant. He is in charge of production.

Daughter Shawn-Anne Coverdale helps with marketing, and daughter-in-law Kathleen Wrobel is bookkeeper.

 “We needed their help,” Rhonda said. “You can count on family.”

Shared core values drive the Wrobel family to meet business growth challenges. The second-generation has brought ideas to help to move the business forward. A cost analysis uncovered that some products weren’t profitable, so those were replaced with new flavors. Higher Taste also renegotiated business agreements with retailers to more favorable terms.

To accommodate continued growth, Higher Taste purchased land in Cornelius to construct a 15,000-square foot building to expand production of its fresh market products and launch the frozen food line.

“By building this new plant, that will create a lot of new jobs,” Rhonda said. “I’d like to take care of our family for generations to come.”