Yoshida Foods International

Portland-based co-packing for beverages and specialty sauces
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
James Logan

When 19-year-old Junki Yoshida, better known as the ‘Boss of Sauce’, arrived in Seattle from Kyoto, Japan, with just $500 in his pocket, he had big dreams, but may have never imagined just how much success he would find.

The company Yoshida formed in 1982, Yoshida Foods International (YFI), is now in a 70,000-square-foot manufacturing facility. YFI grew to become an industry leader in Asian sauce and marinade production and is now growing in the co-packing and private label market of specialty sauces and carbonated beverages.

Based in Portland, Oregon, YFI is one of the most extensive co-packing facilities on the West Coast for high-end beverages and specialty sauces. The company’s innovative and eco-friendly manufacturing plant provides not only hot-fill PET plastic capabilities, but is also one of the only operations on the West Coast to offer tunnel pasteurization for mix-blend, cold-filled and carbonated beverages in glass bottles.

Today, the company packs and bottles for major brands such as Kombucha Wonder Drink, Dry Soda Co., H.J. Heinz Company and Greystar Products, among others. However, the minority business enterprise (MBE) started much smaller, out of Yoshida’s home kitchen.

Behind the Boss of Sauce

“Yoshida came to the U.S. as a teenager, trying to find and fulfill the American Dream,” tells Frank Heuschkel, now president of YFI. “At first he lived in his car and did odd jobs, including gardening. He started working for the president of Highline Community College in Seattle and the president found out he was also a karate instructor. Yoshida taught karate lessons in exchange for tuition.”

Yoshida continued to work at the college, where he met his wife Linda, and eventually moved to Portland. There, he began teaching karate to the Portland Police Department.

“It was during the holidays, where in Japan, its custom to give gifts when the idea first began,” says Heuschkel. “Yoshida wanted to give gifts to his students but didn’t have a lot of money to spend. He called home and asked his mother for the recipe for the gourmet sauce used at the family’s restaurant in Kyoto. Yoshida and his wife bottled sauce in their kitchen to give as gifts and before he knew it people were coming back, offering to pay him to make more.”

Yoshida, who was never one to let an idea slip, started bottling and tried to sell the sauce to local retailers. “He would even give it away to let people try it,” tells Heuschkel. “This was right around the same time when Costco was opening its second store. He was in the right place at the right time, with a great product and a tenacious attitude and got in on the ground level; ever since, YFI’s sauce has been one of the few food products to be in Costco continuously since that time.”

Yoshida Foods International

A platform for record gains

Costco helped pave the way for YFI to grow as a brand and before long, the company attracted national attention. “He started in a small shop and hired his first employees,” recounts Heuschkel. “Fast forward to 2000 and YFI’s sauce was the No. 1 Asian sauce in club stores across the U.S., as well as number one in retail on the West Coast. This was the point when Asian flavors were really starting to heat up in popularity.”

When national conglomerates approached Yoshida to purchase YFI he refused one after the next. “That was until H.J. Heinz asked if he would sell just the Yoshida sauce brand in North America,” tells Heuschkel. “In April 2000, H.J. Heinz Company purchased the rights to Yoshida sauces in North America. We still own the company, the plant and the product everywhere outside of North America. Yoshida Sauce is currently sold in Japan, Taiwan, Korea, the UK and Australia.”

This acquisition opened a new door for YFI in the co-packing and private-labeling markets. “We went from having our own brand to being mainly a co-packer overnight,” explains Heuschkel, who worked for Carnation and other large food companies in the past. “There was a position for a planner-scheduler open at YFI and I was hired. I became plant manager within the first year and progressed from there.”

Business bubbling over

With 70,000 square feet of production space and soon to be an additional 30,000 square feet of warehouse space and some 65 full-time employees, YFI is now co-packing on a serious scale.

“In 2007, in an effort to diversify, we purchased Crater Lake Soda,” details Curt Gouverneur, beverage sales and marketing for YFI and founder of Crater Lake Sodas. “The YFI production facility is certified both kosher and organic. Crater Lake was a family recipe passed on to me. It’s a niche market not a lot of competitors are into on the West Coast with glass bottle production.”

Crater Lake offers four varieties of gourmet sodas – Root Beer, Orange Cream, Lemon Lime and Vanilla Cream – all made with pure cane sugar and lightly carbonated without caffeine or foam-enhancing additives. The crisp, refreshing soda comes in 12-ounce bottles, six packs and cases of 24, as well as the Root Beer is also available in kegs.

To accommodate newly acquired beverage capabilities, YFI replaced the majority of its manufacturing equipment in 2011 and set up two separate production lines – one for sauce and one for soda. “We essentially tripled our output,” details Heuschkel. “Our current sauce production line can go from an 8.5 ounce plastic bottle all the way to a gallon jug; whatever the customer requires. The beverage line utilizes 12 to 16 ounce glass bottles. Over the next year we plan to add another 30,000 square feet in warehousing space.”

Amid expansion, YFI is also doing its part to save energy at its plant with a green-building design that includes 172,000 kilowatts of solar panel generation and 85 percent reclamation from recycling.

“We also think there’s a great deal of opportunity in private-label business in both sodas and sauces,” says Heuschkel. “In years past, the majority of business has been co-packing, but private labeling is something we’re really pursuing now.”

From small kitchen startup to international name, Yoshida remains active in various positions and several boards. All along, he says his success is due to the determination of the people who surround him. “He believes in generously supporting many community organizations,” says Heuschkel. “Many community organizations are supported through sponsorships and fundraising events in Yoshida’s vision.”

In reality, Yoshida created more than a culinary favorite, but a viable business that’s now diversifying as Yoshida Foods International.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Anderson Dairy
Taylor Made Labels
World Packaging