Fifty-Plus Years in the Fruit Industry
For more than 50 years, Bob and Janet Underwood have been consumed by red tart cherries. Together they have planted, grown, harvested, processed, manufactured and marketed fruit and fruit products in the Cherry Capital of the World, right here in Traverse City, Michigan. They bought their first farm – 203 acres of orchards – in 1963 on the picturesque Old Mission Peninsula, a spit of rolling land surrounded by Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan. It was the beginning of Underwood Farm, which expanded in acreage over the years and included the popular Underwood Farm Market. They operated the farm market for 25 years and processed tart cherries for 13 years. During their final year of farming in 2000, Underwood Farm produced a million pounds of tart cherries. Bob is the first to say he was “not ready for the rocking chair yet.” Instead, he launched a decade long quest to make the health benefits of Montmorency tart cherries available year-round in a form that was convenient and cost effective. The journey took years of research and development. His first efforts — experimenting with tart cherry juice in his kitchen — lead to the introduction of chewable wafers using powdered fruit. Still dissatisfied with the product’s effectiveness, he went on to develop a proprietary process that uses the whole fruit — except the pits in cherries — that removes only the fruit’s moisture and not its naturally-occurring phytonutrients. Basically, Mother Nature’s formula is not altered, keeping the antioxidants and important anthocyanins intact to produce a whole fruit gel without the use of solvents and extreme heat processing. The proprietary process is the basis for the company’s popular line of softgels including CherryFlex and Wild Blueberry IQ. The whole fruit paste is also available in CherryFlex Red Tart Cherry Concentrate and CherryFlex Tart Cherry Whole Fruit Gel in a jar.
As evidenced by their continuing involvement and a roomful of plaques and framed citations, the Underwoods have a strong loyalty to the fruit industry and farming community. Their entrepreneurial successes have furthered not only their company, but the fruit industry and agricultural community as a whole. “Our goal is to continue to innovate and produce exceptional fruit products that improve the quality of life for people and their animals,” says 78-year-old Bob. “When we believe we have conquered the challenge, I’ll finally be ready for that rocking chair.”