Graceland Fruit ‘Focused and on a Great Path’

For nearly 50 years, Graceland Fruit has played an important role in the Up North tart cherry industry. Founded as a growers’ cooperative that processed and helped market the annual harvest, the company later pioneered fruit drying processes that helped create year-round utilization of fruit.

Graceland’s main business has always been supplying the food industry with ingredients. On the side, the company also sold its own branded products, which in addition to cherries grew to include dried cranberries, apples and wild/cultivated blueberries.

Over the past five years, Graceland has shifted its focus solely on the wholesale industrial ingredient market. If you had cereal for breakfast, a power bar during a hike, for example, you might have tasted Graceland’s fruit in some form.

The decision to concentrate solely on commercial customers has reaped rewards. Between 2015 and 2000, gross annual sales expanded from roughly $76 million to $94 million, and the Frankfort-based company now has 220 employees. Exports to Asia and Latin America accounted for most of that growth. It’s also helped that unlike some of its competitors, Graceland has a diverse offering of fruits.

Graceland moves a lot of product these days, says Brenna Nugent, the company’s marketing and communications manager.

“You can find our dried fruit across the U.S. and the globe,” Nugent said. “To give you an example, we ship full truck loads – nearly 39,000 pounds – multiple times a month. And that’s to just one of our clients.”

Another indication of Graceland’s growth is that its new website has been translated into Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean and Spanish to accommodate clients in 60 countries. About 65% of Graceland’s sales are domestic; Japan and China – where the company operates a small sales office in Shanghai – account for another 25%, she said.

“We also have customers in Europe, and demand from Mexican customers is growing,” said Nugent. “We think our new website will make it easier for overseas customers to understand what we provide.”

Like so many other successful northern Michigan-based companies, one of Graceland’s biggest challenges is finding new employees.

“We’re hiring for multiple positions in production, processing and packaging, maintenance, and also for a financial planning and acquisition manager and a supply chain coordinator,” Nugent said.

The challenges don’t end there.

Domestic orders are transported by truck, but orders marked for export need a railroad container loading facility, which does not exist in Frankfort. This means Graceland has to send containerized overseas shipments first by truck to major rail spurs. Adding to the problem, the pandemic has caused a backup of container ships in several major U.S. ports.

In some cases, tariffs can make for an uneven playing field. One example is Chile, which can ship its cranberries to China with no tariffs attached. There’s plenty of other competition, and not only from U.S. firms like Ocean Spray. Turkey is fighting hard to enter the U.S. market, and Canadian company Fruit d’Or recently purchased U.S.-based Decas.

Despite it all, Nugent remains upbeat about Graceland’s future.

“We make it super-easy internally to come up with innovations. The supply chain is intact. We have excellent industrial certifications. Exports and domestic sales are growing,” she said. “I think we’re focused and on a great path.”

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