Three Yakima Valley hop farming families decided to break out of traditional methods of delivering hops to the beer brewing market in 1988. Saturday they toasted their company at Carpenter Ranches in Granger with one very big party.
Yakima Chief Hopunion (YCH Hops) has become the No. 1 supplier of hops in the Pacific Northwest. It invited its worldwide staff to the 30-year celebration, and just about everyone showed. They came from all over the Valley. They came from Belgium, Brazil and Hong Kong, where the company has offices. Representatives of the Valley hop industry came.
“All 11 families that own Yakima Chief Hopunion are here,” said Steve Carpenter, now the go-to guy in the family that started the Yakima Valley hop industry.
Although they had to find ways to beat the searing Yakima Valley heat, the guests seemed to be at the happiest party they’d ever attended. They were treated to food by Guerra Gourmet, Hoptown Pizza and Miss Dee’s Barbecue and water, beer and sodas. There was a rock-country band and a mariachi.
The celebration started with a morning session in Yakima. Steve Carpenter made a presentation to all the guests about YCH Hops, past, present and future. He did the presentation for “transparency,” with the employees, which did not mean much to the industry three decades ago.
“Many of our employees thanked me afterward for sharing the company’s
history,” Steve Carpenter said.
Also presenting at the morning session were YCH Hops Chief Operating Officer Mike Goettl, Ralph Sampson, former chairman of the Yakama Tribal Council, and Kate Ruffing, Chief Marketing Officer who presented the company’s new brand name: Yakima Chief Hops.
Carpenter said the company paid for a brand name audit. It came back with the notion that YCH Hops would leave a lot of revenue on the table by not using the Yakima Chief Hops brand.
Some guests at the afternoon party were confused. They thought it was a celebration of Tom Carpenter Jr.’s life. No one who knows Tom, now 81, walked away without giving him a handshake or a hug or both.
Taking the reins from his father decades ago, Tom grew the family farm into a multi-million dollar entity.
“I have a big family,” he said back then. “That’s a big responsibility. I’m building it for the future.”
When it came time, Tom led the family farm and the farms of his associates into the 21st century.
But Tom will be the first to tell you that “it took the work of all these people to get here.” Saturday, he said: “Big has nothing to do with it. It never did. We were just trying to do the right thing. And we have to be humble about it. Now we have to work on sustainability so we can be viable in the future.”
When Carpenter, Steve and Barney Perrault, Mike Smith, Chuck Zimmerman Perrault and Tom and Steve Carpenter met at the Granger Library in the 1980s to start the discussion that led to YCH Hops, hardly anybody in the industry was happy. Several Yakima Valley farmers were about to go under. Even a federal marketing didn’t help.
It was right for Tom Carpenter to take the lead when he did. A kind man with an aggressive nature, he was, and is no-nonsense in business meetings. Other growers knew they were going into a new kind of battle and decided to follow his steady hand.
The answer the Carpenters, the Perraults and Smiths came up with was farm families working together. They would do their marketing cooperatively and no longer go through brokers.
Yakima Chief, the first entity created from that meeting in Granger, was a half-dozen families banding. You could see Saturday that Yakima Chief Hopunion is still about family. Every farm is still a family farm. Only the marketing is a combined effort.
Yakima Chief was, and YCH Hops is about innovation in thought and process. Younger members of the families have taken, and are taking their places with their high-tech mentalities and scientific sensibilities.
YCH Hops offers six products, adding as needed. The latest is Cryo Hops. The other products are fresh hops, whole leaf hops, hop pellets, American Noble Hops and CO2 hops extract.
Through its production plants in Sunnyside, which were launched in 1988, YCH Hops had its first growth spurt with hop pellets. It had another, bigger spurt with CO2 hops extract. Steve Carpenter, the company’s chief supply chain officer, expects a new growth trend with Cryo Hops.