Supplying Alaska's restaurants, stores, and homes: the ins-and-outs of food manufacturing in the Last Frontier.

Author:Stricker, Julie

The air in the Spenard neighborhood in Anchorage is redolent with the smell of fresh baked bread, making even the fullest bellies rumble in response to the delectable aromas billowing out of the Franz Bakery, a supplier of bread and other baked goods to Alaskans. "It's made here in Alaska by Alaskans for Alaskans," says Bakery General Manager Larry Brandt. "Our products have never been frozen. We bake it and we deliver it the next morning."

Franz opened the Anchorage site four years ago and distributes its products statewide, including to Southeast Alaska. It's one of a handful of food manufacturers in Alaska, which imports 95 percent of its food. However, Alaskans remain fiercely loyal to home-grown and locally-made products, including salmon and seafood, gourmet potato chips, berry candies, flour, locally-roasted coffee, tortillas and taco chips, wine, beer, birch syrup, and a wide variety of vegetables.

Most everything else comes from Outside. It takes about four days for a barge from Washington to reach the Port of Anchorage, where the majority of Alaska's food and supplies enter the state. While the large retail chains have their own supply lines, smaller stores in rural areas, as well as restaurants, schools, and jails, rely on distributors such as Quality Sales Food Service in Fairbanks.

In business since 1956, Quality Sales has a network of suppliers that stretches to Chicago, says Buyer Joe Plutt. The food is shipped to a central location in Seattle where it's packed into containers, loaded onto a barge, and shipped north. From Anchorage, containers are shipped to Fairbanks via truck or the Alaska Railroad to Quality Sales' warehouse. The company, which employs thirty to forty workers, receives three to eight containers weekly, and delivers to restaurants one to three times per week, Plutt says. The company also ships food by air to stores in Interior villages.

Quality Sales handles little local produce because of packaging requirements but does stock meat and fish products made by Indian Valley Meats and Alaska Sausage & Seafood in Anchorage.

Plutt says the business has changed relatively little over the years. "People are eating the same stuff they ate ten years ago," he says. "Maybe a little more health conscious."

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