Incorporated in 1993, Gem Berry was an outgrowth of an earlier effort by a group of North Idaho farmers to establish a raspberry industry. Partners Harry & Betty Menser and Jack & Elizabeth O’Brien formed the company when the raspberry industry fell through because of a lack of labor to pick the delicate fruit. Fortunately for them, the availability of wild mountain huckleberries and the opening of the Bonner Business Center in Sandpoint that housed a licensed kitchen offered Gem Berry the opportunity to manufacture their value-added products. Brothers, Doug and Edward Hawkins, owners of the Litehouse Salad Dressings, also located in Sandpoint, gave Gem Berry a tremendous boost too, by bringing home their huckleberry operation from Oregon and contracting with Gem Berry for its huckleberry production. Gem Berry managed Litehouse Specialty Foods huckleberry division until 2004 when they bought the huckleberry business from Litehouse.
Gem Berry Products has won numerous awards for their wild berry products including the following:
*Red Raspberry Jam won the 1993 Governor’s Marketing Award for the “Best New Product” from the Idaho Specialty Foods Association.
*Wild Huckleberry/Red Raspberry Jam won the 1995 Governor’s Marketing Award for Best New Product from the Idaho Specialty Foods Association.
“It was neither too sweet nor too thick – a perfect jam” Brooks Tish, Idaho Statesman, Wednesday, April 26, 1995.
*“Best Packaging Award” at the 1995 Tri-State Northwest Gourmet Getaway Competition for its Huckleberry syrup.
*Wild Huckleberry/Red Raspberry Syrup Grand Prize winner of the Finest New Red Raspberry Product in America contest 1995 sponsored by the Washington Red Raspberry Commission.
Jack O’Brien, President of Gem Berry Products, was born in Colorado, but moved to the San Francisco Bay area where he graduated from the University of San Francisco. After a tour with the U.S. Army during the Korean war, he was employed as a buyer for Macy’s Department Store. About that time, he met and married Elizabeth whose family had moved to the San Francisco Bay area from Michigan. Elizabeth’s parents bought a ranch in North Idaho and in 1962, Jack and Elizabeth moved their family to the ranch where they originally raised cattle and horses. The O’Briens set out to become raspberry farmers which is where they met and partnered with the Mensers to form Gem Berry. Jack was the president and CEO of Gem Berry until his death in October 2012. Jack’s daughter, Mary, became involved with the day-to-day operations in Jack’s stead.
Elizabeth O’Brien, also a University of San Francisco graduate created the award-winning recipes for Gem Berry until her untimely death in 2005.
Harry Menser, former Superintendent & Horticulturist at the University of Idaho’s Sandpoint R & D Center, grew up in Delaware and his native Pennsylvania. He received his doctorate at the University of Maryland, served with the US Air Force during the Korean War, and worked as a Research Scientist for the US Department of Agriculture in Maryland and West Virginia before moving to Idaho in 1980. Harry was instrumental in organizing North Idaho farmers to establish a raspberry industry where he met and partnered with the O’Briens to form Gem Berry Products. As the only surviving owner, Harry is the chief CEO and marketing manager.
Betty Menser, a graduate of Allegheny College and the University of Pittsburgh, served as Gem Berry’s Treasurer and works with Harry to purchase supplies and market their products. (NOTE: Betty developed cancer and passed away in February 2009. She will be sorely missed!)
Dr. Menser, his wife Betty, and partners Jack & Elizabeth O’Brien founded Gem Berry Products Inc., in 1993 as a value-added berry processing company, located at the Bonner Business Center Incubator in Sandpoint where they use the on-site commercial kitchen.
Currently, Harry Menser is the only surviving partner. Even in his declining years, he still runs the operation out of the Sandpoint, Idaho area.