Tony Freytag’s career is the stuff of bestselling novels.

A native of the Texas hill country, Freytag would spend more than two decades rubbing shoulders with the globe’s well-heeled. His product development expertise helped rack up sales at high-end retailers Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.

By the end of the last century, it was back to rural America for Freytag as he and his expertise abandoned the super rich and relocated to the Pacific Northwest.

The lure was the region’s apple industry, which provided the raw material for Cashmere, Wash.-based Crunch Pak LLC and its fresh-cut apple slices.

“Many folks thought we were pretty crazy,” Freytag said, “But we believed the timing was right.”

Those suspected of lacking sanity were Crunch Pak’s founders: general manager John Graden, the late Craig Carson and Freytag as marketing director.

Consumer acceptance of Crunch Pak’s sliced apples began to grow first in the South and the Southeast, Freytag said.

“Our growth in the Northeast was then driven by the snowbirds who went to Florida in the winters and, when they returned to their homes, asked retailers to stock Crunch Pak’s sliced apples,” he said.

There was another factor in the growth.

In the 10 years since the company was founded, Crunch Pak has sold 5 billion apple slices “one slice at a time,” Freytag said. The growth was spurred in large part by his drive and commitment, according to industry colleagues.

“Tony Freytag has passionately pursued the sliced apple category with the patience and skill of a highly trained surgeon,” said Tampa, Fla.-based Doug Emery, produce business manager for Advantage Sales & Marketing, Irvine, Calif.

“The only disadvantage he faced was that the instructional manual on how to sell sliced apples had not been yet been written.”

Graden observed the company’s growth from a front row seat.

“Tony’s passion and vision have helped to create sliced apples as its own category in the produce department,” he said.

In the early days of Crunch Pak, tracking the company’s market penetration was no easy task.

“There wasn’t even a classification I could take to Nielsen to track what we were selling,” Freytag said. “We weren’t even a blip on the radar screen.”

That has changed as Crunch Pak carved a niche as the produce industry’s leader in sliced apple sales, an achievement that Freytag ranks well above his successes at Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.

“It is second only to my family,” he said.

Now 58, Freytag has no thoughts of retiring.

“This is fun,” he said. “Everyday I meet people I admire.”

Freytag’s continued presence at Crunch Pak also could give birth to new fresh produce categories.

“One of the wonderful things that come with age is the ability to trust your instincts more than ever before,” he said.

Creativity and innovation will continue to grow the fresh produce industry, Freytag believes.

“There are so many things that are going on — not just with Crunch Pak, but in the industry,” he said. “I think the emphasis on fruit and vegetables is only going to get bigger.”

As for Freytag, there’s the added reward of relocating to Wenatchee seven years ago.

“The beauty that is the Northwest still leaves me in awe,” he said. “I feel fortunate to be a part of that.”