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Gibson Produce & Watermelon Sales LLC, headquartered in Vero Beach, FL, celebrated the next step in its corporate growth on Jan. 1 with the opening of a new office in Lake Wales, FL. President Bob Gibson said the new office was opened in response to increased production. “My acreage increased [40 percent] this year,” he told The Produce News April 8. Produce veterans Michael Starnes and Jason Turner spearhead sales at the Lake Wales office, and Mr. Gibson said he is pleased to have them aboard.

A year ago, the company launched the Slice for Hope project, designed to accelerate innovative cancer research, build awareness within communities, and fund individuals in need of treatment and care. “I lost my mother and sister at a young age,” Mr. Gibson said, adding that he turned his initial anger into a positive force for awareness and change.

Gibson Produce is a vertically integrated company growing and packing premium fruit. On the domestic side, the company grows watermelons in Florida, Georgia and Delaware. Strategic partnerships have also been developed with growing organizations in Mexico, Central America and South America.

Looking at domestic production in 2013, Mr. Gibson said he expects a delay to the start of the season. “We’ve had an unusually cold end of February and beginning of March, which slowed the production date down,” he said. He anticipated production in south Florida to begin around April 24, and activity will ramp up in north Florida around May 25. Georgia production will begin on June 10, and Delaware production will round out the domestic season.

“So far from what I can see looking at my acreage, I feel our quality will be fine,” he said.

Watermelons are marketed into December under the “Gibson’s Select” label. Ninety-nine percent of the company’s customers are found in the retail sector, from Chicago to the East Coast.

This season, Gibson Produce’s high-graphics watermelon bins will feature the “Slice for Hope” logo. “It’s a really pretty bin,” Mr. Gibson said.

Mr. Gibson said the company is GSFI-certified for growing and packing. Gibson Produce also participates in HarvestMark for its traceability program. The company’s food-safety program is administered under the watchful eye of Trevor Colom, director of food safety and sales.