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Ready Pac Foods will be acquired by Villeneuve-d'Ascq, France-based Bonduelle, a world leader of ready-to-eat vegetables. This milestone transaction will strengthen Bonduelle's international footprint and dramatically change its profile, making the U.S. the largest country of operations. This transaction is also expected to offer new opportunities to Ready Pac Foods business partners.ready

Ready Pac, a market leader in single-serve salad bowls, is also a producer of fresh-cut produce, offering packaged salads, fresh-cut fruits and mixed vegetables to its retail and foodservice customers. The company has four production facilities — located in Irwindale, CA; Jackson, GA; and Florence and Swedesboro, NJ — about 3,500 full-time employees and generates approximately $800 million of revenue.

Bonduelle has a longstanding track record of successful acquisitions in North America, in particular Aliments Carrière, Canada, in 2007 and Allens, USA in 2012, and the fresh category, its first business segment.

This acquisition, which is fully compatible with Bonduelle's strong financial profile, perfectly fits with its strategic plan and will strengthen its leadership positions in its core business lines:

  • development of Bonduelle's business in the consumer convenience and healthy food segments;
  • increasing presence in the fast-growing segment of fresh prepared vegetables;
  • reinforcement of footprint in North America, of a size, post transaction, equivalent to the European Union in Bonduelle's geographical portfolio.

Ready Pac Foods will become Bonduelle fifth's business unit, dedicated to the Fresh business in the Americas, along with Bonduelle Long Life Europe, Bonduelle Fresh Europe, Bonduelle Eurasia Markets and Bonduelle Americas, the latter being devoted to canned and frozen vegetables in North America and South America.

"We welcome all of the Ready Pac Foods employees into the Bonduelle family," Christophe Bonduelle, Bonduelle's chairman and CEO, said in a press release. "We look forward to working with the highly skilled and successful Ready Pac Foods management team in bringing together two great companies in the vegetal food industry. This acquisition shows Bonduelle's ambition to further develop as a global leader in its markets and strengthen its positions in the consumer convenience and health segments to meet consumers' needs."

 "We are thrilled to partner with market leader Bonduelle in our next chapter of growth and feel we will be right at home within the Bonduelle family of companies," Ready Pac Foods CEO Tony Sarsam said in the release. "Beyond common business goals, both companies share a common purpose — to help people live healthier lives through innovative fresh food products. I am enthusiastic about Bonduelle's investment in our growth strategy and for the great success we will achieve together."

After more than a year of negotiations, Baker Packing Co. and Murakami Produce Co. LLC, two of the largest-volume onion shippers in the Treasure Valley, have announced they are merging their Ontario, OR, companies to form Baker & Murakami Produce Co. LLLP effective July 1.

On Feb. 23 Baker President Steve Baker, along with his father, Jerry, who is company chief executive officer, joined Grant Kitamura, managing member of Murakami Produce, in making the announcement. The new company, they said, will be a “supershed” in the Idaho-Eastern Oregon onion region.1-Baker--Murakami-1Members of the newly formed Baker & Murakami Produce Co. are Grant Kitamura, managing member of Murakami Produce; Chris Woo, owner member of Murakami Produce Co. and Idaho/Oregon sales manager for Potandon Produce; Jerry Baker, CEO of Baker Packing; and Steve Baker, president of Baker Packing. Photo courtesy of Baker & Murakami Produce Co.

That term “supershed” will be used on packaging as well as in promotions, the men said. And to handle the increased volume, work has begun on a new 20,000-square foot floor and shipping area, bringing the total packing and shipping area for Baker & Murakami Produce Co. to 68,000 square feet.

In addition to the new facility, installation of state-of-the-art grading and sorting equipment will take place at an existing Baker facility this summer.

Steve Baker said the merger, as well as the equipment upgrade, will have far-reaching benefits.

“This merger will have a positive impact on our growers and our customers,” he said. “With the installation of our new high-volume grading and packing equipment, we will be able to service both our growers and our customers better than before, and we will also be able to improve our loading time for truckers.”

Kitamura said the joining of forces with Baker Packing Co. is in line with their common goals and business practices.

Murakami, which entered into a joint venture with Potandon Produce more than a decade ago, expanded in 2014 when Murakami Growers LLC purchased a portion of the operation and committed their crops to its annual volume.

Baker Packing has long been a year-round shipper, sourcing onions from other growing regions.

“Baker Packing and Murakami Produce have been successfully packing and marketing onions from the Idaho-Eastern Oregon onion growing region for many years,” Kitamura said. “In an ever-changing business environment, it was refreshing for me to find a competitor that shared the same business philosophies and a common vision for the future. I have a tremendous amount of pride and pleasure in knowing we are investing together to form a business of perpetuity for our growers and customers.”

Part of Murakami since 1980 and himself from an onion-farming family, Kitamura has often said that onions are in his blood. His brother, Larry, is one of the growers in Murakami Growers LLC.

Founded in the late 1960s by the late Sig Murakami as the packing and shipping arm of Murakami Farms, Murakami Produce began commercially packing and shipping for growers throughout the region when Sig ceased his farming operations in 1983.

Baker, too, has a solid history in the area. Before Jerry and Steve Baker formed Baker Packing in 1997, they were part of the DeBruyn Produce Co. Jerry Baker launched an onion division for DeBruyn in 1972, bringing several years of experience to the job at that time. He shipped onions out of an old 7,200-square foot warehouse where Baker Packing now sits. Steve joined him in 1984, and the two continued that operation until they bought the company and started Baker Packing.

As the 2016-17 shipping season continues and the Treasure Valley looks forward to drying fields and planting, Baker & Murakami Produce Co. is gearing up for its inaugural season. Steve Baker spoke for the group and said, “We are all very excited as this new venture will be a game changer here in the Treasure Valley… [and] will allow us to better serve our customers and help develop a larger market share in the near future.”

STARS logoThe Southeast Produce Council's Southeast Top Agricultural Recruits Scholarship program, known as STARS, is available to outstanding students who are agriculture majors in Southeast-based land grant universities. The goal of STARS is to recruit top students and to introduce them to job opportunities in the produce industry.

The 12 most recent students to benefit from this program will be at Southern Exposure 2017 in Orlando, FL. They are Carson Buzhardt, Meaghan Shaughnessy, Molly Pershin, Jacob Rutz, Mara McGurl, Samantha Strickland, Caroline Blanchard, Russ Sonnier, Steve Montalvo, Luis Salazar, John di Stefano and William Shelburne.

"We are excited to have each of these students attend Southern Exposure this year to introduce them to the produce industry and meet our members," the council noted on its website. "We encourage you to check out their resumes at seproducecouncil.com and set up an interview or meet and greet with them at the show by emailing stars@seproducecouncil.com."

The 2017 participating universities are the University of Florida, the University of Georgia, Louisiana State University, Clemson University, North Carolina State University and Virginia Tech.

STARS-screen-photo

Kent Romrell, one of the original founders and former senior vice president of sales at Potandon Produce LLC, died Wednesday, Feb. 22, from an inoperable brain tumor for which he had been undergoing treatment since Aug. 26. He was 70 years old.

Mr. Romrell retired from Potandon Produce in March 2013 after more than 30 years in the fresh produce industry. His career spanned many companies and he touched many lives during his time in the fresh potato and onion industry. Mr. Romrell’s produce career started in 1983 when he joined the R.T. French Co., and later with Pillsbury Foods after a buyout in 1985. romrell kent-2009Kent Romrell

In 1995, Mr. Romrell and three other senior Pillsbury managers — Jeff Sholl, Mel Davenport and Steve Ottum — led a buyout of the fresh potato and onion division and formed Potandon. As one of the founding partners of Potandon Produce LLC, Mr. Romrell led the sales department until his retirement, guiding Potandon on a path that would see the company grow to the largest marketer of fresh potatoes in the nation. The company said his guidance and forward thinking made an impact on the fresh potato industry that will not be forgotten. Under his leadership Potandon Produce introduced many new potato varieties into the marketplace and helped change the direction of the category forever.

“I’m going to sorely miss Kent and his passing leaves a huge hole in my life," Dick Thomas, Potandon’s current senior vice president of sales, said in a press release. "He taught me the fresh potato business over the 23 years we worked together. Whether it was business, personal, or on the golf course, Kent was always there for me.”

Mel Davenport, chief executive officer of Potandon, said, “Kent was a terrific friend and partner. He was one of a group that established Potandon as an innovative and leading produce company. He will be truly missed.”

"There are some people you meet, as you go through your career, who are bigger than life," Jeff Sholl, managing partner of Potandon LLC, said in the release. "Kent was one of those people. Kent was a true character and his passing makes the world a poorer place. We all have lost true friend and important colleague. Kent left his stamp on Potandon and his many contributions and lasting legacy will not be forgot. Kent will be missed."

Steve Ottum, Potandon’s president, said, "If it were not for Kent, Potandon would not be where it is today. But more importantly he was a great partner, friend and one of the most caring people I have ever known. And oh my how he loved golf. He would teach you little things about golf, even while he was taking your money! He will be missed. On behalf of the Potandon employees and owners our thoughts and prayers are with Kent's entire family."

Mr. Romrell is survived by his wife, Deon, four children, and several grandchildren.

“Kent’s contributions to the produce industry are too numerous to count and the impact he had on my life, both professionally and personally cannot be expressed with words. He lived his life to the fullest and he will never be forgotten,” Ralph Schwartz, vice president of sales, said in the release.

Arrangements have not been announced at this time.

Rä Foods LLC, based in Sacramento, CA, has announced its Rä Nanoshoots product line is now in the produce section of over 120 Southern California Vons stores. The new distribution represents a significant addition to its existing presence in Southern California through Stater Bros., Save Mart and Lucky stores.Ra-Foods-xx-1

According to Rä Foods LLC, grocery retailers have shown great interest in Rä Nanoshoots and see the product as an alternative for traditional sprouts. The company’s patent-pending Cold Grown process results in a die-off of pathogens and eliminates handling that can promote spoilage.

“It is a real food-safety breakthrough, and it satisfies pent-up demand that has existed since traditional sprouts began to disappear from the shelves,” Dan Sholl, general manager of Rä Foods, said in a press release.

Since its November product launch, the company said it has received very positive consumer feedback on Rä Nanoshoots. Customers appreciate the product being grown in the package, alive and untouched until they get it home, as well as the selection of flavors.

Although Southern California is currently the core market for Rä Nanoshoots, it is gearing up production to expand into central and northern California, as well as Arizona and the Pacific Northwest.