Martin, Gourmet Trading’s president since 1988, died of an apparent heart attack while on vacation with his family in Santa Barbara, Calif., according to a Gourmet Trading official. He was 48.
In a statement, Paul Martin, Chris Martin’s brother and partner in Gourmet Trading, praised his brother’s vision in turning their company into a worldwide supplier of asparagus, blueberries and other fruits and vegetables.
“We mourn the loss of Chris, whose honesty, fairness and integrity have established the lasting values by which our company will continue to operate successfully as we move on,” Paul Martin said.
A fellow asparagus importer, Walter Yager, chief executive officer of Miami-based Alpine Fresh, first got to know Martin 25 years ago.
Yager remembers Martin, a New Zealand native, as an excellent businessman and leader.
“He was a great competitor, and he did a great job of building his company up,” Yager said. “He will be very, very sorely missed.”
Gourmet Trading, founded in 1982, is the sole distributor of Green Giant fresh asparagus and also a distributor of Green Giant fresh blueberries. The company has farms in California and Peru and a packing facility in Washington.
Martin, who was the West Coast co-chairman of the Miami-based Peruvian Asparagus Importers Association, is widely regarded as one of the first importers to recognize Peru’s potential as an asparagus growing region.
Priscilla Lleras, the association’s coordinator, said Martin was admired by many as an asparagus industry leader.
“Chris’s service to the industry goes beyond words,” Lleras said. “He went on Capitol Hill to stand for the issues of our industry and trade advancements. He traveled from farm to market and across the nation making sure asparagus has a strong presence in the U.S. market.”
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture named Martin as an alternate member of the Folsom, Calif.-based U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.
Mark Villata, the council’s executive director, praised Martin’s active participation in the council and his love for the blueberry business.
“It’s great to have people serving who are that passionate about the product,” he said. “His dedication to the industry was clearly evident. He’ll be missed.”