In a move to increase its presence in the berry categories, Dole Food Co. Inc. has acquired SunnyRidge Farm Inc., Winter Haven, Fla.

Keith Mixon, president and chief executive officer of the family-owned SunnyRidge Farm, said Oct. 11 that all of his company’s employees would be retained, including the 100 or so in the offices in the Southeast U.S. Mixon will retain the title of president of SunnyRidge Farm, but will now report to Ray De Riggi, president of Dole Fresh Vegetables.

“Our common vision is to create a worldwide, all-berry company,” Mixon said. “We are very, very excited. The negotiations have been going on for a while.Dole takes over SunnyRidge

“The goal is to continue with the same group of people we have put together, and that Dole already has, to create a new, complete, full line of berries under the Dole banner.”

SunnyRidge Farm has growers and company-owned acreage throughout Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Mexico. The company also works with growers in various other regions in North and South America to provide blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries year-round.

The SunnyRidge packers and shippers with facilities in the Southeast U.S., as well as Arkansas, Michigan, British Columbia, and Central and South America will continue to work with SunnyRidge to help Dole become a leader in the berry categories.

In a news release, Dole officials said the acquisition would provide a “strategic complement to our existing fresh and frozen berry operations, both of which have previously focused on strawberries.” According to the release from Dole, blueberries and blackberries are some of the fastest growing commodities in the produce category.

Mixon said he expects the new full line of berries to put Dole in the No. 2 or No. 3 spot in every traditional berry category. The SunnyRidge brand will be retained, Mixon said.

“We will also be able to offer our berries to Dole’s frozen and value-added lines of products,” Mixon said.