(UPDATED COVERAGE – 1:55 p.m.) Effective July 1, the Washington division of L&M Companies Inc. will become the exclusive marketing arm of Eakin Fruit Co., the Union Gap-based grower-packer-shipper of apples, plums and prunes.

“This agreement substantially adds to our apple volume, further solidifies our year round apple supplies and is a strategic match for both of us,” said Richard Gonzales, general manager of the division.

Eakin Fruit will help kick start the Washington apple season, “because Eakin has very good early gala volumes,” he said. The partnership also will boost L&M’s offering of organic apples, Gonzales said.

L&M to market for Eakin FruitThe new relationship adds Italian prunes, empress plums and president plums to the L&M inventory. The plums will retain Eakin’s Candy label.

“Customers can expect to continue to receive the same product and same service,” Gonzales said.

Eakin Fruit’s apples will switch to L&M’s familiar Nature’s Delight label.

Eakin Fruit’s Union Gap location is just minutes from Interstate 82, the north-south freeway running through the Yakima Valley and “offers easy access for the trucks and will provide cross-docking opportunities in central Yakima,” Gonzales said.

L&M to market for Eakin FruitThe agreement also calls for Eakin Fruit salesmen Michael Riehl and Zane Schwabauer to join the L&M marketing staff, Gonzales said.

The L&M-Eakin Fruit relationship is the second major deal this year forged between L&M and a prominent Yakima Valley grower. In January, the company reached a similar agreement with Grandview-based Conrad & Adams Fruit LLC, a grower-packer-shipper of apples, pears, cherries, peaches, and nectarines.

“Factoring in both new grower-shippers, we’re going to be up more than 40% in volume this year,” Gonzales said.