Phil Neary, longtime head of operations and grower relations for New Jersey fruit grower-marketer Sunny Valley International Inc. has moved to the packaging industry.

Neary is northeast produce account manager for Conyers, Ga.-based Pratt Industries USA.

Neary began working for Pratt, which calls itself the sixth-largest U.S. paper and packaging company, in early October.

He joined Glassboro, N.J.-based Sunny Valley in 2004, after serving as general manager for Jersey Fruit Cooperative Association Inc., a Sunny Valley grower and co-owner. While there, his work with growers sparked an interest in produce packaging.

“When they brought me on board, it was the first time they had someone in charge of staying connected to the growers, doing all the grower relations, grower accounting, recruiting growers, packaging and food safety,” Neary said. “To be honest, I ended up getting so involved in things like packaging and kind of got away from some of the things I took the job for. I got so involved in the packaging end that this company (Pratt) recognized it.”

When Pratt decided to expand into the Northeast, Neary said the firm thought he would be a good candidate for selling packaging because he had worked with the region’s fruit and vegetable industries. Neary said Pratt offers him the chance to work with a broader geographical and commodity grower set.

Working from his Philadelphia-area home office, Neary said he plans to build business for Pratt’s 500,000-square-foot corrugating and converting plant in Macungie, Pa., which opened in early November.

Before joining Jersey Fruit Co-op in 2000, Neary worked for New Brunswick, N.J.-based Rutgers University’s cooperative extension service for seven years as a county agent in Clayton, N.J. There, he helped tomato growers form the Cedarville-based New Jersey Tomato Council Cooperative Association, where he was general manager from 1995-2000.