(Jan. 7) ASG Produce Inc., Fresno, Calif., is no longer the exclusive sales agent for Santa Maria, Calif.-based strawberry grower Red Blossom Farms Inc.

The longtime business partners haven’t had a falling out, though. They merged their operations Jan. 1 to form Red Blossom Sales Inc., Fresno.

“From an administration standpoint, it’s a big benefit for us and our customers,” said Michelle Deleissegues, who was marketing director for Red Blossom Farms and will retain that title with Red Blossom Sales. “The paper flow will be pretty seamless. Before, billing was a two- or three-step process. Now everything flows through Red Blossom Sales.”

ASG owner Craig Casca and Red Blossom Farms owner David Lawrence will be equal partners in the new venture, Casca said. Casca is director of sales and is based in Oxnard, Calif. Lawrence, based in Santa Ynez, Calif., is director of grower relations.

It’s not the first time Lawrence and Casca have invested in the same company. The men each own a 25% stake in Better Cooling Inc., a 43,000-square-foot facility in Santa Maria. The other partners in that venture are Juan Cisneros, chief executive officer of Santa Maria-based Better Produce, and David Ollivier, general manager of Bakersfield, Calif.-based Western Veg-Produce Inc.

ASG Produce became the exclusive sales agent for Red Blossom Farms in 2002.

Casca said he expects Red Blossom Sales to handle about 12 million flats of strawberries this year. About 1.2 million of that is from Saticoy Berry Farms, Oxnard, with the balance coming from Red Blossom Farms.

Deleissegues said Red Blossom will have nearly year-round supplies from California and Mexico.

Red Blossom Sales also will be the sales agent for California growers Casca previously represented through ASG. Casca said the new company expects to have about 350,000 cartons of peppers and 300,000 cartons of cherries this year from Stockton-based Morada Produce Co. LP and 250,000 cartons of apples from Ronald Nunn Farms, Brentwood.

Red Blossom Sales also will continue ASG’s role as the West Coast distributor for Washington, D.C.-based Sun Belle Inc. Casca said Red Blossom Sales will handle about 400,000 cartons of blueberries, blackberries and raspberries for Sun Belle.