(March 25, 10:00 a.m.) Bonipak Produce Inc. hired Joe Leonard as chief executive officer following a 1 ½-year search after Joe Prandini suffered a heart attack.

Leonard, who joined the Santa Maria, Calif.-based company March 1, is from outside the produce industry, but not outside the food industry.

“Mr. Leonard is someone I have known, although outside the produce industry,” said Mitch Ardantz, vice president of sales and marketing and partner in the company. “I’ve talked to him about working for us for a while.”

Leonard’s most recent position was vice president of sales and marketing for C.F. Sauer Co., Richmond, Va., a producer of condiments, spices, herbs, seasonings and extracts for cooking. He was vice president of sales and marketing and general manager of Spice Hunter, a San Luis Obispo, Calif.-based company that was eventually purchased by C.F. Sauer.

Leonard’s affiliation with Bonipak began in late 2007 as a consultant.

Bonipak has been looking for a chief executive officer since general manager Prandini’s death in October 2006. Craig Reed, one of the partners of the company, took over the reins as general manager for about a year after Prandini’s death. The following year, Bonipak’s five partners divvied up the general manager roles and collectively managed the company.

“I think what Joe brings is tremendous organization, people skills, an understanding of family businesses and an understanding of farm dynamics,” Ardantz said. “He also comes from the corporate world from way back, so he has huge, huge plans for us.”

Bonipak Produce celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2007.