Potato grower-shipper Bushmans' Inc. is branching out into other commodities, including sweet potatoes, tomatoes and onions, with the recent purchase of Market Fresh Produce LLC, Nixa, Mo.

Market Fresh, founded 12 years ago, continues to operate autonomously with company owner Steven Phipps as chief executive officer. Phipps said he also retains some ownership rights. The deal became effective the last week of September, and Rosholt, Wis.-based Bushmans’ is Market Fresh's parent company.

Bushmans' Inc. acquires Market Fresh Produce

Ashley Bentley

Steven Phipps, chief executive officer of Market Fresh Produce (left), and Mike Carter, chief executive officer of Bushmans' Inc., are new business partners following Bushmans' acquisition of Market Fresh late September. The two shook hands in The Packer's Lenexa, Kan., office.

“We have, as a company, focused on potatoes,” said Mike Carter, chief executive officer of Bushmans’ Inc. “We’ve sold some other items, but with this, we have the opportunity to be a more full-scale organization with a much larger variety.”

Bushmans' has growing, packing and marketing facilities in Wisconsin, Florida, California, Ohio, Colorado and New Brunswick, Canada, all dedicated to potatoes. It is a partner in Discovery Garden’s LLC, a company it purchased half of in the fall of 2009.

Market Fresh specializes in potatoes, sweet potatoes, sweet onions and tomatoes with supplier partnerships in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. It works with those suppliers to manage product specifications, the Market Fresh brand and its packaging.

The companies plan to extend the Market Fresh brand name to Bushmans' potatoes, eventually making Market Fresh a primary brand name.

“The goal is to continue to grow and strengthen that brand,” Carter said.

The companies aren’t planning any immediate changes with personnel — keeping Bushmans’ 38 employees and Market Fresh’s 13 in their current roles — but are focusing on training the sales staffs on the new product lines. Market Fresh’s business is about 90% retail, Phipps said, while Bushmans’ is about evenly split between retail, foodservice and wholesale.

“In recent months we’ve seen growth in our foodservice sales,” Phipps said. “Now that we have the infrastructure there, we’ll be able to offer more to those customers.”

Phipps said the new relationship came together as a result of the companies looking to expand.

“Our business plan called for us at one point in time to have a stake in the potato category,” Phipps said. “That category is very competitive, and we needed to have a presence in the field.”

Carter said he has been meeting with Phipps since early this year. Bushmans' considered expanding its product line internally, but changed plans after a few meetings with Phipps.

In addition to their commodity offerings, the companies have specialty varieties including Sierra Gold and Sierra Rose potatoes and Baby Sweeties minauture sweet potatoes.

Bushmans’ will be exhibiting at the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit Exposition & Convention in Orlando Oct. 15-18 as part of Discovery Garden’s booth. Representatives from Bushmans’ and Market Fresh will be available to discuss the acquisition with customers and other stakeholders.