Fruit Patch on the rebound
Founded by Leo and Rosalie Balakian in 1975, Fruit Patch was for several decades one of California’s fresh fruit marketing heavyweights. The past three years have been a rocky period for the company, however.
American Capital Strategies Ltd., a Bethesda, Md.-based venture capital firm, acquired 80% of Fruit Patch from the Balakian family in 2006. By the end of 2007, most of the marketing staff had left Fruit Patch. Wallace is the company’s third president since the American Capital purchase, and Mierau will be the fourth person to direct the sales and marketing department.
“We will pack and market about 6 million cartons this year,” Wallace said.
In the not too distant past, the company’s annual volume was about 12 million cartons.
“This season, we improved returns to growers over 2008 by $4.3 million, even with the much smaller stone fruit volume,” Wallace said. “If we had gotten those prices in 2008, the increase would have been about $10 million.”
The 2009 packout of peaches, plums and nectarines is 45.5 million cartons as of Dec. 1, according to CTFA data. The 2008 volume was nearly 59 million cartons.
To reinforce the company’s commitment to growers, American Capital has earmarked $12 million in advance grower funds for the 2010 crop, Wallace said.
“Our goal is to be the premier packing and marketing house in the San Joaquin Valley,” he said. “We’re here for the growers to help them serve retail and foodservice; the growers’ success is our success.”
Fruit Patch packing and cold storage facilities were upgraded recently and the company has transitioned to 100% totes for field-to-packinghouse operations, he said.
Mierau is the final piece of his Fruit Patch rebuilding puzzle, Wallace said.
“I inherited a good, strong team from field management to quality assurance to packing and storage operations,” he said. “And we have an outstanding marketing staff.”
“We’ve had a great year, and bringing Sheri Mierau on board further cements our commitment to the tree fruit Industry and our growers,” said Wil Garland, Fruit Patch chairman of the board.
The two major challenges facing the stone fruit industry, Wallace said, are increasing consumption and securing higher prices for growers.