(Dec. 28) Growers Express LLC, Salinas, Calif. and Capurro Farms LLC, Moss Landing, formed a partnership that will bring together two family operations, broadening product lines and complementing their individual customer bases.

Capurro Farms is the fourth company to partner with Growers Express, said Woody Johnson, senior vice president of sales and marketing; previous along with Mission Ranches, Gill Ranch and Mesa Packing.

“We signed the final papers on Christmas Eve,” Johnson said Dec. 28.

He said Capurro Farms continues as a farming organization, with Growers Express selling, marketing and distributing its radishes, green onions, leafy greens and other vegetables.

“Capurro will become a partner in Growers Express LLC in what’s a quasi co-op, and they will continue to have other interests besides what they run through here, such as their organic program, which will not be marketed through Growers Express,” Johnson said.

MULTIPLE LABELS AT FIRST

He said all conventional produce grown by Capurro Farms will be marketed and distributed through Growers Express, initially under multiple labels.

“It could be the Growers Express label, Green Giant, (Capurro’s) Topless label or the Capurro Farms label,” he said. “We make those distinctions based on followings in certain markets. Up in the Northeast, Capurro is a little stronger than we are, so we may opt to package more romaine, for example, in the Topless brand for the wholesale trade up there.”

Johnson said Growers Express would eventually consolidate the labels to increase the company’s visibility to consumers. He said because Capurro Farms already had crops planted in Yuma, Ariz., as merger talks continued, Capurro continues to operate under its own name.

“By the time we come back to Salinas, they’ll be shipping through our cooler and this will be the last season that they ship through their cooler in Coachella, (Calif.),” he said. “By April 1, Capurro Farms will essentially be like our other partners — you hardly hear those names even though they are the supply side of Growers Express.”

He said the merger increases Growers Express’ volume by 50%.

“Half of that will come from items that we don’t normally carry — for example, artichokes and brussels sprouts,” he said. “And the customer lists are pretty complementary, so there will be virtually no cannibalization.”

GOOD FIT

Johnson said both companies focus on retail customers. He said Capurro is bringing to the partnership retail accounts that Growers Express has minimal exposure with.

“For example, they have a nice direct Wal-Mart program, while we service Wal-Mart indirectly,” he said. “Those are the kinds of things that make it a nice fit. But more importantly, we know the folks over there real well in terms of integration of their sales people with our sales people.”

He said the Capurro sales staff closed their office Dec. 28, moving to the Growers Express facility the same day.

The two companies have a combined acreage of more than 50,000 acres, from Santa Cruz and San Benito counties to southern Monterey County. They will also grow in Imperial and Riverside counties in southern California, as well as in Arizona and Mexico.