(Jan. 23) Chiquita Brands International Inc., Cincinnati, has sold Progressive Produce Corp., Los Angeles, an onion and potato grower-shipper, to Progressive’s managers.

President Jim Leimkuhler and vice presidents Jack Gyben and Victor Rodarte bought Progressive from their former employer on Jan. 14. The move comes as part of Chiquita’s post-Chapter 11 plans to shed its nonessential businesses. Progressive, which generated about $1 million in net profits for Chiquita, was sold for $7 million, according to published reports.

Gyben, a Progressive vice president since 1997, praised Chiquita and said the transition would be a smooth one, with no changes in staff and customer base and no immediate changes in the company’s business plan.

“Chiquita’s management has been hands-off because we’ve been consistently successful over the years,” Gyben said. “Our current clientele is as solid as a rock, which is part of the reason we decided we could dive in.”

Leimkuhler said he looked forward to reinvesting the company’s profits in the company itself, rather than in a corporate parent. Still, Leimkuhler, a 17-year Chiquita veteran, said the company would use those resources to get better, not bigger. He also stressed a “business as usual” transition.

“We ran this thing so independently that we had very little interface with Cincinnati,” Leimkuhler said. “I’ve been president since 1996, and we’ve been running it like our own deal since then.”

Gyben said he and his partners were pleased to keep Progressive in local hands.

“Progressive has been a very locally run company for years,” Gyben said. “We didn’t want control of our deal going somewhere else. We want to continue in the future in the direction we’ve gone, and we knew that outside ownership could change that. Being located right here in Southern California, we’re able to respond to our customer’s needs the day we hear about them. It’s an advantage we have over grower-shippers in the Northwest.”

Gyben said that despite the company’s plan to stay the course, self-ownership would give it more flexibility than in the past, with opportunities to explore new business avenues.

In addition to its main office and packing facility near downtown Los Angeles, Progressive owns Progressive Farms, a seasonal grower and packer of potatoes in Edison, Calif. The company employs more than 100 people and also grows potatoes and onions in Washington, Nevada, Texas, Oregon, Idaho and California.