Church Bros., True Leaf prepare for expansion

04/17/2007 12:00:00 AM
John Chadwell


Looking over one of the packing lines for private-label broccoli at the Pride of San Juan Cooling facility are: (from left) Jared Gill, plant manager; Stephen Wyrick, co-owner of Pride of San Juan products; Steve Church, co-owner of Church Bros. LLC; and Matt Yanez, manager of shipping and receiving.

(April 17) SAN JUAN BAUTISTA, Calif. — Six months after Natural Selection Foods LLC’s last-minute bailout on the purchase of a Pride of San Juan Inc. facility, Salinas-based Church Bros. LLC and its processing entity, True Leaf Farms, bought the facility.

“It was a debt consolidation,” said Steve Church, sales manager and partner in Church Bros. “But we’re already in there, so from that aspect, it’s a done deal. We tried to get it all put together, signed, sealed and delivered with the bank, but they didn’t have enough time.”

Church said the deal should benefit both parties.

“The facility is massive,” he said, “and we had outgrown the facilities in Salinas.”

He said the acquisition did not involve cash. He said financing is being arranged by David Gill, co-owner with his brother Steve Gill, of Gills Onions, Oxnard, a grower for True Leaf Farms. That should be completed by May.

Gill is also negotiating with Yuma, Ariz., lenders for Pride of San Juan’s facility there. Church said that deal, too, should close in May, and True Leaf will move production there in November for winter production.

Church said the facilities would be used to expand both Church Bros. and True Leaf brands, as well as Pride of San Juan Organic.

“We don’t own the Pride of San Juan label. Steve Wyrick still owns it, but he’s also a partner of True Leaf,” he said. “We also do minimal amounts of River Ranch whole leaf and Tanimura & Antle whole leaf.”

He said the Disney Garden and Emeril’s Gourmet produce brands will also packed both facilities. He said the Emeril products will be co-packed with The Produce Exchange, Livermore.

Church said that full production began April 4. Presently, there are four production lines operating.

“We’re installing five more lines now,” said Jared Gill, plant manager, who is the nephew of the Gill brothers and managed the True Leaf facilities in Salinas and Yuma. He said there would eventually be 13 lines.

The facility is co-owned by Tom Church, president and partner of Church Bros., and Steve Church, along with Rio Farms and Stephen Wyrick. It is managed by Pride of the West Cool, which is co-owned by Church Bros. and True Leaf. Church Bros. will be the sales agent for Pride of San Juan’s salad products and Wyrick will continue to market his herb line.

In October, Natural Selection, still under investigation for an E. coli outbreak linked to a single lot of Dole baby spinach that was bagged at the facility, backed out of the deal, leaving owner Wyrick stuck with the 190,000 square-foot facility and no buyer.

Wyrick said the plant, built in 1998, was expanded in 2000 and 2004 to support the Pride of San Juan’s farming operations. He declined to estimate the total cost of the facility.

Church said of the E. coli investigation that the entire plant had been inspected and nothing was found.

“We have good history wherever we’ve been,” he said. “We plan to continue to do all the inspections and food safety things that are necessary.”



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