UPDATED: Greenhouse seed supply deal means sourcing changes - The Packer

UPDATED: Greenhouse seed supply deal means sourcing changes

10/14/2009 04:13:47 PM
Ashley Bentley

(UPDATED COVERAGE, Oct. 15) Just a few months before its existing agreement expired, Westgro Sales Inc. signed a bigger and better deal with Enza Zaden, a Netherlands-based seed company, to be the exclusive distributor of its seeds in the U.S. and Canada, with the exception of Quebec.

Greenhouse vegetable growers in all of the U.S. and Canada, except Quebec, will be sourcing their Enza Zaden seeds through Westgro for the long-term, according to the deal.

Plant Prod Quebec will continue to serve growers in Quebec, according to a Westgro news release.

Although Delta, British Columbia-based Westgro has been an exclusive marketer of Enza Zaden greenhouse vegetables seeds in the Western regions of the U.S. and Canada, this deal gives the company a wider range on a longer-term basis.

“It’s something we’ve been working on for months,” said Dave Gingrich, vice president of Westgro. 

Enza had already terminated its agreement with MGS Horticulture, Leamington, Ontario, and Westgro has actually had that business for a while, Gingrich said. MGS is focusing on representing different seed companies, Gingrich said.

“Westgro is in the process of adding additional people and resources to better serve this expanded territory,” Gingrich said.

According to a letter from Rob Keene, director of Enza Zaden Export BV, to his customers, Enza Zaden is putting more resources into its North American greenhouse vegetable varieties as well.

“With this partnership we believe we can provide our customers with the best possible products, services and opportunities,” he stated in the letter. “Both Enza and Westgro will be dedicating more technical resources to support North American customers growing existing as well as new varieties.”

Trademark dispute

A new deal presents a potentially awkward situation with the Campari tomato.

Westgro is the plaintiff in a trademark dispute with Mastronardi Produce over its ownership of the Campari name, which refers to a cocktail tomato variety Enza Zaden originally named in the 1990s and continues to supply. While this deal was being worked out, and now for the foreseeable future, Mastronardi Produce and Westgro are asked to work together as buyer and seller of the very seed they’re arguing over, Gingrich said.

Paul Mastronardi, executive vice president of Mastronardi Produce, said his company has not purchased Campari seed from Westgro.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do in the future,” Mastronardi said. “Mastronardi has a secure supply of seeds moving forward.”

Mastronardi had a settlement with Enza Zaden with respect to distribution rights, Mastronardi said, but he could not confirm whether that meant the company would be able to source its seeds through a supplier other than Westgro.

In the trademark case, Westgro originally accused Mastronardi of fraud on the U.S. Trademark Office and of applying for a trademark for a variety name, which cannot legally hold a trademark.

However, Westgro also applied for a trademark on the name itself.

“Here’s a company accusing us of something when it’s something they did themselves,” Mastronardi said. “You can’t call the kettle black.”

As part of its defense against Westgro, Mastronardi alleged Westgro “no longer will be able to sell and distribute Campari tomato seeds,” after Dec. 31, the date Westgro’s former agreement with Enza Zaden was set to expire. Mastronardi was asking for the case to be suspended until that date, after which Westgro would not have the legal standing to argue the trademark.

“‘Standing’ is the principle that parties to an action must have a real interest in the outcome and are not mere intermeddlers,” Gingrich said, with counsel from the company’s attorneys. “Westgro has a real interest in whether Mastronardi may assert the color of legal authority associated with its trademark registration.”

Mastronardi’s motion to suspend was not considered by the trademark board.

As of Oct. 15, the latest movement in the case was Mastronardi’s Aug. 24 response to Westgro’s request for summary judgment, followed by Westgro’s Sept. 11 statement in support of its motion.

The request for summary judgment, which Westgro filed in March after two rounds of Mastronardi-requested extensions, focuses on only one fact in the case: that Campari is the name of a plant varietal and cannot be a trademark name, whether by Mastronardi or by Westgro itself.

By requesting summary judgment, Westgro ignores the other issues in its original petition to cancel, including the alleged fraud, in hopes that the single issue will be enough to cancel the trademark.

Gingrich said Mastronardi Produce, Eurofresh Farms Inc., Willcox, Ariz.; Village Farms, Eatontown, N.J., and a small grower — Delta, British Columbia-based Windset Farms — are the sole growers of Campari as of Oct. 1, and there are no plans for change.



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