(Dec. 28) Two long-term fixtures of San Joaquin Valley California’s fruit industry are joining forces.

The Fruit Patch Inc., Dinuba, and Novato-based D.J. Forry Co. Inc., plan to make the union official on Jan. 2, said John Forry, vice president of marketing for the family-owned company.

The D.J. Forry staff will become employees of Fruit Patch and move to the company’s Dinuba offices the same day. The two staffs are not strangers.

“We’ve been affiliated with Fruit Patch in a number of ways for 11 years,” Forry said. “We know their growers, and we’ve pretty much been an extra link with them over the years.”

It’s the second major change at Fruit Patch in as many years. American Capital Strategies Ltd., Bethesda, Md., acquired 80% of Fruit Patch from the Balakian family in 2006. Leo and Rosalie Balakian founded Fruit Patch in 1975, said Anthony Balakian, who along with his brother, Vance, followed their parents in guiding the company.

The two brothers will become more visible in the day-to-day operation of Fruit Patch, Forry said.

The merger means Dewey Forry, who has been based at the Novato headquarters for more than 30 years, will relocate to the Dinuba Fruit Patch office along with the other members of the D.J. Forry marketing staff, Tom Wolfe and Bill Schene, said John Forry, who will be director of marketing.

They will join the Fruit Patch marketing staff of Brian Hayley, Tina Haga and Mike Crookshank, John Forry said.

“We’re really excited about hooking up with John and Dewey and the Forry staff,” said Glenn McClaran, who took over as president of Fruit Patch at the end of November. He succeeded Randy Clark.

McClaran, a Visalia native, has been in the food industry for years. He joined Fruit Patch in August as chief operating officer. Before joining Fruit Patch, McClaran was chief financial officer of Ruiz Foods Inc., Dinuba, for more than seven years. During his career, McClaran also worked for Wawona Frozen Foods Inc., Clovis, and the now defunct Riverbend Produce, Sanger.

In addition to the marketing department, Fruit Patch is making major changes in the field and at the packinghouse, McClaran said.

“The goal is to bring a better quality product to the consumer,” he said. “We’re going to pick in totes. We’ll have an automatic process that will de-stack and dump the totes and restack them.”

Photo optic equipment will be installed for color sorting and improved sizing. McClaran declined to provide exact figures but said the cost of the changes, which are scheduled to be in place before the 2008 harvest begins, would be in the millions of dollars.

“Our customers and consumers will have a fantastic product,” he said.

Growers who have been providing fruit for D.J. Forry will become suppliers for Fruit Patch. During the past year, Forry said there has been some fallout of Fruit Patch growers.

“At this point, we’re going to evaluate our mix of growers and then make some decisions where we need to fill in certain commodities and varieties,” he said.