Future of Ballantine’s fruit still unknown

05/11/2009 05:42:58 PM
Don Schrack

Contrary to earlier reports, SunWest Fruit Co. Inc., Parlier, Calif., and its partner in the Ripe ‘N Ready brand, Fowler Packing Inc., Fowler, Calif., will not assume responsibility for packing and shipping stone fruit for Ballantine Produce Co. Inc., Sanger, Calif.

That’s according to Dean Thonesen, SunWest’s vice president and general manager.

What company or companies will step in to market the Ballantine fruit, however, was unknown May 11, and remaining executives of the now-closed Ballantine did not return phone calls.

Thonesen said the closure of the 65-year-old company will not jeopardize the future of the Ripe ‘N Ready stone fruit brand, nor will it affect the partnership’s other two brands, Zeal and Treehouse Kids labels.

“Fowler Packing and SunWest increased acreage substantially in the past year,” Thonesen said. “We have plenty of product to fill orders for Ripe ‘N Ready, Zeal and Treehouse Kids.”

The person in charge at Ballantine is John Pelton, who joined the company in March as chief executive officer, according to a former employee who requested anonymity. In April, chief operating officer Jerry DiBuduo was relieved of his duties, the employee said, and vice president of sales Steve Ryan was also terminated.

Reedley-area grower Walt Jones elected to take his fruit to Trinity Fruit Sales Co., Fresno, the former employee said.

“His departure was the catalyst. Other growers became concerned and some suppliers declined to extend credit,” he said.

Going into the season, Trinity had an agreement to market a portion of the fruit produced by Jones, said John Hein, salesman at Trinity Fruit. Jones approached Trinity in April and agreed to have the Fresno company market all of his volume, Hein said.

Ballantine operated two packinghouses, one in Sanger and one in Reedley, in addition to its growing operations. At peak of harvest, a former employee estimated the company employed about 600 workers in the orchards and packinghouses and in the sales and administrative departments.

The orchard work is reported to be continuing, but there’s no indication who will pack the fruit.

Ballantine Produce was founded in 1943. In recent years, its volume has been about nine million cartons of California grown and imported peaches, plums, nectarines apricots, apples and Asian pears.



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