(March 28, 9:15) Delano, Calif.-based Paramount Citrus Association, California’s largest independent citrus grower-packer-shipper, has launched a major move into Mexico.

The company acquired 6,000 acres of mostly lemon groves from Grupo Industrial Santa Engracia SA De CV, a division of The UniMark Group Inc., Irving, Texas.

“The Mexican lemons will fill a very nice niche between the Ventura County and the Yuma supplies,” said David Krause, president of Paramount Citrus. “The lemons should start shipping as early as July, will peak in August and September and finish up by mid-November.”

The Mexican groves increase Paramount’s citrus acreage by about 30%. Paramount has 20,000 acres of various citrus varieties, mostly in California, and manages and packs 10,000 acres of citrus owned by grower clients.

The Mexican lemons, which are currently in bloom, Krause said, complement Paramount’s annual domestic lemon volume of about 2 million cartons.

The company’s Delano-based sales staff, headed by Scott Owens, vice president of sales and marketing, will add the Mexican lemons to the Paramount inventory.

“It’s a big strategic advantage for us,” Krause said. “This allows Scott and his staff to have a better supply of lemons more consistently and to better meet customers’ needs.”

For the most part, Krause said the food safety standards that had been employed in the Mexican groves meet the requirements Paramount demands of its domestic production.

“But we’ll be able to add an extra level of benefits with some of the newer, cutting-edge steps that are already in place in California,” Krause said.

Paramount has been managing the newly acquired acreage since mid-January, Krause said. The groves are near Tampico, close to Mexico’s Gulf Coast, and are due south of McAllen, Texas, from where the fruit will be distributed, he said.

“McAllen will give us a forward distribution point from which we can go just about anywhere in the U.S.,” Krause said.

The acreage in Mexico does not include packing facilities, but that could change.

“We will review the program in the future and will more than likely build our own packing operation on the property,” Krause said.

One aspect of the Mexican operation will not change. Paramount is going to retain all current employees, Krause said. There are no plans to relocate Paramount employees to Mexico, but there will be some shuttling to and from the Tampico-area groves, he said.

Not all of the Mexican acreage is in lemons.

“There are some acres of grapefruit, but not enough to really matter,” Krause said.

Paramount plans to focus on marketing fresh-pick lemons, in the U.S. and in the Mexican domestic market, Krause said. However, some of the Mexican volume may be sold to third-party juice processors south of the border, he said.

The annual volume of all citrus varieties at Paramount’s California packinghouses in Delano and Visalia is approaching 15 million cartons. The fruit is shipped throughout North America and the Pacific Rim, Krause said.