(May 17) IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Potandon Produce LLC, the exclusive North American marketer of Green Giant Fresh potatoes and onions, will double its volume thanks to the sales force merger of two of the nation’s largest potato and onion companies.

Beginning June 1, Potandon will become the sales agent for Blackfoot-based Idaho Fresh Cooperative, which does business as Sunspiced of Idaho. Sunspiced of Idaho, a grower-owned cooperative in Southeast Idaho with about 70 grower members, also acquired an undisclosed ownership interest in Potandon.

Terms of the agreement were not disclosed when it was announced May 16. But under the deal, Potandon will employ Sunspiced of Idaho’s sales, customer service and accounting employees. There will be a transition period, but those Sunspiced of Idaho employees will begin working from Potandon’s Idaho Falls offices.

“This is a big merger,” said Loraine Driscoll, president of Sunspiced of Idaho. “The Potandon and Sunspiced merger is dramatically the largest potato marketing company in North America.”

Potandon will handle sales for Sunspiced of Idaho after the merger and will continue to pack and sell all existing labels shipped by Sunspiced of Idaho and Potandon. That includes the Green Giant Fresh label licensed to Potandon as well as Sunspiced and Tepee, two brands that had been licensed to Sunspiced of Idaho by Basic American Foods, Walnut Creek, Calif.

Potandon also said it plans to expand its private-label packing after the merger.

Since August 2000, Sunspiced Inc., a Blackfoot-based company doing business as Sunspiced USA, handled national marketing for the unrelated Sunspiced of Idaho/Idaho Fresh Cooperative.

A subsidiary of Basic American Foods, Sunspiced Inc. closed its Moses Lake, Wash., packing shed last year shortly after launching a marketing and sales agreement with Basin Gold Marketing Cooperative, Pasco, Wash. Basin Gold, founded in 1994, is made up of four of the owners of Potandon.

The phone number for Sunspiced Inc.’s Independence, Mo., sales office was no longer in service May 16. Rich Riley of Sunspiced Inc. and representatives of Basic American Foods could not be reached for comment May 16, but reportedly Basic American Foods plans to absorb the employees of its Sunspiced Inc. subsidiary.

GOOD FOR BOTH

Jeff Sholl, president of The Sholl Group II, a Minneapolis-based company that owns the rights to Green Giant Fresh brand for produce other than potatoes and onions, said the sales force merger between Potandon and Sunspiced of Idaho/Idaho Fresh Cooperative was good for both companies.

“It gives us a better opportunity to serve our customers,” Sholl said. “In times of short supplies, we’ll have a great reservoir of products.”

Sholl said the merger also would benefit the Green Giant Fresh brand.

“What it means for Green Giant is that we’ll be able to secure the cream of the crop,” Sholl said. “It gives us and Sunspiced that much larger of a supply base. This will allow us to expand.”

The merged sales force will have a wealth of product to sell. Sunspiced of Idaho, the largest shipper of fresh pack potatoes in Idaho and North America, adds 26,000 acres of potatoes to the more than 14,000 controlled by Potandon. Sunspiced of Idaho also has five fresh pack facilities that ship Idaho potatoes.

Potandon also sources potatoes from more than 80 co-packers in 25 states, four Canadian provinces and Peru.

NO EMPLOYEES LOST

No personnel will be lost in the merger of the sales forces of Sunspiced of Idaho and Potandon, Driscoll said. Potandon salesmen will still sell product, and Sunspiced of Idaho’s personnel will work with them, Driscoll said. Clay Gustaveson, Sunspiced of Idaho’s sales director, will continue to direct day-to-day operations for Sunspiced of Idaho.

“Basically, everyone’s making a lateral move,” Driscoll said.

“We’re doing everything we can to make the transition seamless for our customers.”

Now that Sunspiced of Idaho has bought into Potandon, the latter’s ownership group includes Sunspiced of Idaho partners High Country Potato Inc., Rexburg; Bud-Rich Potato Inc., Hermiston, Ore.; Skone & Connors Produce Inc., Wapato, Wash.; Harvest Fresh Produce Inc., Othello, Wash.; Balcom & Moe Inc., Pasco, Wash.; and members of Potandon’s management.

Kent Romrell, vice president of sales for Potandon, said that the merger was strategically important because it gives Potandon considerable amounts of additional acreage.

That will allow it to more effectively supply volumes required by national as well as regional and local customers, he said.