When he joined Apio Inc. in 1999, Mike Casazza was tasked with managing the commodity business and establishing its BreatheWay modified atmosphere technology commercially.

“We put together our own banana program and started actually commercially shipping bananas in the Eat Smart label to prove the technology’s performance,” said Casazza, executive vice president of sales and marketing. “We were already using it on our bagged vegetables and party trays. Once we proved the value we were able to license out the technology on the banana side to Chiquita.”

From there Apio concentrated on expanding its fresh-cut and value-added business in branded and private labels. The Guadalupe, Calif.-based shipper is now in about 70% of all U.S. retail distribution, he said.

Now Apio is in the midst of another transition and making a push for new products, notably vegetable salads.

“Over the past nine to 10 years, our value-added and party tray business has really grown,” said Casazza, 64. “These last couple of years we’ve been focused on our new fresh-cut salad kits.” Examples under the Eat Smart label include Sweet Kale, Ginger Bok Choy and Wild Greens & Quinoa. More salads and blends will launch at the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit, he said.

In 2012 Apio acquired GreenLine Foods Inc. Casazza’s role was to develop and implement strengthened category management for customers of both. “We saw green beans as a good extension of the value-added business,” he said.

Before joining Apio, Casazza was with Coral Gables, Fla.-based Del Monte Fresh Produce from 1991 to 1999, finishing as vice president of North American sales. One project was to develop sales plans for the Del Monte Gold pineapple launch.

His record has earned him wide respect.

“He always wants to do the right thing for the customer and builds great relationships because of it,” said Ken Kuwata, Smart & Final category manager. “He does not have the word ‘no’ in his vocabulary when it comes to customer service.”

Last year, La Mirada, Calif.-based Fresh Produce & Floral Council presented the Norman H. “Buz” Bolstad Produce Award to Casazza. He was council chairman then, the first to get the award during his tenure.