The closing of Keber Distributing Inc. in Thermal, Calif., this summer after 27 years in business may open opportunities for other companies that sell some of the same products.

“A big player like Keber Distributing and Golden Acre Farms (the growing operation) going out of business is going to make a significant impact in the overall volume of product coming out of the valley,” said John Burton, general manager of sales and cooler for Peter Rabbit Farms in nearby Coachella.

The closing likely will increase demand for other companies that grow the same products, he said.
Peter Rabbit, whose product line includes leaf lettuce and green bell peppers, is one of those companies.

“The impact it will have on Peter Rabbit Farms should be a positive one,” Burton said.


Peter Rabbit already has had fruitful talks with a few customers that were buying from Keber.

“We’re going to welcome them on board,” Burton said.

He said he’s not sure if desert grower-shippers will be able to pick up the slack.

Keber Distributing plans to close after the spring season, said Dick Keber, a partner in the company.

Joe Kitagawa, Keber’s partner and the company’s main grower, has decided to lease his 2,200-acre ranch to Bakersfield, Calif.-based Grimmway Farms, Keber said.

The two opened the company in September 1986 and grew a wide range of vegetables, including romaine, red, green and butter lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach and some parsley and kale during the winter season and beans, eggplant, bell peppers and corn in the spring.

During its peak years — from the mid-1990s to around 2006 — the company shipped more than 3 million packages annually, Keber said.

Keber, 73, has been involved in the produce industry since 1972. He started as a single-pallet driver in a lettuce cooler and worked in sales for several desert-area firms before establishing Keber Distributing.

Kitagawa has been involved in farming at his family’s growing operation since he was in elementary school.

Keber’s wife, Jennie, also works for the company, and Al Romero and Tom Grunnet work with Keber in sales.