Trying to better serve its northern Florida blueberry growers, SunnyRidge Farm Inc. is expanding its Florida operations.

The Winter Haven, Fla.-based SunnyRidge Farm is building a distribution center in Hawthorne, Fla., 15 miles southeast of Gainesville, Fla.

Construction began in December.

The operation, which will initially focus on blueberry growers in the Hawthorne region, will include more than 26,000 square feet of distribution and packing capacity, according to a news release. In the future, the grower-shipper plans to use the facility to handle other berries, according to the release.

SunnyRidge officials believe the region will see large growth during the next five years.

“We are very excited about the opportunities for this new facility,” Keith Mixon, SunnyRidge’s president and chief executive officer, said in the release. “Its excellent location helps us close the geographic gap that currently exists between our central Florida and southern Georgia distribution facilities, allowing us to provide a higher quality product and increased speed to market.”

The company plans to market more than 6 million pounds of Florida blueberries during the 2011 season, Mixon said in the release.

SunnyRidge, which opened a strawberry packing and distribution center in Plant City, Fla., in 2009, plans to finish construction of its northern Florida operation in late March.

Florida’s blueberry deal usually starts in late March with central Florida production and runs through May with production spread throughout the state’s southern, central and northern growing regions.

SunnyRidge grows, ships and represents growers of blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and raspberries from throughout North America, Central America and South America.

SunnyRidge building Florida distribution center