TUBAC, Ariz. — The Fresh Produce Association of the Americas used to be a local organization, dealing with local problems for the importers when it was called the West Mexico Vegetable Distributors.
When the group changed its name to the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas in 1993, its focus began to change, and a big part of that was from Charles “Chuck” Ciruli Jr., who was named the association’s Pillar of the FPAA Award recipient. Ciruli accepted the award Nov. 8, at the FPAA ‘s 51st annual Nogales Produce Convention.
Walter Ram, vice president of food safety for the Giumarra Cos., spoke of Ciruli’s involvement in expanding the group’s vision.
“He saw that we could do more. He looked at it and saw that we could expand our footprint outside of Santa Cruz County and into the industry at large,” Ram said. “He parlayed (former FPAA President Lee Frankel’s experience at the International Trade Commission, and through his force of will, made us what we are today: a voice in the produce industry that is a lot more than just right here.”
Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association, met Ciruli during his first trip to Nogales 26 years ago.
“Chuck has been an advocate for this industry, for the Nogales industry and for the global industry throughout his career,” Stenzel said. “Those who know him here, know what he’s meant for the community here. But he’s been your advocate out there, and I think that’s something that’s really really important. This is a well-deserved honor."
FPAA President Lance Jungmeyer spoke of Ciruli’s career, from his debut at four years old on produce labels for his father Charlie’s “Chuckie” brand on Ciruli Bros. labels. That Colorado company expanded to Arizona but closed when Charlie Ciruli died when Chuck was 19.
In 1967, he opened Ciruli Brokerage Co. in Nogales, and established importer Amex Distributing Co. there in 1973. It was there where he focused on mangoes, leading to his later involvement in working with the industry to establish the National Mango Board in 2005.
In the meantime, he brought his sons, Chris and Chuck III, up in the business and they joined him in the early 1990s, opening Ciruli Bros. in Nogales.
Chuck Ciruli Jr. was instrumental in getting new offices in 2004, along with two other past FPAA chairmen, Jimmy Chamberlain of Chamberlain Distributing Inc., and George Gotsis of Omega Produce Co. Inc. The Ciruli family been supportive of the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Cruz County, and was also involved in constructing a new facility for the organization.