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Western Veg-Pro ups grape volume with grower deals

BAKERSFIELD, CA -- Western Veg-Produce Inc., here, has been involved in buying and selling grapes for around 13 years, and has supplemented that with a small grower deal for about the last four years.

But for the 2008 season, Western Veg-Pro will be representing some significant volume from two grape growers.

"We had an opportunity to partner with Dan Tudor & Sons in Delano [CA] this year," said David Ollivier, president of Western Veg-Pro. "That will bring us roughly 800,000 to 1 million packages of grapes of all colors [from the Delano area]. It is really going to give us a foothold" with good volume and the ability "to offer grapes to a variety of [domestic and export] customers."

Western Veg-Pro also will be selling a portion of the grapes grown this year by El Rancho Farms in Arvin, CA, in addition to what the company was already selling from Piedmont Farms, a division of El Rancho, Mr. Ollivier said. "We used to buy and sell a lot of grapes," Mr. Ollivier said. "Then about six years ago, we hired Ross Kirkorian, whose family owns El Rancho Farms and Piedmont Farms. His main focus became grape sales. At that point, the grape division of the company started changing."

Mr. Ollivier continued, "We picked up a sales deal for Piedmont Farms" about four years ago, and "that led us into selling a portion of El Rancho's grapes also" this year, he said.

Western Veg-Pro starts the grape season buying and selling grapes from Mexico and then out of Coachella, CA, Mr. Ollivier said. "Then we start our deal out of Arvin. Then we smooth into Delano and carry that on as long as it will take us," probably into November.

The combination of the Arvin production and the Delano production enables Western Veg Pro to offer customers a consistent supply of grapes as well as consistent quality throughout the season, he said. The combined program also gives the company a good assortment of varieties throughout the seasons.

Among the varieties being offered are Flame, Perlette, Thompson, Red Globe, Crimson, Summer Royal, Autumn Royal, and Tudor Premium red seedless, Tudor & Sons and El Rancho have both "been around a long time," and they know how to grow grapes, he said.

Many of the grapes are being packed in Western Veg-Pro's "Short N Sweet" label, which the company has been using for strawberries as well as other products such as turnips and broccoli, according to Mr. Kirkorian, who added that it is "our flagship label."

However, the "Tudor" label has been "so established in the marketplace for so many years that we are going to use their label as well and complement their label with our label," said Mr. Ollivier.

"Tudor" and "Short N Sweet" both have good brand recognition and "a good following," and customers know that both labels are "going to be a good product, " he said. "Both are first labels."

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