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Fruit Patch Sales LLC in Dinuba, CA, a major marketer of California stone fruit and other fruit and the exclusive sales agent for grower-packer Fruit Patch Inc., has hired industry veteran Rick Eastes as vice president of sales and marketing.

A graduate of the University of Arizona and the Thunderbird School of International Management, Mr. Eastes started his produce career at Heggblade Marguleas, spent many years with the DiMare Co. and then with The Oppenheimer Group before joining Sunkist Growers in 2004. He spent the last two seasons as a director of special projects for Ballantine Produce Co. Inc. in Reedley, CA.

Just one year ago, Fruit Patch brought in John Forry and Dewey Forry Jr., owners of D.J. Forry Co. Inc., to head a new Fruit Patch sales organization as part of a major reorganization. At that time, the Forrys closed the marketing side of their own company and folded their entire sales team into Fruit Patch Sales.

Mr. Eastes told The Produce News Dec. 22 that the Forrys are now "pursuing other business interests" and that "they have a grower deal that they brought in, and they will be keeping that. They were going to be moving on anyway, and so I was brought in" to lead the sales and marketing function after the Forrys left.

Mr. Eastes officially started with the company Dec. 8.

Mike Crookshanks, Tina Haga and Brian Haley, who were already part of the Fruit Patch sales team, will be staying on, and some of the others may as well, although that had not yet been determined, Mr. Eastes said. In addition, he said that he was in the process of hiring three new salespeople, whose names he would be ready to announce sometime in January.

Ms. Haga "looks after our Mexico business and a lot of our exports" and "will play a larger role in our export program going forward," he said. Mr. Haley is based in Bentonville, AR, and handles Walmart sales.

"We would like to create a good culture here of good salespeople selling fruit for our growers and at the same time taking care of our buyers and giving them good service, and really develop a consistent business model that allows us to go to market in a good fashion," Mr. Eastes said. "We have some existing agreements with the Balakians and some other growers that we have in-house here, and we are going to be trying to put together a consistent go-to-market strategy."

Mr. Eastes said he spent his first two weeks at Fruit Patch "just meeting people and understanding what their jobs are. I am very comfortable that there is a very good cadre of people here, and we are going to try to take the Fruit Patch name and put it back where it was in the past."

Mr. Eastes started his career in California grapes and stone fruit and "was a pioneer in the Chilean fruit industry as well," according to a Fruit Patch press release. He was "responsible for bringing the first table grapes imported directly from Chile to the U.S. West Coast in 1977 and helped expand the Chilean fruit distribution in North America throughout his long association with the Oppenheimer Group."

"More recently, Mr. Eastes was the first employee of Sunkist Global LLC, a Sunkist Growers Inc. company created to promote the 'Sunkist' citrus brand," the release stated. "For the last two seasons, [Mr.] Eastes has worked with Ballantine Produce."

The release quoted Mr. Eastes as saying, "At Fruit Patch, we look forward to enhancing those elements that promote stone fruit consumption to the benefit of all stakeholders, be they our buyers, growers or our employees. We are setting lofty goals but believe Fruit Patch is in a unique position to meet the specific requirements of the marketplace, while providing a fair economic return to our growers."