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Combs Produce, a company that celebrated its 50th year in Dallas in 2008, has partnered with a private equity firm in a concerted effort to grow itself with regard to geography and product lines.

"We consider this a very good time to grow," Brett Combs, president of the family-run operation, told The Produce News Jan. 20. "Our business is strong - probably as strong as it has ever been."

He acknowledged that the country is going through a difficult economic time, but he said that this has not hurt business for Combs Produce.

"Sometimes you can make your best deals during a recession," he said. "There might be some other companies not doing so well that we can get involved with."

Combs Produce announced a partnership deal with CIC Partners, a mid- market private equity firm.

In a press release, Mr. Combs said, "We looked at several alternatives to bringing in an investment partner. We chose to work with CIC Partners because of its knowledge and long history of investing in the food industry."

Mr. Combs told The Produce News that produce industry veteran Jay Pack, who is one of CIC's operating partners, will become chairman of the board of Combs Produce. Mr. Pack was the former owner and chief executive officer of Standard Fruit & Vegetable, a $400 million integrated repacker, logistics and value-added produce company headquartered in Dallas that was acquired by Del Monte Fresh Produce Co. in 2003.

Mr. Combs said that the Combs-CIC partnership was just getting started, but "even at such an early stage in our relationship, we have already benefited from the experience and insight that our new investment partners bring to the table."

Combs Produce was founded in 1958 by J.C. Combs. Brett Combs represents the third generation to run the firm, which is a full-service distributor that bills itself as the largest tomato packer in Texas. It currently serves a six- state area surrounding Texas and boasts a full complement of customers in wholesale, retail and foodservice. It offers a full line of conventional, specialty and organic produce.

Mr. Combs said that with the infusion of capital and expertise, the firm expects to expand its reach, which should include new facilities in other geographic regions. He said that it is too soon to announce expansion, "but we have a couple of deals in the works that we expect to complete this year."

In the company press release, Drew Johnson, an executive at CIC Partners, said, "Over the past 20 years, we have compiled a strong track record of food-industry investments that have created significant value for both our partners' management teams as well as the investors. I am excited to now partner with a company that has a 50-year history of strength and integrity, and I eagerly anticipate the numerous opportunities that we see in the produce industry."