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Seald Sweet International, a Vero Beach, FL-based unit of the Belgian company Univeg, is moving forward with a plan to diversify its offerings by adding non-citrus items to its product line.

"Seald Sweet International is a 100-plus-year-old citrus company that has now decided to develop its business interests outside of the citrus category," Mark Lewis, executive vice president of Seald Sweet, told The Produce News March 24. "The new product lines were the company's basis for hiring me last fall. I have spent most of my career in the non-citrus side of the produce industry. My responsibility is the deciduous side of Seald Sweet. David Mixon continues to oversee the citrus category."

A former director and product leader of Chiquita's deciduous division and chief executive officer of Richland Sales Co., Mr. Lewis is credited with developing and growing several highly successful domestic and import programs globally.

He said that the new side of Seald Sweet will be involved with items currently produced somewhere in the world by Univeg. Logistics of the new products and movement fall in line first by proximity, meaning the company will focus on Central America and South America. But it also plans to add product from South Africa and other areas of the world in the future.

"We started with blueberries last fall from Forbel, a Univeg-owned producer, in Uruguay," said Mr. Lewis. "From there, our program moved to blueberries from Citromax, which is a close associate but not owned by Univeg. Then we moved into Brazilian grapes. The producer is Katope, a Univeg-owned firm. We marketed grapes from the company in November and December."

Seald Sweet began importing Chilean grapes and tree fruits in January, and Mr. Lewis said that these programs would run until the middle of May. The company is also importing from other firms in Chile with which Univeg has either done business in the citrus category in the past or with which it recently has become acquainted.

"And we have begun importing pears from ExpoFrut Argentina in Rio Negro, also a Univeg-owned company," added Mr. Lewis. "Pear movement began in February and will continue until May or June.

"The next step is to import grapes from Sonora, Mexico," he continued. "Movement will run from May 15 to July 1. Seald Sweet will have a seasonal office in Nogales for this program."

Future plans for Seald Sweet's non-citrus line include California grapes. Then, later in the year it will head back to Brazil to start its grape and blueberry programs again.

Garry Rowe, account executive, and Steve Tursi, vice president of new business development, joined Seald Sweet's staff in recent months. They will be handling the new products from the company's Swedesboro, NJ, facility. "We have made great strides this year," said Mr. Lewis. "Seald Sweet's program success -- grapes from Chile, Argentina and Brazil, apples and pears from Argentina, to mention just a few -- have exceeded our expectations. We look forward to representing Univeg's production, management and products in North America."

The company is also taking a serious look at Univeg's pineapple production in Costa Rico and in Peru, according to Mr. Lewis.

"And Univeg has avocado production in Peru," he added. "Pineapples and avocados hold a lot of promise because of the proximity of the production areas and because volumes are significant."

The pears from Argentina are being marketed under the "Seald Sweet" label. Mr. Lewis said that the company is utilizing several other labels for the new non-citrus product line.

In addition to Messrs. Lewis, Rowe and Tursi, another 15 Seald Sweet sales agents and staff members are working on the new-product program, with some personnel assigned to specific items.