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Crown Jewels picks up Perez Packing's West Side melon deal

by Rand Green | April 09, 2009
FRESNO, CA -- Crown Jewels Marketing LLC, here, will be marketing about 2.5 million cartons of cantaloupes and honeydews this summer from Perez Packing Inc. in Firebaugh, CA, a deal formerly sold by Del Monte Fresh Produce Co. in Coral Gables, FL.

The Perez family has been farming on the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley, west of Fresno, for the last 70 years or so, said Atomic Torosian, a managing partner at Crown Jewels.

"For the last 10 years, they have been working with Del Monte" on their melon program," Mr. Torosian said. "We have been talking to them off and on for the last three or four years, and [both parties] came to realize after this past season that we have a lot of synergies, we have a lot of common interests, we have a lot of goals we would like to see achieved."

That is when Tom Perez, president of Perez Packing, and his son Mark Perez, general manager, "made a decision to let us come and do their marketing of their cantaloupes and all their honeydews," Mr. Torosian said.

"Our melon program with them this year is going to be somewhere around 2.2 million boxes of cantaloupes starting the first week of July, and also we are looking at marketing about 300,000 boxes of honeydews from them," he said. "Perez Packing will be doing all the growing and the packing, and we will be doing all the marketing."

The water issues in the West Side region have received a great deal of attention in the press recently, most notably the fact that farmers in the Westlands Water District have received a zero percent allocation this year for agricultural water, forcing farmers to remove half of the districts' croplands, or about 300,000 acres, from production.

"The water issues that are out there are very real, very evident," said Mr. Torosian. But fortunately for Perez Packing, "most of their [acreage] is in areas that they do have long-term water contracts." In fact, much of the Perez acreage lies north of Westlands. "So we will be OK for this year on the water," he said.

Perez Packing farms between 9,000 and 10,000 acres of row crops, Mr. Torosian said. Tomatoes are another of the company's major products. "Mark Perez is going to remain selling the tomatoes throughout the summer," he said. "As we are selling his melons, he will be selling tomatoes."

One advantage Crown Jewels has in selling the Perez deal is proximity to the production area. "We are only an hour away from them," he said.

The Crown Jewels team is highly experienced in melons, Mr. Torosian added. "We have people that have been involved in the melon business for 35 or 50 years. They have been doing this all their life. That is something we have kind of cut our teeth on."

Among them, "Rob Mathias, Steve Poindexter and myself," all partners in the company, "have all been involved in melons since we started in the produce industry, so this is a natural fit for us."

Crown Jewels has long been involved in the fall and spring melon deals out of Mexico. "As a matter of fact, we are going to start packing cantaloupes on Monday out of Mexico," Mr. Torosian said April 7. "Honeydews start the following Thursday or Friday. Those deals were expected to go through about the middle of June. Then we will have a little gap, maybe two or three weeks, and then we will come right back into this West Side deal.

The Perez melons from the West Side "will start about the first of July" and continue into October. "Then we will start back up in Mexico again in late October" after another "little gap" of about two weeks.

"We are looking to fill the spring and the fall gaps" by sourcing from other areas like the California desert, he said. "And who knows, down the road, we may get involved in some of the import deals from other areas in Mexico or from other countries."

With the Perez deal, "we are reintroducing their 'King Crow' label," Mr. Torosian said.

"King Crow" is a venerable label that the Perez family has used for many years. For the last 10 years, Perez has packed its melons in the "Del Monte" label. The "King Crow" label for the new melon cartons will be redesigned "just a little bit, but it will be pretty much the same," he said.