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Naples, FL-based Naturipe Farms LLC said that the downturn in the economy will result in the company delaying plans to branch out beyond its non-core business.

As a result of its plan to continue to focus on its berry programs, Naturipe laid off several employees including Michael McCartney, its vice president of operations.

Three other employees who were laid off held support roles in human resources, information technology and logistics, said Robert Verloop, senior vice president of sales and marketing. Currently, there are no plans to fill the four positions, he said.

The layoffs, which occurred the week of March 30, have no effect on Naturipe's sales and marketing efforts, Mr. Verloop said.

The international, grower-owned producer and marketer known for its berry programs had plans to expand its business into non-berry sectors. But with the downturn in the economy, Naturipe Farms has decided to focus on its berry business, Mr. Verloop said. As a result, the company's "talent exceeded current needs," and the laid-off workers represented a certain level of duplication and overlap in their functions, he said.

The layoffs allow Naturipe to be "lean, mean and agile," Mr. Verloop said. While the company has put plans for growth in non-core areas on hold, it still intends to move forward eventually with those plans.

Mr. McCartney was hired in March 2008 by Bruce Peterson, former president and chief executive officer, to oversee all aspects of Naturipe Farm's operations including food safety, food quality, traceability, packaging, logistics, transportation and distribution programs. Mr. McCartney worked from Naturipe's office in Salinas, CA.

Naturipe announced Jan. 30 that Mr. Peterson had stepped down from his role as president and CEO of the company but would continue to serve as a member of its board of directors.

Rich Amirsehhi, chairman of the board of Naturipe Farms and president and CEO of Naturipe Berry Growers Inc. in Salinas, CA, took over as interim CEO of Naturipe Farms and still holds that position.

Mr. Verloop said that it is "sad to see [employees] leave the company" and praised Mr. McCartney for his contributions to Naturipe. Mr. McCartney told The Produce News that he was "treated fairly" by Naturipe.

Mr. Verloop said that the company anticipates an overall growth in revenue of 15-20 percent this year. Naturipe recently completed its best year in strawberries and is the largest blueberry producer in the world, he said.

Naturipe Farms, formed in 2000, is a partnership among Hortifrut SA, Michigan Blueberry Growers Marketing and Naturipe Berry Growers. In addition to Naples and Salinas, the company has U.S. offices in Delano, CA, Grand Junction, MI, Dallas, Boston and Miami. The company also has offices in Santiago, Chile, Los Reyes, Mexico, and Buenos Aires, Argentina.