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Ballantine closure leaves fruit growers and marketing personnel looking for a home

by Rand Green | May 11, 2009
Ballantine Produce Co. Inc., headquartered in Sanger, CA, has closed its packing and marketing operations but will continue its farming operations, according to industry sources. It is not yet clear who will now be packing and marketing the fruit from Ballantine's company orchards or where the outside growers Ballantine represented will be taking their fruit.

The exception is the fruit from Sun Valley Packing in Reedley, CA, which is owned by the Walter Jones family. That fruit, consisting of more than 3,300 acres of peaches, plums, nectarines, Pluots, apricots, and Saturn peaches and nectarines, which had been packed at Sun Valley and marketed by Ballantine, will now be marketed by Trinity Fruit Sales Co. in Fresno, CA, according to John Hein, director of marketing at Trinity.

David Albertson, principal of the company, was not available for comment when The Produce News attempted to contact him at his office in Winter Haven, FL. Calls to the companys Sanger and Reedley, CA, offices reached answering machines, and messages left were not immediately returned.

A former management-level Ballantine employee told The Produce News on Monday, May 11, that essentially all of the companys managerial, marketing and sales personnel have been let go in a series of layoffs over several weeks and are now looking for positions elsewhere. The former employee said that as of Friday, May 8, all that remained in the Ballantine offices were a couple of top-level managers who were staying on to "help close up the business" and a skeleton" crew in accounting and human resources to finalize books, make sure all of the former employees got paid, and do the necessary work for COBRA and health insurance for terminated employees.

As of Monday, May 11, The Produce News had not confirmed whether any of the terminated employees had yet found new employment with other companies in the industry.

Ballantine was founded in 1943 as a packing operation. In 1950, the company was acquired by Virgil Rasmussen, Ed Shoenburg and David Albertson. Mr. Albertson acquired full interest in the company in the early 1990s, although Mr. Rasmussen continues as president.

The company first entered the farming side of the business in the early 1960s with the purchase of a 275-acre ranch, according to a history and timeline on the Ballantine website.

In 1994, Jerry DiBuduo joined Ballantine as a grower, and in 1995 accepted the charge to lead Ballantines executive team as chief operating officer, according to the timeline.

At its peak, the company marketed more than 9 million boxes of fruit per year and operated more than 400,000 square feet of production facilities in Reedley, CA.

In March, Mr. Albertson brought in John Pelton from the outside as chief executive officer, ostensibly as a turn-around specialist, a former Ballantine employee told The Produce News on condition of anonymity. When several high-level management personnel, including Mr. DiBuduo, were let go before the big shutting of doors, it was seen as downsizing, and the actual closing and remaining layoffs were unexpected, according to the source.