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Two Wenatchee, WA, family-based operations have merged to become what is arguably the leading U.S. tree fruit growing, packing and marketing operation.

Through the deal, Dovex Marketing & Packing will be combined into Stemilt Growers Inc.'s operations, and both companies’ fruit will be marketed under the "Stemilt" label. Stemilt will gain approximately 175,000 bins of fruit storage and a state-of-the-art apple-packing facility, according to a March 3 release from Stemilt Growers Inc.

“An even stronger Stemilt emerges following [the] announcement that it will join forces with Dovex Fruit Company,” the release said.

The Dovex facility neighbors Stemilt’s primary packing and shipping facility, Olds Station, and Stemilt President West Mathison said that the close proximity of the two packing facilities is expected “to drive continuity into Stemilt’s operations.”

Mr. Mathison said that his family’s company has been in a “strong pattern of growth” for the past 10 years, and bringing Dovex into the operations will allow Stemilt to “continue delivering premium fruits to the marketplace while extending the programs and services we provide to our valued customers.”

On the farming side, Dovex Orchards will become a grower for Stemilt, adding to the company’s growth in apples, pears, cherries, stone fruit and organics over the past decade. In 2009, approximately 65 percent of Dovex Fruit’s apples were organic, and Dovex figures indicated that the company grew and marketed approximately 33 percent of Washington’s organic apple volume.

According to the Stemilt release, “The combination with Dovex strengthens Stemilt’s leadership in Washington-grown conventional and organic apples and pears. Stemilt already enjoys a strong leadership role in cherries, organic stone fruit and Wenatchee River Valley pears with its own manifest and through existing marketing partnerships with Douglas Fruit and Peshastin Hi- Up. In total, Stemilt will have an excess of 17,000 captive acres owned by itself and its marketing partners heading into the 2010 summer and fall harvests.”

In addition to apples, pears and cherries, Dovex had been marketing organic apricots for the past 10 years.

Dovex General Manager Jay Fulbright joins the Stemilt executive team with the merger, and Mauro Felizia, executive vice president of Dovex Holding Co., will become a new member on Stemilt’s board of directors. The Dovex Export Co. will continue to function independently.

Mr. Fulbright was quoted in the press release as saying, “Dovex Fruit Company is excited to join the marketing strengths of Stemilt and leverage the proximity of our facilities,”

Family traditions run deep in both Stemilt and Dovex. Each started decades ago “with similar goals centered on providing consumers worldwide with access to a year-round supply of the best fresh fruit available,” the Stemilt release said.

Stemilt was founded in 1964 by the late Tom Mathison, while the De Nadai family established Dovex in 1982. The De Nadai family has developed fruit operations worldwide for three generations.