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(Updated) Taylor Fresh Foods acquires River Ranch

by Tim Linden | August 18, 2010

Taylor Fresh Foods, a Salinas, CA-based firm that bills itself as "America's largest producer of salads and fresh-cut vegetables," has purchased River Ranch Fresh Foods LLC, another significant fresh vegetable processor in the Salinas Valley.

River Ranch will continue to operate under that name as a wholly owned subsidiary of Taylor Fresh Foods, with Bruce Knobeloch most likely serving as the firm's president.

The acquisition gives Taylor Fresh Foods 10 operating companies that produce salads and fresh-cut fruit and vegetables for foodservice, retail, deli and clubstore customers throughout North America.

In an Aug. 18 interview with The Produce News, Bruce Taylor, chairman and chief executive officer of Taylor Fresh Foods, listed four main areas in which River Ranch will add strength to Taylor Fresh Foods: River Ranch's private label program with several major retailers; its robust foodservice business; the firm's commodity business; and the location of its processing facility in El Centro, CA.

Elaborating on a couple of these themes, Mr. Taylor said that Taylor Fresh Foods will be adding capital to the River Ranch operation to expand its commodity business.

"Many of our customers like the opportunity to consolidate their value-added and commodity business, and this will allow us to offer that service," he said.

With regard to the facility in California, Mr. Taylor indicated that the new Arizona immigration law has left the firm concerned about its ability to attract a sufficient workforce when the winter harvesting and processing shifts to the California and Arizona deserts this winter.

"This gives us an insurance policy if we have trouble in Arizona," he said.

Mr. Taylor told The Produce News that the purchase of River Ranch was a good fit for Taylor Fresh Foods and articulated the overarching reason for the acquisition in a company released statement.

"We look forward to having River Ranch join the Taylor family," he said. "We plan on making significant investments to add value for their excellent customers and to expand their unique product sets. We will also expand River Ranch's range of commodity products to allow Taylor Farms' foodservice and retail customers the opportunity to streamline their logistics systems."

The River Ranch web site identifies the firm as one of the top five fresh produce processors in the United States. It has two California processing and cooling facilities, one in Salinas and one in El Centro. The web site traces River Ranch's roots "to one of the oldest lettuce producing and shipping companies in the Salinas area, the Bruce Church Company."

Over the past decade, River Ranch has made a name for itself as one of the leading fresh produce processors of private brands, as well as its "River Ranch" salads and fresh-cut vegetables, and the well-known "Popeye" spinach brand.

The company has been in financial difficulty in recent years, and the purchase by Taylor Fresh Foods was basically from a consortium of banks, which had taken over the ownership of the firm.

Mr. Taylor theorized that the control of River Ranch by a number of different owners in the past five years and its large debt load combined to result in its unprofitable status.

"We believe the consistency of ownership and the leadership we can provide will help that firm prosper," Mr Taylor said. "They have good people and good ideas, and we can add resources to make it work."

He added that Taylor Fresh Foods bought the assets of River Ranch but not its debts, which stayed with the banks that had previously owned the firm.

Mr. Taylor said that he expects Bruce Knobeloch, who has been with the company in a leadership position but not as CEO, to soon be installed as president of River Ranch.

The Taylor Fresh Foods chairman of the board and chief executive officer stood by the descriptor in the company press release that lists the firm as the largest producer of fresh-cut salads and vegetables in the country. He said in 2009, the firm had more than $1.4 billion in revenues.