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Interfresh co-founder Philip K. Smith was 83

by | October 19, 2010
Philip K. Smith, co-founder of Interfresh Inc., a national supplier of fruits and vegetables in Orange, CA, died at his home Sunday, Oct. 17, with his family at his side following a long illness. He was 83.

Born Jan. 12, 1927, in Arkansas City, KS, Mr. Smith graduated from the University of Kansas with a bachelor of science degree in marketing in 1949. From 1949 until 1958, he operated a family grocery business in Arkansas City before going to work for the Kroger Co. as a store manager until 1966. From there, he and his wife, Marta, along with their sons Howard and Craig and their daughter, Marti, moved to California, where he took a job with the Johnson Pie Co. in Los Angeles as the company's manager of fresh products.

Mr. Smith entered the produce industry in 1973 as the marketing director for Calavo Growers of California, ultimately becoming president. He remained with Calavo until 1983, when he opened Management Associates, an international trade facilitator. The Chilean Winter Fruit Association was one of Management Associates’ early clients, and he was instrumental in helping to establish the U.S. market for fresh winter fruit from Chile.

In 1987, Mr. Smith, along with his son Craig and Chris Puentes, launched Interfresh.

"Phil brought a wealth of management and business expertise to our fledgling company, and his guidance played a critical role in establishing the values and direction for the company," Mr. Puentes, who is president of Interfresh, said in an Oct. 18 company statement. “Under Phil’s guidance, Interfresh grew from three employees in a 200-square-foot office to over 50 employees, a modern distribution center in Los Angeles and four sales offices. Phil retired from day-to-day activity in 2004, although he remained a close and trusted adviser.

“Phil’s contributions to the company remain invaluable,” Mr. Puentes continued in the statement. “His influence on Craig and I, at the time two young entrepreneurs with limited experience, was a fundamental reason for our early success. He really was a mentor for us both, and his steady hand and calm, quiet leadership helped set the tone for the company early on. He will be deeply missed.”

Mr. Smith was a lifelong supporter of the University of Kansas, joining his father, brother and sister as a graduate. He was an ardent fan of the university’s athletics, and was particularly passionate about Jayhawk basketball.

He is survived by Marta, his wife of 62 years; son Craig, Interfresh chief executive officer, and his wife, Lisa, and son, Taylor; daughter, Marti; and son Howard and his wife Judith and their children, Lauren and Damian.

Services are set for Wednesday, Oct. 27, but details are pending. The family requests that donations be made to the Fallen Heroes Fund at

According to Mr. Puentes, one of Mr. Smith’s lifelong mantras was “There are no problems, there are only opportunities.”