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VANCOUVER, BC -- Two of British Columbia's leading produce companies announced in early December an alliance designed to better serve customers across the country in eastern Canada.

While The Oppenheimer Group's archives record transactions with B.C. Tree Fruits Ltd. in Kelowna, BC, dating as far back as the 1930s, more recently the two organizations have been visible partners delivering B.C.-grown apples together to various U.S. markets. Beginning Dec. 1, the relationship took on a new dimension, in the form of a shared staff member.

Peter Ruiter, a B.C. Tree Fruits veteran of more than two decades, will become Oppenheimer's new sales representative based on the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto. Mr. Ruiter, who has sold B.C. Tree Fruits items from that location for many years, will now market not only B.C Tree Fruits products but also the full Oppenheimer repertoire to customers in eastern Canada.

Mr. Ruiter, whose B.C. Tree Fruits role is account manager, has relevant experience including import sales, key account sales and branch management. He also worked in the head office of A&P in Toronto, from 1985 to 1989, as an advertising coordinator.

"In order to expand the products we are able to offer our loyal customers in eastern Canada, we are excited to be partnering with The Oppenheimer Group," Rick Austin, B.C. Tree Fruit's director of sales, said in a Dec. 6 press release. "This partnership will allow us to maintain a strong presence in the eastern Canadian marketplace and continue to provide excellent service to our customers."

Oppenheimer, which has been serving eastern Canada via its Newark, DE, office, had sought the right opportunity to create a physical location in Ontario, according to Josh Leichter, the company's East Coast vice president of sales. Considering the strong supply partnership the company has shared with B.C. Tree Fruits over the years, the opportunity to bring Mr. Ruiter into the Oppenheimer fold was a welcome one, he noted in the release.

In his Oppenheimer capacity, Mr. Ruiter will work closely with Walt Breeden, Oppenheimer's western Canadian sales manager, to serve the Canadian market with a coordinated approach, and will report to Newark-based Senior Sales Representative Mike Kostick, who has managed the company's eastern Canadian presence in recent years. Mr. Kostick and the team in Newark will continue to sell to certain accounts and support Mr. Ruiter's efforts.

"Strategically, this is a great opportunity for Oppenheimer," Mr. Leichter said in the release. "Peter is a produce veteran whose experience and relationships will add a great deal to our approach in Eastern Canada. Toronto is Canada's largest city by population, and a gateway to other large eastern Canadian markets, like Montreal and Quebec. Having someone with his fingers on the pulse of the produce terminal there will help us improve our ability to serve our customers in this area."

Mr. Leichter also noted that this move will enable Oppenheimer to build the market for items not currently cleared to enter the United States but which have access to Canada.