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DINUBA, CA -- Doug Reader, chief financial officer of Fruit Patch Inc., here, and its sister company Fruit Patch Sales LLC was recently named chief operating officer in addition to his responsibilities as CFO.

The announcement was made in a Fruit Patch press release Dec. 29, just days after the Dec. 20 departure of the company's president, Scott Wallace, although Mr. Reader told The Produce News that he had been designated COO before Mr. Wallace left. Reasons for Mr. Wallace's departure were not mentioned.

The Produce News had the opportunity Jan. 11 to sit down with Mr. Reader and talk with him about the recent changes in the company and about its future directions.

Regarding personnel, he said that an executive search is now underway for a new president as well as for a new vice president of sales to replace Sheri Mierau, who left and relocated to Southern California following her wedding in September. "We are expecting to have final candidates that we can look at by the end of January" and will hopefully have both positions filled by the end of February, he said.

Since American Capital acquired Fruit Patch in 2006, the company has had three different presidents and four different people heading the sales organization. But those changes have been "just at the leadership level," said Mr. Reader, who has been with the company for two seasons. "We have had a very strong core group of salespeople here for quite a while." Tina Haga, who handles export sales, has been with Fruit Patch for 19 years, he said. "Mike Crookshanks has been with the company for a number of years. Mike Hatcher has now gone through a couple of seasons with us." Jeannine Martin, who joined the sales team last year, is still on board as well, "so when you look at the core group, it is a pretty solid group there."

American Capital "has shown incredible commitment to the company," he said. "There have been $5 million invested in the plant in the last three years. American Capital has stood behind the company to support its financing needs," including lending $10 million to growers last year.

Fruit Patch "clearly has a long history in stone fruit and has done a great job in stone fruit," and the company is now involved in pomegranates and citrus as well, which are run on a recently installed packingline. The line has been running citrus since November and will continue through March. "The line is running well," he said.

Looking ahead to the 2011 stone fruit season, Mr. Reader said that he expects the company's grower base "to increase slightly," as "we have some new growers that have already indicated they want to join us for the upcoming season, and I am not aware of any growers that we are going to lose."

With all it has going for it, "we believe this company has a long bright future," he stated.

Mr. Reader said that his responsibilities as COO include operations, quality assurance and grower relations and recruitment, all of which he was already involved in before being given his new title. "It is not really anything different than I have been doing for quite a while," he said.

Before joining Fruit Patch, he spent seven years "in a similar position" with an Idaho company that processed "individually quick frozen" onions, potatoes and peppers. Before that, he was with Coca Cola for seven years, part of that time as area vice president for the St. Louis market.