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Marathon Fruit Distributors enters the Chilean business

by Tad Thompson | January 27, 2011
PHILADELPHIA — Creating a boutique fruit import company involving a variety of unusual offerings requires a staff that is galvanized by diverse experience. That is the backbone for the creation of Marathon Fruit Distributors LLC, based here, according to David Skea, the firm's chief financial officer.

Mr. Skea told The Produce News that a team for a start-up must be multi- talented to bring a company quickly up to speed without enduring the expense of a large staff.

Marathon was incorporated in late September and began trading the firm’s first fruit arrivals — Chilean blueberries and stone fruit — in early December. The firm primarily will market Chilean fruit in the United States, but it is also sourcing fruit from Brazil and Peru. "We will explore Mexico" as well, Mr. Skea said.

In addition to being a traditional importer and marketer, the firm will practice brokeraging, or “buying and reselling for our customers,” said Mr. Skea. The firm’s first-year sales goal falls between $10 million and $12 million. This gives a sufficient “scale to cover costs and serve retailers.” Marathon targets “a flatter bell curve [for import volume] than other Chilean importers to always be top of mind to our customers” through the year. To do this, Marathon will be “very cautious” to balance volume to have a good product mix.

Marathon’s offerings are comprised of Chilean niche products “that other people don’t want to bother with,” he said. Some of these are pomegranates, quince, persimmons and loquats.

Chilean citrus will be part of the Marathon mix, as will Chilean blueberries, avocados, grapes, stone fruit, apples, pears and kiwifruit.

The firm will primarily receive break bulk fruit through the port of Wilmington in Delaware. Other fruit will likely arrive through the Tioga and Gloucester Marine terminals on the Delaware River.

“We want to consolidate as much as possible. The smaller growers have more flexibility” in choosing transportation links. This will “dramatically reduce costs,” he said.

Mr. Skea, who is 45 years old, said that Chilean fruit importers have typically succeeded as either large or relatively small-volume firms. Those who tried to settle in the mid-range “went away” because they were caught between large-volume companies and boutiques, such as what Marathon plans to be.

As a boutique supplier, Marathon can offer the right service for supplier partners and “stay lean and stay focused. We’ve got to keep retailers and growers happy. With the right balance, both parties can be satisfied.” Marathon has a leading principal in Chile and is led in Philadelphia by Mr. Skea and Philip Reilly, vice president of sales.

Developing grower alliances in Chile and other Latin American countries for Marathon is Chilean national Albert Abascal, who will work not only for Marathon but will continue to work also for Jose Gerstle, who owns Exportadora Sapel Ltda., which is located 30 miles south of Santiago in Lindros Buin, Chile. Mr. Gerstle is the primary investor in Marathon. Sapel packs and exports its own fruit and that of independent growers.

Others on the Philadelphia staff are Constantine (Gus) Gasis, sales manager; Jennifer Reilly, operations manager; and Joel Snyder, accounting manager. Mr. Reilly has been in the produce business for 30 years, including 22 years with Chiquita. Mr. Skea’s 25 years of produce industry experience include 18 years with Chiquita. Mr. Gasis worked for Chiquita for 10 years and Ms. Reilly has seven years in the produce business, including five with Chiquita. Ms. Reilly is Philip Reilly’s daughter.

“We all left very competitive jobs and we wouldn’t have come if we didn’t feel we were fully prepared to succeed,” said Mr. Skea.

Mr. Skea said that the Marathon name was chosen because Messrs. Gerstle, Skea, Reilly and Snyder all have an interest in marathons or other distance running events.