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Omar-Abu-Ghazaleh
Omar Abu Ghazaleh

FRESNO, CA — Omar Abu Ghazaleh, formerly a manager at Pacific Trellis Fruit LLC in Reedley, CA, has founded a new grower-direct produce importing and marketing company, OAG Global Inc., headquartered here.

In an Oct. 10 press release, the company announced “its debut import season with a prominent stake in the Peruvian table grape category.”

The first shipments of Peruvian table grapes were scheduled for November, with deliveries expected to continue through March 2012, enabling OAG Global “to supply the marketplace with superior-quality fruit at a time when there is high global demand for reliable table grapes,” according to the release.

Explaining his reasons for getting into the new venture, Mr. Abu Ghazaleh told The Produce News Oct. 11 that he recognized “a significant need” for a company that would bring fruit directly from growers in Peru into the marketplace. Peru, which has been only a niche player in international marketing, is poised “to become a mainstream producing country,” providing high-quality options to retailers and consumers at a time of year when “there is a definite need in the market for a superior product.”

OAG Global has “taken a nice position in that market” with a significant share of the Peruvian grape export business, and “[we] are pretty proud of it,” he said.

Varieties offered will include Sugraone, Thompson, Flame, Crimson, Magenta, Autumn Royal and Red Globe.

During its first season, the company will also be importing products from Chile. “We are doing some table grapes” from Chile, Mr. Abu Ghazaleh said. “But not too many.”

The main focus in OAG’s Chilean program will be on preconditioned tree fruit, and he said, “We are focusing on that based on our team’s experience in that in the past. We are putting together some interesting programs for supermarkets around North America for high-flavored, ripened fruit.”

In the longer term, “OAG Global will be offering ultra premium grower-direct fruit and vegetable programs from farming regions throughout the Southern Hemisphere and beyond,” according to the press release.

With the initial focus on Peruvian and Chilean table grapes and tree fruit, “these programs will be based upon sourcing partnerships with high-quality, vertically integrated farming companies and new company farming investments,” the release continued.

“We have contacts in this business all over the world,” Mr. Abu Ghazaleh said. “Our interest [in Peru] is for it to be an anchor for our program in our first few years, to establish a strong reputation in the business and from that point we are going to be diversifying into other products” from other sources.

OAG will be exporting Peruvian product to other markets outside North America as well, he said. “We will have a presence in Asia and in the Middle East.”

The company also has established satellite offices in Chile and Peru, he said.

Joining Mr. Abu Ghazaleh on the sales and marketing side is Scott Albertson, formerly director of marketing and business development at Deardorff Family Farms. Prior to Deardorff, Mr. Albertson managed the global business division of Ballantine Produce, where he developed the successful Southern Hemisphere pre-conditioned and premium tree fruit program under the “Ripe ‘n Ready” brand.

“We are fortunate in having Scott join our team,” Mr. Abu Ghazaleh said. ”He brings a lot of elements to the team with his experience on the tree fruit end,” particularly with regard to “the management of a true preconditioned program,” in addition to his sales and marketing experience.

Mr. Albertson told The Produce News Oct. 11 that when Mr. Abu Ghazaleh “formed a company and asked me if I would join with him,” he saw it as a chance to “get back into the import business,” something he has wanted to do since Ballantine closed.

“It is a great opportunity for me to reignite the tree fruit business that we had” in Chile, “working with the same grower base, Mr. Albertson said. Those growers have “all matured over the last years with new plantings and different varieties and a deep embracing of fruit quality management.”

The goal, he said, is “to bring back the fundamentals of what was a rigorous disciplined highly selective tree fruit program for customers that want to move Chilean tree fruit into the forefront and make it an opportunity, not a problem.”

“It represents supply [at a time] when it is not in conflict with U.S. growers,” Mr. Albertson added. “It is really important for us to have a sustainable business model that is not in conflict with great, domestically grown American produce. Rather, we want to fill supply gaps efficiently and sustainably, and we are looking for the right kind of growers that have a great focus on food safety and traceability and community involvement where they are, so it is the kind of thing that the retailers will be proud to put on their shelves as a continuation of a program from those great North American growers.”