Longtime produce veteran Christopher (Chris) Gardella, who has been in the produce business since 1977 and was most recently director of business development for Unifrutti of America Inc. in Philadelphia, has joined R.B. Sandrini Inc. in Delano, CA, as director of sales and marketing. He started in April.
Mr. Gardella told The Produce News July 13 that he started his produce career at Frupac, where he was vice president of sales and diversification for 12 years. During the 1990s he worked for Sunview Marketing in Delano, CA. Later, he opened a West Coast office for Jac Vandenberg for the Chilean import deal.
Overall, Mr. Gardella said of his produce experience, he has “a pretty extensive background in production and marketing with a variety of fruits. But my specialty and my love is really grapes.”
It is “nice to be back in California and working for a grower-shipper,” he said. “I enjoy that scenario, being able to be involved in the production of what we sell.”
Owner Richard Sandrini, with whom Mr. Gardella said he has had a long relationship, is “a reputable grower in Delano, and the family has been growing grapes since 1952.”
It is because of that relationship and because Mr. Sandrini “has dedicated himself to the production of some of the newer varieties” that Mr. Gardella decided to join the company.
In addition to the focus on new varieties, “the company is taking a green approach,” he said. “We have incorporated a more biological culture approach to growing grapes, where the concept is to push plant physiology through biology rather than chemistry. This involves a lot of working in applications of organic fertilizers and composts and fungi ides as we move to a amore sustainable approach to production.”
The company is currently “going through that process,” he continued, “and we can see that it has enhanced these cultural programs. It has enhanced the vigor of our vines. So we are looking forward to a good harvest of improved quality and improved storability.”
One of the “interesting aspects of working here at Sandrini,” Mr. Gardella said, “is we do have the opportunity to grow these varieties in an area where we can produce very high quality and very a sweet fruit for the consumer.
“I think that to be able to deliver that quality and taste to the consumer … really separates the Delano deal from a lot of the other deals that are currently active in the U.S. market,” he said.
In Delano, Mr. Gardella said, “we have the opportunity to grow very nice proprietary and special varieties of fruit and really grow them to full maturity” so that “the consumer can benefit from the quality and the taste.”
Among the varieties “we are looking at,” he said, are Summer Royal, Autumn Royal, Scarlet Royal, Princess, Luisco, Autumn King, and two proprietary varieties, Nicolo and Timco.
“Some of those varieties are coming up the stake. Some of them are in production,” he said.
“I think the objective of this company in the future is to grow grapes in a more organic and sustainable way,” as well as to continue the production of “newer varieties for improved quality and taste for the consumer,” Mr. Gardella said.
In general, “we intend to replace some of the traditional varieties we have with newer varieties,” he said. “Increasing our acreage in the future is also an option, but we are going to be very selective and careful how we do it.”
The emphasis, he said, will not be on volume but on “variety selection and product quality and marketability of those varieties” and on growing them in “a sustainable way.”