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Sunny Valley celebrates 25 years with New Jersey growers

SV 0193Sunny Valley International, a marketer of imported and domestic fruit in Glassboro, NJ, marked its 25th anniversary alliance with Jersey Fruit Cooperative of Glassboro, NJ, and Larchmont Farms in Deerfield, NJ, at a celebration honoring its long-term relationship with these growers. More than 125 people attended the private event held Nov. 8 at the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia.

Hank and Maryann Rizzotte of Glossy Fruit Farm with Lew DeEugenio Jr. ,  president of Jersey Fruit Cooperative.

Francisco Allende, Sunny Valley vice president and general manager, envisioned the event as a way to recognize Sunny Valley's valued history with Jersey Fruit and Larchmont Farms.

"We wanted everyone to know how much we appreciate the past 25 years and that we're still growing strong," said Bonnie Lundblad, sales manager at Sunny Valley. "Invitees consisted mainly of current and past suppliers, current and past employees, and related industry vendors."

Twenty-five years ago, Sunny Valley was approached by peach growers of the Jersey Fruit Co-op via an introduction from Philadelphia wholesaler TMK Produce. "At that time we were only an importer of Chilean fruit during the winter," said Lundblad. "The Jersey Fruit Co-op was seeking a marketer to sell their products. TMK Produce suggested Sunny Valley."

Lew DeEugenio Jr., president of the Jersey Fruit Co-op, spoke during the event about the origin of the collaboration. "At that time, having a year-round in-house sales force was not fiscally responsible for Jersey Fruit, so we decided to look for a contracted sales force to sell our summer fruit," he said. "Francisco came to us representing his company and his partner, Carlos Paul. He discussed how they were selling summer fruit in the winter from Chile and how it would be a perfect fit for them to sell fruit from New Jersey in the summer. The discussion was positive and a relationship began. We marketed almost a million packages that first summer in 1995."

Sunny Valley thus became the exclusive sales agent for Jersey Fruit Cooperative. "At that point in time Jersey Fruit consisted only of peach growers," said Lundblad. "One of those peach growers, Larchmont Farms, broke off on its own but requested that we continue acting as sales agent for its peaches."

Within a few years, three blueberry growers joined the co-op and Sunny Valley took on the marketing of blueberries as well. "We are proud of the fact that we've maintained the peach growers all these years and have also been able to bring on 11 different blueberry growers," said Lundblad.

Lundblad drew attention to the reverse evolution of Sunny Valley's blueberry deal. "Unlike the summer fruit deal where we had been importing peaches from Chile already and then added the New Jersey supply, we began selling New Jersey blueberries first and then decided to add source from Chile," she said. "Now, we have become one of the largest blueberry companies selling from around the world."

The most celebrated aspect of the 25 years is the established rapport between all the parties. Bob Von Rohr, director of sales and marketing for Sunny Valley, noted the importance of the long-term, symbiotic nature of the deal with Jersey Fruit. "It's been a perfect marriage for us," he said. "We've all grown together, nurturing this relationship."

The relationship with Larchmont farms has also been well curated, added Von Rohr. "They're both family-owned, multi-generational farms and are well respected not only by the customers we serve but also internally within our own company," he said.

Jersey Fruit's DeEugenio attributed the longevity to the "authenticity, honesty and integrity of Francisco, Carlos and the entire Sunny Valley organization. That really kept us together," he said. "And, we have the same qualities and attributes present on our member-farmer side too."

Sunny Valley looks to continue building on the foundation of the last 25 years. "We want to maintain the foothold we have with New Jersey products and expand where it makes sense," said Lundblad. "We're always looking for new items from New Jersey. One of our blueberry growers has cranberries, so we market cranberries now. Some of our peach growers have apples, so we have a small niche program to market local apples. One of our growers is looking at blackberries. Any new items our growers have, they bring to us to discuss marketing options."

The company intends to pursue building on the local aspect and supporting local connections. "It's tough for a lot of local farmers to sustain themselves," said Lundblad. "So, we work very hard not only to grow but to make sure they can stay in business, and to help them move forward to have the next season of a good crop."