(Oct. 17) Wenatchee, Wash.-based NuChief Sales Inc. and Elgin, Minn.-based Wescott Agri Products are combining their sales and marketing efforts in a new company, Honey Bear Tree Fruit Co.

The Wenatchee-based company expects to ship more than 2.5 million cases of apples and pears a year, said Don Roper, vice president of sales and marketing for Honey Bear and director of sales and marketing for Wescott.

It’s not the first time the companies have worked together. The Honeycrisp Apple Grower & Marketing Co. has been a joint venture of theirs for more than eight years, and the partners also leveraged their buying power and increased efficiencies by combining their Chilean and New Zealand apple imports six years ago. NuChief handles imports entering the U.S. on the West Coast, and Wescott handles the East Coast.

The companies, which have integrated their computer systems, will retain their names while operating under the Honey Bear umbrella, said Fred Wescott, president of Wescott and Honey Bear.

Randy Steensma, president and director of Nuchief and vice president and general manager of Honey Bear, said the companies’ retail partners now will have one sales person calling on them instead of two. A stronger relationship with retailers, he said, also will benefit the growers the companies represent.

Steensma said though sales operations should become more efficient, the combined effort will not result in reduced sales staffs for either company. In fact, he said increasing domestic honeycrisp volumes combined with plans for increased import volume from Chile likely will result in expanding sales staffs.