(Oct. 31) HOUSTON — Country Fresh Inc., a Houston-based fresh-cut produce specialist, doesn’t want to be a midget among giants.

That’s part of the reason behind Country Fresh’s recent purchase of a 50% stake in Houston wholesale distributor Kalil Fresh Marketing Inc.

“If you think back of the origins of the produce business in this country — and, really, the world — you find small family-owned operations,” said Bryan Herr, co-owner of Country Fresh. “You have to live the business to do it really effectively.”

The family-owned philosophy won’t change with the merger — which took effect in early September — in part, because the companies already had a family connection.

Herr’s partner in Country Fresh, Sam Petro, is a cousin of John Kalil, owner of Kalil Fresh Marketing, which distributes a full line of products.

Kalil, who launched his company three years ago, will retain 50% of the firm.

Kalil’s company, which will change its name Jan. 1 to Houston’s Finest Produce Co., focuses heavily on the foodservice sector, which, Herr said, would complement Country Fresh’s retail emphasis.

The company has hired Petro’s son, Mike, 33, to be vice president and general sales manager for the Kalil operation. Mike Petro has 12 years in the produce business.

Another son, Chris, 32, is chief operating officer and vice president of Country Fresh Inc. Chris Petro, new to the produce industry, had worked for Hanson Aggregates, a building materials company.

Country Fresh has expanded its reach to several regions, having already set up branches in Dallas; Orlando, Fla.; and Mauldin, S.C., and co-packing arrangements with F&S Produce Co. of Rosenhayn, N.J., and Pearson Foods of Grand Rapids, Mich.
But the company has still-loftier goals, Herr said, adding that it would welcome an opportunity to work with a company in the Midwest and West.