(Sept. 26) SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — NationFresh has signed on with Birds Eye Foods Inc., Rochester, N.Y., as the exclusive provider of tomatoes sold under the Birds Eye Fresh label.

The licensing agreement makes NationFresh, which made its debut in January, one of five fresh produce suppliers for Birds Eye.

It joins Rexburg, Idaho-based Wilcox Marketing Group; Coachella, Calif.-based Peter Rabbit Farms; Santa Maria, Calif.-based Fresh Kist Produce LLC; and San Clemente, Calif.-based Dave Westendorf Produce Sales Inc.

Wilcox provides potatoes and onions, Peter Rabbit supplies carrots, Fresh Kist provides California vegetables, and Westendorf supplies cucumbers, peppers and squash.

Westendorf previously provided vine cherry and greenhouse-grown tomatoes for Birds Eye. However, as part of the agreement, NationFresh will handle tomatoes exclusively, said Lyn Hughes, Birds Eye Fresh senior marketing manager.

NationFresh officials had been searching for a marketing partner since the company’s introduction, said Steve Phipps, the firm’s national director of sales and marketing. Phipps said consumers recognize the Birds Eye Fresh brand.

“We feel like their go-to-market strategy is going to be very strong in coming months,” he said. “That’s why we selected them.”

Though an exclusive partner with Birds Eye, Phipps said NationFresh would still retain and market its own brand.

NationFresh’s member growers in 2002 shipped 40 million 25-pound cartons of tomatoes, and sales were more than $775 million. The company and its growers tout more than 668 years of business experience.

Phipps said shipments would increase significantly as a result of the partnership, but he would not release volume estimates.

Birds Eye started marketing fresh produce about three years ago, Hughes said. Companywide sales figures reach more than $1 billion annually.

The partnership will allow the companies to offer centralized billing, one-call order placement, consistent quality control and nationwide promotions, according to a news release. The licensing contract was signed Sept. 23.
NationFresh markets tomatoes for a combination of 11 growers and repackers. There are six NationFresh growers in the Eastern U.S., three in the Midwest and two in the West. It also has grower-shipper members in Florida, California and Arizona.