(Feb. 18) New programs and strategies, as well as some new management, are part of Orlando, Fla.-based Chep International’s corporate plan for 2003.

And the changes aren’t restricted to its Chep USA division. The company’s Canadian and global divisions also are part of the plan.

On the domestic front, Chep USA has a new vice president of produce sales. Robert Muramatsu, formerly director of business development for Chep’s Canadian division, in Mississauga, Ontario, was promoted to the U.S. position effective Feb. 3.

Muramatsu, who will move to the company’s headquarters, said his two main objectives are to increase the pallet leasing program for growers and to increase returnable plastic container business to retailers.

“Somewhere down the road, the U.S. will be facing landfill issues like Canada. RPCs save money, and it took one major player to excite regional players,” Muramatsu said.

Muramatsu has been with Chep for six years, and succeeds Robert Spence, who left Nov. 8 to join Ready Pac Produce Inc., Irwindale, Calif.

On the Canadian front, the company wants to increase its RPC business this year, said Michael Gauthier, director of marketing and trade development for Chep Canada.

Beginning in May, Chep Canada has plans to work with the Stellarton, Nova Scotia-based Sobeys Inc. supermarket chain to test the use of RPCs through the distribution channel from greenhouses to growers to Sobeys stores. The six-month test will run in all Sobeys stores in Ontario.

Chep’s global division has plans to build upon new fruit import programs this year.

Gauthier said Chep Global, which works out of the Orlando office, imported mandarin oranges out of Valencia, Spain, for the first time last year. Gauthier said the season, which started in December and finished in January, was successful. He said the company will continue importing mandarins next season and has plans to expand that program to U.S. markets, as well.