(March 3, 12:19 p.m.) BELLE GLADE, Fla. — Changing its involvement in the Florida fresh market lettuce deal, Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc. has a Belle Glade fresh-cut lettuce grower and processor packing its carton lettuce.

The co-packing arrangement has TKM Bengard Farms LLC growing and packing lettuce for Duda’s Dandy label.

Duda markets the iceberg, romaine, endive and escarole carton lettuce.

Mark Bassetti, vice president of customer development for Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc., the fresh division of Oviedo-based A. Duda & Sons Inc., said the company is focusing on growing and harvesting the lettuce for the fresh-cut processing market.

The Duda-brand product is for the fresh market only, Bassetti said.

The change isn’t a decrease in Duda’s volume or involvement in the Florida vegetable deal, but it represents a new strategy for Duda to better manage its business, Bassetti said.

“When you start looking forward into what’s changing with our customer base, which is a much more consolidated buying that we’re dealing with, with all the growing cost increases that we are facing, we decided we really needed to focus on any areas in efficiencies that we can gain by making sure we’re lean and prepared for where the economy is headed,” Bassetti said.

Duda and TKM worked together during the 1960s when Tom Basore, the late patriarch of the TKM Basore brother owners, first grew near Oviedo with Duda. As business conditions and buying practices changed, the companies went separate ways.

Toby Basore, TKM’s farm operations and marketing manager, said TKM began packing Duda lettuce in December when Florida’s lettuce deal began.

“Everyone knows Duda,” Basore said. “You go to a convention, and the first thing you get is a Duda lanyard. They are well-known and they have the brand. We don’t have to have our name on the box. We just need someone to move it.”

Bassetti said Duda wants to focus its energies on areas where it can be more competitive and bring the most value to the market. Duda’s main Florida vegetables include celery, sweet corn and radishes.

The co-packing arrangement is only one change in recent years at the fifth-generation family-run company.

In August, Duda consolidated its Florida sales efforts by closing its Vero Beach citrus sales and Belle Glade vegetable sales offices and transferred some of its workers to its Fresh Foods division retail operations office in Wellington, in Palm Beach County.

Last spring, Duda closed its LaBelle, Fla., citrus packing plant after the company struck a deal to market fresh citrus for Peace River Packing Co., Fort Meade, which serves as Duda’s primary Florida citrus packinghouse.

In 2006, Duda closed the Gracewood Fruit Co. LLC Vero Beach packinghouse that it co-owned. That year, the company combined its fresh operations into Duda Farm Fresh Foods and separated its processed businesses into the Duda Products Inc. division.

Duda, TKM strike deal to co-pack fresh lettuce
Toby Basore, farm operations and marketing manager with TKM Bengard Farms LLC, Belle Glade, Fla., says TKM and Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc. have started a co-packing arrangement in which TKM is packing Duda's carton lettuce.

Doug Ohlemeier