(April 2) FLEMINGTON, N.J. — Jim Lotufo joined Ventura, Calif.-based Fresh Directions International on March 4 and is heading up the firm’s new East Coast office in Flemington.

An 18-year produce veteran who most recently was president of Flemington-based Ekostar Inc., Lotufo will plan and direct the sales and marketing strategies for Fresh Directions throughout the Northeast, said Mike Browne, the company’s president and chief executive officer.

The main items for Fresh Directions are hass avocados and mangoes, but part of the strategy of opening a new office on the East Coast is to expand the product line to include other tropical items, such as plantains, coconuts, green-skin avocados and maradol papayas, Browne said.

“Our expanded product line is going to cater primarily to the East Coast business,” he said. “We’re really going to target the Caribbean independents. The demographics in the Northeast are huge for those items.”

Fresh Directions was formed in 1997 as the U.S. sales agent for a Mexican avocado consortium known as AMIMEX. It operates packinghouses in Mexico and the Dominican Republic, where it grows both hass and green-skin avocados. It also imports product from Chile, New Zealand and other countries throughout the Caribbean and Latin America.

The company also uses ripening and cold storage facilities in New Jersey; Chicago; Kansas City, Mo.; Denver; Houston; and Oxnard, Calif. Fresh Directions plans to open a sales office, similar to the one in Flemington, later this summer in Houston, Browne said.

Lotufo, who had experience with Pacific Fruit and Chiquita before joining Ecostar, was selected after a national search that turned up many candidates.

“He was an absolute perfect fit,” Browne said, noting Lotufo is part Ecuadorian, bilingual and has a keen understanding of Latin America.

Ekostar, meanwhile, has replaced Lotufo with Rafael Jaramillo, who is the company’s new sales and operations manager at Ekostar’s new facility at the Port of Newark, N.J. Jaramillo was hired earlier this year by Ekostar’s parent company in Ecuador, Ekostar SA, and moved to the U.S. with Lotufo’s departure.

Jaramillo, who has previous experience working for tropical fruit exporting companies in Ecuador, said Ekostar is looking to expand its own product line, which consists mainly of pineapples and organic bananas.