(Sept. 27) Frontera Produce LLC, Edinburg, Texas, plans to begin a new Central American melon import program through the Port of Corpus Christi, Texas, said Will Steele, vice president and partner.

From November to May, Steele said the melon, tropical, onion and ethnic commodity importer will contract 2,400 tons per week of cantaloupe and honeydew from Guatemalan melon grower Altobaso SA. Frontera will ship to retailers and wholesale distributors throughout the U.S.

Steele said Frontera chose to work with family-owned Altobaso on a trial basis this season. He said Altobaso shares many of Frontera’s values.

“They’ve been in business since the early ‘70s and had been looking for the last few years for a company to help them build and expand for the future,” Steele said.

Frontera has bought fruit from Altobaso in the past indirectly, Steele said. Ken Nabal, Frontera’s general manager, had previously imported through Altobaso when we was director of sales at Magellan Farms LLC, Pompano Beach, Fla.

If all goes well, the company will add mangoes from Altobaso and elsewhere in Latin America for the 2006-07 season, Steele said.

Frontera chose the Corpus Christi port for its location, Steele said. The company can offer its core customer base the flexibility to run less-than-truckload shipments with its product offerings out of Edinburg, a significant concern with the increase in the price of fuel, he said.

The company has a 100,000-square-foot cold storage facility — within 60 feet of its enclosed, temperature-controlled loading docks — at the Port of Corpus Christi.

The new program is part of Frontera’s move to increase its Central and South American import business. The company began expanding in small volumes two years ago, but it didn’t increase its volume until this season, Steele said.

“The goal was to diversify to maintain static supply lines for our retail customers,” Steele said.

The company now does 53% of its importing from Mexico, 37% domestically and 10% from Central and South America.