COMMERCE, Calif. — After 48 years as a Southern California produce distributor, Great West Produce Inc. has launched a new enterprise.

The company opened a repack division — Great West Re-pack — in February, and the 15-person crew already ships up to 20,000 packages a week, primarily onions and potatoes, said Dan Sims, who is responsible for strategic planning for the company and who oversees the repack division. By next year, the new unit also will handle offshore citrus.

When Sims, who has nearly five decades of experience in the produce business, joined the company three years ago, one of the main responsibilities owner/president Paul Villa charged him with was expanding the firm’s customer base.

The repack division does just that and also helps the company serve its existing customers better by putting up consumer packs, repacking bins and sacks of onions from Peru and Chile, doing cross-docking, custom loading of shipping containers, repalletization and repacking distressed loads, Sims said.

The new division came about when Great West had the opportunity to buy out one of its customers — Bell, Calif.-based Golden Eagle Produce Distributors Inc. — which also specialized in potatoes and onions.

“Great West was able to provide the capitalization and expertise to grow that operation and help fill a niche,” Sims said.

Golden Eagle owner Jeff Johnson and salesman Kevin Johnson stayed on with Great West after the acquisition.

Jeff Johnson now manages the repack division, and Kevin Johnson serves as a commodity sales specialist.

Jack Salemme of Great West also is a commodity sales specialist for the repack division and spends part of his time in the Pacific Northwest, where he runs the company’s Washington office, Sims said.

The company’s new 26,000-square-foot facility now has a packing line and storage area and will include a cold room by midsummer, he said.