(Nov. 22) SALINAS, Calif. — Coinciding with the arrival of a new president at NewStar/Ceres Fresh Foods LLC, one of the company’s founders is turning his attentions to wine grapes.

Emanuel Lazopoulos left his post as managing director of the 5½-year-old company Nov. 22. His departure came the same week that Dave Eldredge, former executive vice president of Tanimura & Antle Inc., took over as president and chief executive officer.

Lazopoulos, who still retains partial ownership of NewStar, did not say why he left NewStar, but he said it was a tough decision that ultimately came down to what was best for the company and what was best for him.

“It was in my best interest and the best interest of the company for me to move on,” Lazopoulos said. “It was an amazing experience. I had the opportunity to be part of the founding of NewStar and to build a strong company. I like to think I was an integral part of the success.”

Lazopoulos, along with partners Mitch Secondo and Don Barnett, launched Ceres Fresh Foods in 1997. They immediately merged with Fresh Choice Produce to form NewStar/Ceres Fresh Foods. Since then, the company has developed a grower base and begun selling value-added products as well as commodities under the Young & Tender, NewStar and Omo brands. NewStar made a name for itself with green onions and spinach in particular.

In the past year, NewStar opened two facilities. One, an $8 million, 110,000-square-foot facility in Yuma, Ariz., opened in time for the 2001-02 desert season. It was a facility that NewStar built.

The second facility was a 75,000-square-foot one in Salinas that NewStar bought from Oxnard, Calif.-based Boskovich Farms during the summer of 2001. NewStar renovated it and officially moved most of its Salinas operations into it last spring. The company already has plans to expand that facility.

Lazopoulos also helped forge a partnership with Boskovich that allowed each company to ship from the other’s facilities. The marketing agreement also gave each company the ability to grow for each other. As a result of the agreement, for example, NewStar was able to expand its distribution window for asparagus. It also sold its first strawberries under the NewStar label last spring.

Lazopoulos said he was proud of what NewStar has accomplished.

“We’ve come a long way in a short time,” he said.

In the short run, Lazopoulos will focus on Salinas-based Pessagno Winery, which he helped found in 1999.

But Lazopoulos is not about to leave the produce industry, which has been a focus of his business life for the past 20 years. Before launching NewStar, he was vice president and general manager of FreshWorld Farms, Eddystone, Pa. Lazopoulos also worked for Salinas-based Salyer American for more than four years as vice president of sales and marketing and for more than seven years for Dole Fresh Vegetables as vice president of sales.

Lazopoulos, who just began a term on the retail board of the Produce Marketing Association, also served on the board of the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association from 1999-2001.

“I will continue to be active in my life’s passion, the produce industry,” Lazopoulos said. “And I’ll continue to be active in the ownership of NewStar. I’m leaving on a high note, and I want nothing but success for NewStar.”

Lazopoulos is the second of the three NewStar founders to announce his departure from the company, but he is the first to leave. Eldredge succeeded Secondo, who said it was time for him to retire again. Before helping found NewStar, Secondo had retired from Dole Fresh Vegetables. Secondo plans to stay on with NewStar for a while to help with the transition to Eldredge’s leadership. He plans to work on special projects for the company as well.