(Nov. 13) SALINAS, Calif. — The desire to better serve buyers with year-round supply has prompted two major asparagus shippers to merge.

Salinas-based Lee Brands LLC and Pacific Asparagus Nov. 13 formed Lee Pacific LLC.

Growers Express, Salinas, which has been Pacific Asparagus’ only sales and marketing arm, will exclusively handle the new firm’s sales and marketing, said Butch Corda, Growers Express’ general manager and Lee Pacific’s chief executive officer.

Lee Pacific expects to ship 2.5 million boxes of 11- and 28-pound cartons, 27-pound club store packs as well as export containers of asparagus a year from different growing regions, a 15% increase in the two companies’ combined 2003 sales, Corda said.

The new company will market asparagus under the Green Giant, Lee Brands and Western Express labels. Lee Pacific also will handle what Corda called a moderate amount of radishes, parsley, kale and green onions that Lee Brands added in March.

Mike Rubidoux, Lee Brands’ vice president of sales and marketing, along with other Lee Brands salespeople “will be going to Growers Express. That’s the plan,” said Alex Tamayo, Lee Brands’ former general manager and Lee Pacific’s new operations manager.

The Pacific Asparagus office in El Centro will become the new Lee Pacific headquarters, Corda said.

Corda will remain as Growers Express’ general manager.