(Feb. 15) Seeking new opportunities in tomato sales, a group of produce industry investors has started a new national tomato sales organization.

Fresh Link Tomato, which began operations from its Naples, Fla., headquarters Feb. 11, was started by Integrated Fresh Solutions LLC, a Dallas-based holding company that has Michael Leach, the former vice president and general manager of Epic Roots LLC, Salinas, Calif., as its vice president of business development.

Fresh Link has Florida and California tomato sales veteran Michael Smith, of Naples, as its vice president of sales and marketing.

The company, Leach said, is a source-driven organization that plans to market and distribute partial and entire tomato crops from Florida, California and Mexico growers. Fresh Link has operations and quality control inspectors in the growing regions, Leach said.

Smith, who wasn’t available for interviews, said in a news release he plans to procure from many growing regions and expand Fresh Link into “a complete source program, direct from farm, which can fulfill all of the tomato needs of a diversified client base.”

Leach declined to further define the organization’s business model, its potential tomato volume, suppliers nor how Fresh Link would handle and sell its tomatoes.

Integrated Fresh Solutions was formed in 2006 and is owned by a group of investors involved in the produce industry, including some investors in produce foodservice distributor Pro*Act, Monterey, Calif. Pro*Act is not an owner of Integrated Fresh Solutions.

Despite the recent troubles in the tomato industry, which has seen a couple of major Florida tomato grower-shippers departing the business, Leach remained optimistic for increased sales to retail, wholesale and foodservice channels.

“We believe there’s an opportunity to be a provider at source,” he said. “Integrated Fresh Solutions looks to opportunities in the industry where there is value within a segment of a category. The way we look at it, Fresh Link is focusing on capitalizing on the changing environment of the tomato industry and we believe there are many years of growth in the tomato industry ahead.”

Smith began selling tomatoes for California and Florida growers during the mid-1980s for companies such as Immokalee, Fla.-based Tomato Man Inc. and Collierpac; Gulfstream Tomato Growers Ltd., Homestead, Fla.; Big Red Tomato Packers, Fort Pierce, Fla.; San Joaquin Tomato Growers Inc., Crows Landing, Calif., and Central California Tomato Growers Cooperative Inc., Merced. He ran his Naples-based Mmmmm Tomatoes consulting company.

Before joining gourmet mache grower and distributor Epic Roots in 2003, Leach, who has 25 years produce industry experience, was vice president of sales and marketing for Watsonville-based California Giant Inc. (now California Giant Berry Farms), one of the state’s biggest strawberry grower-shippers. Leach was also director of value-added sales and marketing and regional sales director for Salinas-based Tanimura & Antle Inc.

Leach said Smith is well-known in the tomato industry and brings Fresh Link 20 years of tomato category sales, knowledge and experience and can provide the experience needed to run and expand the company.