(Feb. 27) OCEANSIDE, Calif. — A man who has been called a produce industry legend has decided to leave the daily grind of the business he has loved for more than a half century.

Dick Keim, 69, president of Oceanside Produce Inc., Oceanside, is retiring March 1 from the business he has been in since 1951. He says he plans to take more wildlife photography trips and spend more time with his family.

“I kind of decided you have to find a time that’s appropriate and do it (retire),” he said. “Fifty-two years in the business is a long time.”
Bill Wilber, Oceanside’s former sales manager, will succeed Keim as president. Wilber, a 22-year produce industry veteran, joined Oceanside in 1999. He previously sold Coachella Valley grapes and seedless watermelon for Sun World’s Coachella office and for Oro Marketing Inc., Coachella.

Professional colleagues say Keim possesses a wealth of knowledge about tomatoes, grapes, oranges and tree fruit.

“Dick Keim is one of the legends and icons in the industry,” said Bob Corsaro, vice president of Giumarra Vineyard Corp., Bakersfield. “The guy is beyond reproach. He’s what I call four-star rated in the Red Book. I’m going to miss him in the business.”

Corsaro has known and worked with Keim for more than 30 years. Corsaro said Keim has always been an innovator, pointing to Keim’s development of the three-layer panta pack for treefruit.

“He came out with that when no one even knew what one was,” Corsaro said.

Keim said he has a hard time pointing to any one industry accomplishment, but says he has most enjoyed working for Oceanside. He started in 1996 as director of sales and marketing and was promoted to the company’s presidency in 1999.

“It’s been a huge challenge,” Keim said. “It has been very satisfying to see how the company has progressed and grown.”

Admirers say Keim played an important role in increasing the $35 million-a-year tomato grower-shipper’s sales.

“I understand he took Oceanside and helped whip it into what it is today,” Corsaro said, adding that he made the company competitive in a rapidly changing environment.

“With all the consolidation and the things we’ve faced, that’s a feat in itself,” he said.

Promotion of vine-ripe tomatoes has been an important factor in that success, Keim said. He noted how vine-ripes were big when he started in the business, then took a backseat to mature-greens, but have seen a resurgence lately.

“I have found that tomatoes are one of the few commodities that people get very emotional about,” Keim said.

Keim’s career spans many produce companies and organizations. He started working part time with the wholesale produce business his father, Joe, ran, Keim Produce Co., Tucson, Ariz. Since then, Keim has worked with citrus, grape and vegetable growing companies, started his own citrus packing operation, Oasis Gardens, in the Coachella Valley and worked for a Los Angeles terminal market produce company, Southland Produce.

Keim co-founded Trans West Fruit Co, Riverside, where he sold citrus and managed export deals for several packinghouses before selling the firm to Dole Fresh Fruit Co., Westlake Village. Keim remained with Dole to help Dole start its new citrus marketing program.

In 1986, Keim started Cornucopia Trading Co., Riverside, which exported fruit and vegetables.

Keim will remain with Oceanside on a consulting basis for at least a year, Wilber said.