(Web Editor’s note: The following article is an extended, updated version of a story we posted at 9:00 a.m.).

(Jan. 29, UPDATED 2:17 p.m.)

Bruce Peterson's stepping down as president and chief executive officer of Naturipe Farms LLC doesn’t mean he’s leaving the produce industry, and he’s expressed an interest in returning to the retail sector.

The former senior vice president and general merchandise manager of perishables for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Bentonville, Ark., left his position Jan. 29 but remains on Naturipe’s board of directors. Peterson joined the Naples, Fla.-based berry company in August 2007.

The 39-year produce industry veteran said he doesn’t have any immediate plans other than a trip with his wife to Hawaii, but he’ll continue to be associated with the produce industry.

His noncompete agreement with Wal-Mart expires March 1, and Peterson said he plans to become more engaged with the retail side of the business.

Peterson serves on a couple of produce industry boards and runs his produce consultancy, Bentonville-based Peterson Insights Inc., which he started after he resigned from Wal-Mart in 2007.

Naturipe immediately named Rich Amirsehhi as its interim chief executive officer. Amirsehhi, Naturipe’s board chairman, is president and chief executive officer of partner Naturipe Berry Growers, Salinas, Calif.

The company also launched a nationwide search for Peterson’s successor.

Robert Verloop, Naturipe vice president of marketing, said Peterson accomplished all of the goals and objectives the board outlined when he was hired.

Credited with building Wal-Mart’s produce division, Peterson said grower-based organizations such as Naturipe don’t possess strategic perspectives on different components of business models.

Peterson said he thinks he’s leaving Naturipe in a better and more competitive position in the berry category.

“The board hired me to reposition the company to be able to take on some different kinds of strategic initiatives,” Peterson said. “I did that a lot quicker than many thought I would be able to do that. With that work accomplished, I’m better suited to the company at a board level as opposed to a CEO level so they can concentrate in the near term on their berry business.

“We really feel good about the change and I’m looking forward to working with the board on a strategic level,” he said.

He said Naturipe plans to keep the management group Peterson brought to the business.

Amirsehhi joined Naturipe Farms in 1996 and has served as chairman of the California Strawberry Commission, Watsonville. He credited Peterson with assembling a skilled management team, directing implementation of numerous business initiatives and assisting the board in developing a long-term strategic plan.

“Bruce was brought on board at a critical time as CEO to accomplish several key objectives,” Amirsehhi said in a news release. “He has successfully accomplished those goals and his contributions will forever have a profound impact on our growth and success in the marketplace.”

Peterson, 54, said the organization in 2008 saw record sales and volume. He said he helped improve fiscal performance to areas such as operations, human resources and sales through methods that aren’t typically found in grower-shipper organizations.

Naturipe Farms is owned by Naturipe Berry Growers; Hortifrut SA, Santiago, Chile; and MBG Marketing, Grand Junction, Mich.

Peterson exits Naturipe Farms president’s post