(June 14) COLUMBIA, S.C. — Columbia-based Produce Alliance LLC has strengthened its presence in the South by adding three firms from the region to its distribution roster.

The 4-year-old foodservice buying and distribution consortium announced June 7 that it had signed three produce distributors — Shreveport, La.-based Santa Maria Produce; Corpus Christi, Texas-based Corpus Christi Produce Co. Inc.; and Jacksonville, Fla.-based Pitman Produce Inc. — as the 33rd, 34th and 35th members of its network.

Produce Alliance expects to announce the addition of three more members, from the Midwest soon, said Lloyd Ligier, the consortium’s vice president.

“We kind of filled out some of that Texas area and are certainly getting into the Florida market, so we’re very excited about the direction the group is taking,” Ligier said.

The three companies have a combined annual sales volume of between $65 million and $75 million, Ligier said.

Produce Alliance, founded in 1998, enables foodservice operators to establish, monitor and control their produce requirements from field to table, Ligier said, adding that the consortium provides foodservice distribution members with leveraged purchasing from major growers and shippers across the U.S. and also provides marketing services.

Combined, the members represent more than $2 billion in annual foodservice sales.

“When you look at an independent’s purchasing power, as opposed to the combined power of 35 companies, it’s pretty amazing what the economies of scale will do for you,” Ligier said. “It just helps them enhance their buying power from pricing and quality standpoint because we have a lot of good people on our buying desks that put together major programs with grower-shippers.”

The consortium also is planning to establish bases of operation in the Pacific Northwest and Southwest, Ligier said.

All of the new members are established firms. Corpus Christi Produce, founded in 1946, offers a full line of fresh produce, fresh herbs and exotic vegetables to customers throughout southern Texas.

“We’ve been approached by a lot of people over the years,” said Margaret Jataine, the firm’s president. “They seemed to be the most aggressive. This is going to really help our customers, give them better prices.”

Santa Maria Produce is a third-generation distributor with a full line of fresh fruits and vegetables, specialty items with a distribution area that includes northwestern Louisiana, eastern Texas and southwestern Arkansas.

“They have national contract prices in place with real quality shippers throughout the industry,” said Joseph Glorioso, Santa Maria’s co-owner, adding that the company has an annual sales volume of about $10 million.

Pitman Produce is an 80-year-old distributor serving foodservice operators in a 150-mile radius of Jacksonville, plus Puerto Rico and the Caribbean basin.

“We are able be part of a quality fresh produce network with all the associated benefits while still maintaining our independence as a local, family-operated business,” said Bob Pitman, president.

Produce Alliance has procurement offices in Columbia and Chicago, as well as Salinas, Calif.; and Visalia, Calif. The offices purchase more than 18 million cases of fresh produce annually and also offer transportation services.