(Oct. 16, 11:55 a.m.) Don’t be surprised if you see more than just citrus in Seald Sweet’s booth during the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit.

Mark Lewis, executive vice president of product development, said Vero Beach, Fla.-based Seald Sweet International LLC likely will display blueberries from Argentina and Uruguay during Fresh Summit, Oct. 24-27 in Orlando, Fla.

That new product is just the beginning of Seald Sweet’s massive expansion plan.

“This is a rollout year for us,” Lewis said. “That’s why they hired me.”

Seald Sweet, which has been a citrus marketing company since it was founded as a Florida grower cooperative in 1909, hired Lewis in July. He’s been through this before, overhauling Chiquita Brands International Inc.’s non-banana business during his seven years as director/product leader of the Cincinnati-based company’s deciduous division.

He also helped transform Richland Sales Co., Reedley, Calif., from a company that strictly handled California tree fruit to one that also offered things like Chilean fruit, Asian pears and kiwifruit.

“This is my third time,” he said. “Hopefully this time I can get everything right.”

Seald Sweet plans to import about 20,000 cases of blueberries from Argentina and Uruguay from October through December. Lewis said the company will import about 30,000 cases of Brazilian grapes during the same period.

“We’re starting with numbers we’re comfortable with,” he said, “and we’ll build on our successes.”

Lewis said Seal Sweet expects to handle about 1 million cases of non-citrus products in the first year of the program. The vast majority of that — about 850,000 boxes — will be a year-round grape program from Brazil, Chile, Mexico, California, Peru and South Africa.

Lewis said many of the growers involved in the product line expansion have existing relationships with Seald Sweet’s parent company, St. Katelijine-Waver, Belgium-based Univeg Group.

“They want us to take what they’re doing in Europe and replicate it in the U.S.,” Lewis said. “We’re going to bring in these products and increase our offerings and revenues.”

Other new items will include about 70,000 cases of apples and pears from Argentina in a deal that runs from March through June. Lewis said the company also will source cherries from Argentina in January and February.

In addition to Chilean grapes, Lewis said Seald Sweet plans to start sourcing tree fruit from that country starting in December.

Lewis said Seald Sweet is training its sales staff to handle the new items and plans to hire two new sales people as well.

Seald Sweet’s new import deals going beyond citrus
Mark Lewis, Seald Sweet's executive vice president of product development, says the company plans to add blueberries, grapes, cherries, apples and other items in an import expansion strategy. “We’re starting with numbers we’re comfortable with,” he says, “and we’ll build on our successes.”