(June 12) A major Washington tree fruit grower-shipper and a relative newcomer to the region’s tree fruit deal are forming a marketing alliance to provide retail customers with a larger shopping list for Washington apples, pears and cherries.

Snokist Growers, Yakima, Wash., and L&M Cos., Raleigh, N.C., which has its Northwest division office in Selah, Wash., announced June 9 that they were forming a business and product alliance.

The deal provides access to cherries for L&M, a 30-year-old diversified produce marketing company that has focused on domestic vegetable sales from the Southeastern U.S. L&M has had its Northwest office since 1999.

The 100-year-old Snokist, which concentrates on tree fruit exports, will benefit from L&M’s domestic produce marketing and will be able to source more fruit sizes for export, said Neil Galone, Snokist Growers’ vice president of fresh sales.

The two companies, which will retain their own sales desks and packing operations, will co-pack and coordinate sales planning.

“We don’t have any customers that we compete for,” Galone said. “By opening our manifests to them and theirs to us, it will give us both broader offerings and the potential for better returns to the growers.”

Under the association, L&M began marketing and shipping fresh sweet bing and rainier cherries, which are being packed under L&M’s Nature’s Delight label, on June 9.

When the apple and pear picking starts in late August, Snokist will pack part of its tree fruit under the L&M label as well.

“We’re at a place in the Washington industry to where we have five to seven very large major marketing companies, including L&M,” said Keith Mathews, L&M’s Selah office general manager.

“This supply relationship will provide absolute consistency across product mix to assure retailers consistency and quality. That’s why these sorts of alliances are continuing to build and make sense in our landscape.”

The alliance will make for more unified marketing, Galone said.

“One thing we’re hearing from our customers is that they miss the fact that we’re no longer coming to them as a group, as the Northwest or the Washington Apple Commission, to put together marketing programs,” he said.

The commission’s domestic marketing collapse prompted formation of the alliance, said Mathews.

“That left a lot of quality, middle-sized players that found themselves without a lot of the marketing and promotional support the commission delivered exceptionally well over the years,” he said.

Snokist this year will ship 1.5 million 40-pound equivalent boxes of apples and pears and 600,000 20-pound equivalent boxes of cherries.

L&M, which has exclusive marketing and sales contracts with four Washington apple and pear grower-shippers, will be able to ship an additional 200,000 42-pound equivalent boxes of apples this fall.
From their northwest division office, L&M markets and ships 8 million 42-pound equivalent cartons of apples and pears.

L&M grows, packs and markets more than 30 U.S. and international fruits and vegetables.