(Dec. 23) Sunsweet Growers Inc., Yuba City, Calif.’s largest prune packer, and Shoei Foods USA, Olivehurst, the state’s third-largest prune packer, have entered into a joint processing-packing agreement.

Sunsweet will dry, process, pit and pack Shoei prunes, said Dane Lance, vice president of global marketing for Sunsweet. The two companies will continue to sell and market their products independently, he said.

“Our growers will remain Sunsweet growers. Their growers will remain Shoei growers,” Lance said.

Shoei Foods USA is a division of Japan-based Shoei Foods Corp. The agreement weds Sunsweet’s patented prune pitting system to Shoei’s proprietary preservative-free process, popular in Japan. The two methods will be employed in an enclosed processing area the two companies will build in the Sunsweet plant, Lance said.

“Japan is a pretty special market with unique requirements; we think by joining together in building this room that we can address Japan’s unique needs,” he said.

Both companies will process prunes in the to-be-built area, but the prunes receiving the process will represent a small percentage of the plant’s overall volume, Lance said.

The two companies will process up to 70,000 tons of prunes annually, Lance said. The output will represent about half of California’s volume, he said. The state produces more than half of the world’s prune supply.

A byproduct of the alliance is reassurance for California prune grower-shippers, who have encountered some challenging seasons in recent years. The Sunsweet-Shoei agreement reflects Sunsweet’s optimism for the industry in the future, Lance said.

“Sunsweet is first and foremost a prune cooperative,” he said. “Although we have a lot of other dried fruit products, our first love is prunes because that’s what our growers produce.”