(Aug. 18) After nearly a year of test marketing the Old El Paso brand of fresh produce, Z&S Distributing Co. Inc., Fresno, Calif., has restructured its management to promote and service the line, said Marty Zaninovich, president.

Z&S Distributing negotiated a licensing agreement with General Mills Inc., Minneapolis, nearly two years ago, Zaninovich said. General Mills sells a variety of packaged Mexican foods under the Old El Paso label.

Pat Hopper is the company’s new director of national brands. She will guide the Old El Paso label program through development, distribution and growth, Zaninovich said. She also will also oversee the company’s long-established Just Ripe label under which Z&S Distributing markets stone fruit and grapes, he said.

“The challenge of playing a key role in developing and marketing the Old El Paso fresh produce line was too great to turn down,” Hopper said.

Hopper was director of marketing for Ocean Mist Farms, Castroville, for 13 years. For the past six years, Hopper has been a consultant to the California Artichoke Advisory Board, a position she said she will retain.

The Old El Paso fresh produce line includes bell peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, garlic, chili peppers, onions and lemons, she said. Test marketing was done in Salt Lake City, Hopper said.

Hopper said the company plans to add avocados to the product line by mid-September, and navel oranges likely by the end of October.

“The relationship with General Mills changed the whole complexion of what we do,” Zaninovich said. To guarantee year-round consistent quality for the Old El Paso label, Z&S Distributing secured co-packing agreements in Florida and Mexico, he said.

The new director of sales and procurement for the El Paso label is Rick Sakamoto, who brings nearly 25 years in the produce industry to the post. He comes to Z&S Distributing from The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., Montvale, N.J., where he spent 13 years as buyer and senior manager of western field operations.

Justin Bedwell is the company’s director of marketing. He has been in produce sales since graduating from the University of Arizona in 1999. He joined Z&S Distributing four years ago, and is the son of Barry Bedwell, president of the Fresno-based California Grape & Tree Fruit League.