By Dough Ohlemeier for The Packer

WIMAUMA, Fla. -- Longtime East Coast vegetable grower-shipper Wm. P. Hearne Produce has new owners, a new name and an expanded focus.

The grower, packer and shipper has combined its Florida production with growing deals up the East Coast that will provide Hearne a year-long program.

Two of the company's longtime salesmen have purchased the formerly Salisbury, Md.-based Wm. P. Hearne Produce Co. Inc. and changed the name to Wm. P. Hearne Produce Co. LLC.

Hearne -- which began operations in 1932 -- has also moved its operations to Wimauma.

Jeff Williams, president, who has sold produce for Hearne for 18 years, and Tony Piedimonte, vice president, who has 22 years at Hearne, bought the company from the retired William P. Hearne for an undisclosed amount of money.

Williams said he and Piedimonte have essentially run the company for the last five to six years as Hearne became less involved in the produce operations.

Hearne, however, retains ownership of the former Salisbury office, which is now a trucking operation that has no connection to the Wimauma-based operation, Williams said.

To not disrupt its customer base, Hearne?s new owners, who made the change in January, said they wanted to keep things low key.

"We felt our name and reputation in the industry was well-respected," Williams said. "We didn't want to make a lot of noise. We're taking the structure and reputation, building on them and taking them to a different level."

For the March 17 St. Patrick's Day, Hearne has redesigned its cabbage box. The new box features a leprechaun with shamrocks and a pot of gold coins. The 1.8-bushel boxes read "Happy St. Patrick's Day from Hearne Produce."

The box, along with unfavorable growing conditions that have boosted this season?s cabbage deal, have helped increase demand, Piedimonte said.

"We have had unbelievable demand," Williams said. "This is the best year we have ever had."

Less supply has made for less fighting for territory, Piedimonte said. He said cabbage demand has increased by 20% from last year.