MILTON-FREEWATER, Ore. — Earl Brown & Sons, Oregon’s largest grower and packer of fresh apples, has sold to another family-owned fruit enterprise in Wenatchee, Washington.
Members of the Foreman Fruit Company purchased Earl Brown & Sons in October, though the deal keeps the Browns in place to manage local operations on more than 1,000 acres of apples and 115 acres of wine grapes.
Ron Brown, whose father Earl started Earl Brown & Sons 40 years ago, said the families worked out a partnership that allows the business to retain its name and employees.
“Nobody lost their jobs. We’re moving along just like we did before,” Brown said.
The biggest difference, Brown said, is Foreman Fruit will provide additional capital for continued growth. The company is already planting another 60 acres of apples and 10 more acres of grapes.
“We’ve already taken on leasing more ground than we had,” Brown said.
Financial terms of the sale were not disclosed. Earl Brown & Sons has also spun off several other businesses, including Blue Mountain Cider and Watermill Winery in Milton-Freewater, though Blue Mountain Cider was not included as part of the sale.
All together, Earl Brown & Sons employs about 160 people. Ron Brown predicts the company will be able to tap into even more niche markets with the backing of Foreman Fruit.
“Both families are real forward-thinkers,” he said.
Alan Groff, president and CEO of Foreman Fruit Company, said they first heard Earl Brown & Sons was up for sale in April 2016. Though it was well off their radar — Wenatchee is 200 miles away from Milton-Freewater — Groff said they drove down for a meeting, and the two families immediately hit it off.
“They’ve created a number of businesses, and a number of very excellent orchards and vineyards,” Groff said. “There’s a nice intersection of our capabilities.”
Foreman Fruit Company was founded in the early 1980s by Dale Foreman, a Wenatchee attorney and former chairman of the Washington Apple Commission. Groff, who is Foreman’s son-in-law, said the business started out primarily growing pears before branching out into apples, cherries and grapes.
Earl Brown & Sons is Foreman’s first Oregon acquisition. Groff said they were impressed by the people, and wanted to keep their current team together.
“We share a common set of values and purpose in business,” he said.
Earl Brown & Sons was founded in 1977, and now packages between 850,000 and 1 million boxes of fresh apples every year. Varieties include Honeycrisp, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Fuji and Lady Alice.
Watermill Winery has also sold roughly 3,500 cases of wine in past years. Groff said they are still in the early phases of looking at the wine business, though they are excited to be working in The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater and believe the product has plenty of upside.
“I think this is really great wine that is, perhaps, undersold,” Groff said.
Brown said the transition with Foreman Fruit has been smooth, and will ensure that Earl Brown & Sons has the resources to stay competitive.
“You have to be a certain size anymore to compete with all the regulations that come down on smaller companies,” he said.