Chile beckons fruit firms

Dan Wheat/Capital Press Cass Gebbers, CEO of Gebbers Farms, and Reggie Collins, CEO of Chelan Fruit Cooperative, visit at the sorting tables of Chelan Fruit's presizing line on Oct. 30. The two companies have marketed fruit together for eight years and now are partners in Chilean fruit companies.

Partnership ensures reliable year-round supply of fresh fruit


Capital Press

CHELAN, Wash. -- Chelan Fruit Cooperative and Gebbers Farms, of Brewster, have jointly purchased 50 percent ownership of four closely associated fruit producers in Chile.

The move gives the two Washington companies greater ability to obtain Southern Hemisphere fruit to better supply worldwide clients year-round.

Most major tree fruit companies in Washington have interests in South America or New Zealand to help provide supply as Southern Hemisphere production is six months offset from the Northern Hemisphere.

Chelan Fruit and Gebbers Farms have jointly marketed fruit since 2004 through joint ownership of Chelan Fresh Marketing. They sell approximately 15 million boxes of apples, pears and cherries annually. Labels include Trout, Chelan Fresh and Danny Boy.

Chelan Fruit and Gebbers Farms have sold fruit from the Chilean companies for several years. Close bonds developed and "they, like us, emphasize growing the highest quality apples and best varieties and are known for an innovative nursery," said Reggie Collins, chief executive officer of Chelan Fruit.

The new partnership in Chile will help the Chilean companies expand production and worldwide supply, he said.

The new Chilean company, called Chilean South Apples, or CHISA, will directly export about 1.2 million boxes of tree fruit to markets in Asia, the United States, Canada, the Middle East, Russia, the United Kingdom and Latin America.

CHISA owns 1,700 acres of apple and cherry orchards, much of it with young trees, plus packing, nursery and sales operations.

The new partners have developed a $30 million business plan that includes extensive plantings of new apple varieties, new plantings of cherries, expanded packing and cold storage operations in Chile, according to a news release issued by Chelan Fruit and Gebbers Farms. The money also will be spent on orchard renovation and commercial development of new exclusive apple varieties through CHISA's nursery.

The purchase gives Chelan Fruit and Gebbers greater say in Chile but the operators there are the experts, Collins told Capital Press. "They are very capable and the acreage down there is as good as any here," he said.

He declined to disclose the purchase price.

CHISA will be run from Angol, Chile. Collins and Cass Gebbers, president of Gebbers Farms, will share a four-member CHISA board of directors with two Chilean counterparts.

"Our new partners in CHISA are great people with strong character, the kind of people we were willing to invest with so far from home," said Cass Gebbers. "Their outlook on fruit to a growing global population aligns very well with our own goals."

Francisco Prat, general manager for the four companies in Chile, will continue as general manager. Dan Tarbert, of Gebbers, will be chief financial officer.

The four companies in Angol, Chile, are: Inversiones Agricolas Buenos Aires S.A.; El Almendro S.A.; Fundo El Encanto S.A.; and Fruticola Angol S.A. The four are owned by Toronto Trust, Andres Lyon L., Francisco Prat A. and the Prat Alemparte Family.

Chelan Fruit Cooperative is owned by 270 grower members. Gebbers Farms is family-owned.

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