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Sabroso expands its berry holdings

Sabroso Co. is getting further into the berry business.

The Medford fruit processing company has purchased Heikes Produce, a berry packing and processing company based in Cornelius, west of Portland.

The deal will allow Sabroso to diversify and expand its fruit product line, adding more berry items to the traditional core of products made from tree fruit such as pears.

They just fit real well with what we do, says Matt Reid, Sabroso executive vice president.

Terms of the deal, which closed in May, weren't released. Heikes will operate essentially as an independent entity, though its operations will be coordinated with Sabroso's. Sabroso says it doesn't expect cutbacks in facilities or employees and that all sales and supplier relationships will remain in place.

Reid says Heikes? sales are comparable in size to Sabroso's, so the deal almost doubles our business.

Sabroso was already a global leader in the production of fruit purees and concentrates, though it doesn't disclose sales figures. The company exports to 26 countries and was named Oregon Exporter of the Year in 1999.

The company has applied to the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department to be considered for industrial development bonds to help finance the deal.

Heikes employs about 25 people year-round, staffing up to 200 to 250 during the packing and processing season.

The company, founded in 1975, deals mainly in strawberries, though it also handles raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. It packages fruit to be sold to the dairy industry to be used in yogurt, ice cream and the like as well as to the bakery industry.

Sabroso produces purees and fruit concentrates sold to the beverage industry and to producers of baby food and fruit snacks. The company employs about 100 people year-round and more than 300 during its peak season.

The Heikes plant is primarily a packing facility that does limited processing. Sabroso's Medford plant is focused almost solely on processing, so the two complement each other, Reid says.

Sabroso initially entered the berry business several years ago, buying a processing plant in Sandy. But that operation was closed and the equipment moved to Medford in late 1998.

Reid says the Heikes acquisition pairs Sabroso with an experienced berry company that has built strong relationships with growers.

These guys are tied in (to berry growers) like we are to tree fruit growers, he says.

Expanding into the berry market more heavily provides stability for Sabroso.

We're not as totally dependent on tree fruit, Reid says.

Sabroso's processing expertise will help Heikes — which will likely begin using the Sabroso name down the road — expand its product line.

Reid says the deal also allows both companies to continue making inroads in food safety. He says both already track fruit from its source to ensure safety and use pasteurization techniques.

Sabroso specializes in packaged products that stay fresh longer than pasteurized ones without extensive refrigeration. The company plans to expand its use of that technique to Heikes? products.