[caption id="attachment_52318" align="alignright" width="315" caption="One of the stores that carries Manzana Products' North Coast brand is Whole Foods Market."][/caption]
SEBASTOPOL -- Ninety-year-old apple processor Manzana Products Co. Inc. has merged with a large France-based agricultural products co-operative, giving the European company an entry point to U.S. markets for its apple products and Manzana backing for growing sales.
"We have growers who are very interested in planting apples, but they need to make sure they are going to have a home for those apples, and this will give them that assurance," said Suzi Kaido, president of Manzana Products and part of the fourth generation of family management.
Worked out over the past 11 months, the deal puts Manzana Products under Eclor, the beverage division of Agrial Group SA. Three co-ops merged in mid-2000 to form Agrial, which processes meat, dairy, fruit and other agricultural products from more than 10,000 farms. Sales topped 2.3 billion euros in 2010. The Eclor division largely makes sparkling juices and lemonade from seven plants and exports to 100 countries.
Yet, much will remain the same at Manzana post-merger. The name on the Sebastopol business won't change. Ms. Kaido will remain president, and General Manager Mark Fitzgerald stays in that post. Her cousin Dick Norton is now vice president of operations. All 45 off-season workers retain their positions. Staffing swells to 99 around harvest in August.
The company's sales growth has averaged 12.5 percent to 15 percent over the past five years, and that includes flat growth during the recession-rocked 2009, according to Mr. Fitzgerald. The company produces apple sauce, juice and cider vinegar mainly under private labels for major natural foods stores and also under Manzana Products' North Coast brand, which is distributed in California and Washington through grocers such as Whole Foods Market.
"I admire a company whose management team has positioned it in the premium position for organic products and has a blue chip list of clients," said Clay Stephens, principal of Novato-based Warren Capital, which was the financial adviser for the family owners of Manzana Products and negotiated the deal.
A few major ways Manzana Products has successfully navigated the pressures on Sonoma County apple processors in the past two decades is finding products for all the apple parts, including farm feed; early adoption of certified-organic apples; private-label production; and product extensions, according to Ms. Kaido.
In the early 1990s, Manzana Products started accepting organic apples and figured out cost-effective ways to remove problem parts until methods for increasing quality in the orchard emerged. Today, organic foods sales are growing at around 12 percent annually.
Eclor makes other apple products that aren't being produced in Sebastopol, but it's too early to tell what new types of products will be come to Manzana Products, according to Ms. Kaido.
Started in 1922, Manzana Products operates from a 13-acre property off Green Valley Road. The facility has 1 million gallons of storage, largely for cider vinegar. The 110,000 square feet of production space has lines for filling juice, sauce in jars, sauce in cups and vinegar. Photovoltaic panels atop a 41,000-square-foot warehouse help offset three-quarters of annual electricity usage.