Arizona's United States Bankruptcy Court has approved the sale of “substantially all of the assets” of Willcox-based EuroFresh Farms to NatureSweet's subsidiary, Zona Acquisition Company, LLC.
NatureSweet CEO Bryant Ambelang announced Thursday that it was concluded through an asset auction process known as a “363 sale,” which allows a company filing for bankruptcy to market its assets to bidders.
“The auction follows our late January 2013 announcement of our intent to acquire EuroFresh Farms' assets when EuroFresh filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy,” said Ambelang, adding, “We expect the transaction to be completed in April.”
This asset acquisition represents a great opportunity for us to continue growing,” he said in a press release issued Thursday.
“It will help further strengthen our position as the leading producer of premium-branded, best tasting tomatoes and enable us to continue providing customers with top-quality products.”
“We will be sharply focused on taking a balanced approach to bringing EuroFresh Farms products and customers into the NatureSweet family,” Amelang added.
The acquisition was expected to take place following EuroFresh Farms’ “exit from the bankruptcy process in about 90 days or thereabouts,” Frank van Straalen, chief financial officer at EuroFresh, said at the end of January.
NatureSweet and EuroFresh Farms are two of the leading producers of high-quality tomatoes in North America, said Linda Welter Cohen of the Caliber Group in Tucson, representing EuroFresh.
EuroFresh Farms is also a leading U.S. grower of greenhouse cucumbers.
“Bringing EuroFresh products into the NatureSweet family provides us with new product offerings and U.S. growing facilities that we are confident will provide significant value to our customers,” Ambelang said at the time.
“This acquisition is a great opportunity to continue our growth while providing customers with the premium-branded tomatoes they have come to expect from NatureSweet. For the company, our customers and our associates, this is the right thing to do at the right time.”
Johan van den Berg, chief executive officer of EuroFresh Farms, said in January, “We are pleased to have received this offer from a financially strong organization that will continue to invest in the business of growing and selling greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers.”
The court filings are not expected to affect EuroFresh Farms’ ability to operate its
business and deliver on current or future customer orders, Cohen said at the time.
Van Straalen added, “We are not expecting any changes for the employees. There may be some adjustments in management. In the next few months, we will work on the integration plan – the way we deal with customers and products – the normal things companies do when they put two companies together.”
“Bryant Ambelang will be the CEO. Johan (van den Berg) will most likely be part of the company going forward, but we don’t know in what capacity,” he said in January.
In April 2009, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after taking on too much debt while in the process of expansion, according to then CEO Dwight Ferguson. EuroFresh emerged from the process before the end of 2009 with an agreement to recapitalize the company with a group of investors, including founder and current CEO and President Johan van den Berg.
“We are reorganizing for completely different reasons this time,” van Straalen said. “The entire industry is suffering from historically lower prices in the market, and this puts pressure on the financial side of the business.”
“We hired Piper Jaffray (an investment bank and asset management firm) to find buyers, investors or merger partners and we think this will be the best option for Eurofresh to go forward,” van Straalen said at the time.
When asked what will be different for NatureSweet in this market, van Straalen said, “I don’t know what will change for NatureSweet, but we’re excited about this partnership.”
NatureSweet, Ltd., is the leading grower of premium branded fresh tomatoes in North America under the NatureSweet brand. NatureSweet tomatoes are distributed throughout the United States at major grocers, club stores, and foodservice operators. As the number-one brand of tomatoes in the United States, NatureSweet's growing operations employ more than 5,000 people year-round. For more information, visit www.naturesweet.com.
EuroFresh Farms is a leading year-round producer and marketer of greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers in the United States and a leading innovator in the branded, high-end fresh tomato and cucumber industry. Premium quality, safe and flavorful products are grown in two greenhouses in Willcox and Snowflake, Ariz., by 1,100 employees. For more information, visit www.eurofresh.com.