A forklift operator crosses Grape Street in front of Sabroso Co. in Medford. The fruit puree processor has been purchased by Tree Top Inc., of Selah, Wash. Jim Craven 10/27/2008 - Jim Craven

Sabroso sale will expand market

Rarely a week passed without someone inquiring about Sabroso Co.'s availability.

Chief Executive Officer Jim Root's response was always the same when it came to selling the Medford fruit puree processing company started by his grandfather during the Great Depression.

The polite "no" turned into a maybe about 10 months ago when he and representatives from Tree Top Inc., a grower's cooperative in Selah, Wash., began discussing the possibilities. The deal became final last Friday, making Sabroso Co. a wholly owned subsidiary. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

"We were courted almost weekly," said the 61-year-old Root, who will stay on during a lengthy transition period. "The list goes from private equity firms to regional companies within our three-state region (Oregon, Washington, Idaho) to multinational companies."

"I've been working here for 45 years, counting high school summers; I just thought I'd like to free up the time to work in some other areas."

The fruit industry has been in a consolidation mode for several years.

"It's been led primarily by the consolidation of the retail sector," Root said. "The processors have been feeling the same need to consolidate to stay on equal footing with the customer side of the business. There is very little overlap in our two businesses, which can best be described as two food processing companies that have been working on parallel paths. In some cases we share the same customers and in some cases share the same suppliers, but the product lines are distinct."

Ultimately, Root saw the synergistic capabilities of the two companies that would allow Sabroso to grow beyond its plants here, in Woodburn and in Southern California, while also allowing it to take advantage of its staff in Texas, Ohio, China and Argentina.

"Sabroso will be exactly the same as it is now and simply have greater access to capital and greater market knowledge as intelligence is combined within the two companies," he said.

Tree Top operates four production plants in Washington — two in Selah, as well as Prosser and Wenatchee — along with one in Rialto, Calif. About 800 of the company's nearly 900 employees work in Washington. Sabroso employs 500 with the bulk working in Medford — 115 full-time and another 300 in a seasonal capacity. Root doesn't talk about his company's revenue, but said the Oregon Labor Market Information System's figure of between $100 million and $500 million was accurate.

Investment banker Macadam Capital Partners of Portland assisted in the transaction.

Tree Top acquired all of Sabroso's stock, giving it a six-block campus along South Grape Street that includes 300,000 square feet of manufacturing, warehouse and office space, as well as another 127,000 square feet of warehouse space on Lars Way off Sage Road.

"The addition of Sabroso's lineup of fruit-based products, particularly fruit purees, will complement Tree Top's existing product lines and allow us to offer a broader spectrum of products," Tree Top Chief Executive Officer Tom Stokes said in a press release. "It will also provide Tree Top's grower-owners with an additional outlet for processing their fruit."

Tree Top spokesperson Sharon Miracle said there would be little change in the immediate future because both organizations have already laid out their 2009 business plans.

"I really don't sense people will notice the difference," Root said. "The company will have a stronger capital base. Everybody that touches us locally will still get salary and benefits from Sabroso and people will still get Sabroso checks when they provide goods and services to us."

Sabroso President Matt Reid said he's looking forward to strategic planning with Tree Top in late winter.

"Between the two of us, there is a lot of expertise and innovative minds," Reid said. "When it comes to fruit-ingredient products, our capabilities are vast and pretty deep."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail

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