In 1945 Alex Sambado, an Italian immigrant, decided to leave the corner grocery store he owned in San Francisco for the California countryside. He purchased a small cherry and walnut ranch in the fertile northern San Joaquin Valley and started planting the roots for a better life for his family. With ideal growing conditions, the farming operation, A. Sambado & Son (A.Sambado), began to take off. Alex’s son, Lawrence, joined him and by the early 1980s, A.Sambado had become a ranch packer of cherries, apples and walnuts.
Nearly 70 years later, the result is third-generation family-owned and-operated Primavera Marketing (Primavera), a grower representative and distribution operation based in Linden, Calif. “It all started with the original 20 acres my late grandfather purchased in 1945,” recalls Rich Sambado, now president of Primavera. “My grandfather initiated the farming and my father expanded it from there.”
Family farm to triple threat
Lawrence and his wife, Beverly, decided to take the ranch to the next level in the mid-1980s, diversifying into packing and distribution of the premium produce. “My father continued to expand with construction of new, state-of-the-art packing facilities throughout the early ‘90s. In addition, in spring 1990, the family formed Primavera. Primavera now works with some of the most experienced growers in California, specializing in providing accurate information to help buyers plan for the upcoming season.”
Primavera represents cherry growers from Bakersfield to Lodi, Calif., backed by a packing operation, Prima Frutta Packing (Prima Frutta). “Growers bring us their products harvested from ranches throughout the San Joaquin Valley and Prima Frutta does all the packing,” explains Rich. “We then cool the fruit, load it and Primavera steps in to market the transaction.”
Today, Primavera, Prima Frutta and the original A.Sambado are all one roof at a corporate office in Linden. “My brother, myself and my dad are partners in Primavera, as well as Prima Frutta,” Rich explains. “In addition, my dad is still leading the way in A.Sambado, the growing company.”
Apples to apples, quality and quantity
The family companies have built a reputation for the highest quality in the produce industry over the years, from the ground to the packaging line. Prima Frutta’s packing facility focuses on product quality, cooling the fruit immediately and maintaining cold chain control throughout the packing and shipping process.
A quality control team monitors all incoming fruits and nuts and performs tests upon arrival. The company’s packing supervisors and production staff are trained on the latest food safety guidelines. “Our facility is independently inspected and audited to ensure the safety of our products,” adds Rich.
From sweet Gala and tart Granny Smith apples, to firm cherries and some of the best tasting walnuts produced in North America, Primavera delivers both quality and quantity to support retailers. “There are about 8 to 9 million boxes of cherries produced annually in California,” notes Rich. “Each year, our market share is between 20 and 22 percent. We’re an industry leader and we are able to serve large retailers with the quality and the volume behind it.”
Primavera serves retailers across North America and also exports to Japan, China, Korea and parts of Europe. “70 percent of the products we receive are shipped throughout North America and 30 percent go out as exports,” reveals Rich. “We develop contacts with major U.S. retailers, all across the country.”
A leader in land of plenty
Since the early days of A.Sambado, Primavera has been situated in an agricultural hot spot, allowing the company to source from the finest farms and forward the bounty onto a national market. From as far south as Arvin, Calif., all the way up to the rich San Joaquin Valley, farmers in this region produce some of the most sought-after cherries in a short six to eight week growing season.
“The cherry industry is growing and we’re a leader in it, but the walnut industry is exploding, as well,” shares Rich. “The state is known for outstanding quality walnuts, particularly in our location about 90 miles northeast of San Francisco. Our walnuts are known to have excellent, light colored meat and rich flavor thanks to warm days and cool nights from the Delta breeze. There are more and more walnut acreage sprouting up, particularly in the Linden area.”
One reason the walnut industry is going nuts is due to the increasing labor shortage. “A quality labor force to harvest fruit is getting more and more difficult to find,” explains Rich. “While Primavera has only eight employees, our packing and growing operations have at least 1,500 on a seasonal basis. It takes a lot of people to keep things moving.”
For fear of the lack of labor, more farmers are planting less labor intensive walnuts over cherries and apples. “Labor is a major concern, sometimes even more so than water, but another factor is the growing population and demand in Asia,” adds Rich. “More walnuts are making their way into the U.S. diet as people become more health conscious.”
Rich says there’s great promise for Primavera in the walnut business. “We’re an established leader as far as cherries and apples, but Primavera is an up and coming independent handler as far as walnuts,” he says.
As the company gains ground in the nut business, Primavera continues to supply cherries and apples to nationwide retailers. “We do what we know and we do it well,” assures Rich. “We’re focusing on our group of growers and we feel strong about being on the cutting edge as far as technology and our facility.”
However, Rich takes it one step further to ensure perfection. “It’s about understanding equipment, technology and packing capacity in order to meet retailers’ needs,” he continues. “When customers come to us, they know they’re getting the quality they expect and the volume to back it.”
Backed by family ownership, uncompromising quality standards and some of the finest agricultural selection California has to offer, Primavera Marketing’s success is fruitful to say the least.