Paine Schwartz Partners backs California fruit grower

The purchase of a stake in Cutler, California-based Wawona Packing Company marks the sixth investment from the $893m Fund IV.

Paine Schwartz Partners has used capital from its fourth fund to purchase a stake in Wawona Packing Company, a Cutler, California-based fresh fruit company.

The Wawona investment came from Paine & Partners Capital Fund IV, which closed on $893 million in early 2015 after surpassing its $800 million target, and is the largest ever private equity fund to focus only on food and agribusiness companies.

Wawona is a family-owned fresh fruit grower and packager located in the San Joaquin Valley of central California. Founded in 1948, the company grows peaches, plums, nectarines and other crops on more than 8,500 acres of farmland and packages 7 million cartons of tree fruit and citrus each year.

The company is certified organic by the USDA and the California Certified Organic Farmers, selling fruit under its own brand name. McDonald’s and Cuties brand clementines and mandarins are among its customers.

Wawona was added to Paine Schwartz Partners’ list of portfolio companies on its website, though the transaction size and percentage stake acquired were not disclosed. A spokesperson declined to comment.

The firm has invested $1.7 billion in food and agriculture businesses over its history, and said that investors in Fund IV included endowments, family offices and Middle Eastern institutional investors, according to a statement issued on the occasion of its closing.

Company president Kevin Schwartz said in that statement that while Fund IV would continue the firm’s focus on the upstream sectors of the agribusiness value chain, it would also be used for downstream opportunities where the firm has “developed specific investment theses.”

Other investments from Fund IV have included vertically-integrated European producer Spearhead International, specialty vegetable seed-focused Suba Seeds and Global ID, a food safety and quality platform.

In a statement last month, Wawona director of ranch management Richard Mittry said that the recent period of record-setting rain in California would have a positive effect on tree fruit quality and supply. “When you have this much water, the fruit is often heartier and we often see larger fruit as a result,” he said.