Wawona buys Californian stone-fruit breeding operation

The Paine Schwarz-backed packing company has added the Burchell Nursery assets to bolster its vertical integration plans.

Wawona Packing Company – which grows, packs and markets conventional and organic stone fruit and counts Paine Schwartz Partners among its investors – has acquired the stone fruit breeding assets of Burchell Nursery.

Headquartered in central California, family-owned Burchell was founded in 1942 and provides high-quality trees to more than 7,000 grower customers worldwide.

Under the terms of deal, Wawona has acquired Burchell’s breeding program, which includes 60 varieties of stone fruit trees and associated genetics, as well as related personnel. Wawona also purchased exclusive rights to propagate the Summer Flame and August Flame varieties of peaches, but Burchell retained its tree-nut germplasm and varieties, including its Shasta almond brand.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Wawona chief executive Will Feliz said the acquisition was part of the company’s efforts to build an industry-leading breeding program.

“This acquisition enhances Wawona’s vertical integration, continues our commitment to innovation and will enhance our ability to bring the highest-quality tree fruit to our retail customers,” he said. “We plan to maintain a close partnership with Burchell through a licensing agreement that will provide the market with continued access to the high-quality stone fruit trees that Burchell is known for.”

Feliz joined Wawona in November after about eight years as chief operating officer and president of Duncan Family Farms in Goodyear, Arizona.

Paine Schwartz purchased a stake of an unspecified size in Wawona in May 2017. Capital for the investment came from the firm’s Paine & Partners Capital Fund IV, which surpassed an initial target of $800 million before closing on $893 million in early 2015.

According to a Paine Schwartz presentation delivered to the Maine Public Employees Retirement System in June as part of fundraising efforts for that vehicle’s $1.2 billion successor, Paine Schwarz Food Chain Fund V, the firm paid $90 million for its stake in Wawona.

Wawona declined to comment further.