Tomato processor reaps benefits from productive partnership

California-based The Morning Star Company is the largest tomato processor in the world, supplying 40% of the U.S. ingredient tomato paste and diced tomato markets. The company is committed to providing quality products and service at competitive prices to allow its customers to compete in the marketplace — a mission that has fueled the growth of Morning Star's annual sales to approximately $350 million today.

When Chris Rufer founded The Morning Star Company in 1970, it was a one-truck, owner operator hauling tomatoes to other canneries for processing. In 1982, two key decisions positioned the company to expand: dedicated production and marketing of industrial tomato paste; and packing of tomato paste in 300-gallon bins. Backed by three grower investors, Morning Star opened its original tomato paste processing plant.

Spurred by increasing demand for bulk tomato paste, Morning Star experienced steady growth and subsequently opened three major packing plants between 1990 and 2002. Morning Star, in partnership with prominent tomato growers, also formed a new tomato harvesting company during that time to create efficiencies in the harvesting, trucking, and processing of tomatoes. Today, the company provides bulk-packaged tomato products to food processors, and provides customer-branded finished products, such as ketchup and diced or crushed tomatoes, to the food service and retail trade.

For the last 25 years, Wells Fargo has supported Morning Star as the company has expanded and developed new technologies to drive efficiency.

Wells Fargo has helped by providing financing — but frankly more than that, Wells Fargo has helped us by understanding our business.

"Long term, if the business is going to succeed, you've got to innovate," says Chief Executive Officer Chris Rufer. "Wells Fargo has helped by providing financing — but frankly more than that, Wells Fargo has helped us by understanding our business."

Tim Cruise, Morning Star chief financial officer, adds, "As a seasonal processor, you want a partner that understands that when you hit a bump, it's not time to abandon ship. It's time to work together to solve a problem."

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