International Berry Companies Claim American Agents Caused Loss in Profits

Three fruit producers based in Central and South America have accused Always Fresh Farms, LLC of “mishandling” fruit it had agreed to sell on behalf of the producers. Fruits-Giddings, based in Mexico, Giddings Berries based in Chile, and Giddings Berries based in Peru, are seeking over $25 million in damages to address losses caused by the defendant’s alleged misleading business practices. 

According to the complaint, the plaintiffs lost “hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of fruit” during the 2019-2020 growing season. The company claimed that Always Fresh Farms, along with its president and CEO, convinced the plaintiffs to sell fruit exclusively through them using “material misrepresentations” about its systems, capacity, and transparency. Fruits-Giddings claimed that it was “kept in the dark” during the season, and accused the company of breaching the agreement between the companies and selling products at a loss to them because it couldn’t handle the volume of berries the plaintiffs were sending. 

Giddings reportedly “supplies high-quality, conventional and organic fresh blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries” for a North American market from both farms they own and third-party contracted farms. The plaintiffs said by providing fresh berries from Mexico and South America year-round, and selling their fruits through an agent or “commission merchant” to consumers in America as described in the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA), it is able to help supply fresh berries year-round in America. 

Friday’s complaint alleged that the defendants breached PACA and Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, and asked for damages exceeding $25 million. Reportedly, the defendants did not provide information about sales or prices to the plaintiffs, who said they had “multiple weeks of unexplained, low returns” when compared to the expected returns from the United States Department of Agriculture’s average reported prices. 

Despite Always Fresh Farms agreeing to absorb part of the differences between the price they were selling at and the competitive prices, the gaps in profit that the plaintiff made reportedly only grew bigger throughout the season. The plaintiff learned that Always Fresh had “tens of thousands of boxes of fruit” which they had not sold within the correct time frame, which for the berries produced by the plaintiffs is typically five days within the time of arrival. 

The complaint explained that “Always Fresh’s inability to properly handle and promptly sell Plaintiffs’ fruit resulted in Always Fresh dumping or otherwise discarding Plaintiffs’ fruit throughout the 2019-2020 season that had commercial value and could have been sold. It also resulted in Always Fresh selling the fruit to commission merchants, brokers, terminal market customers, and others on terms that did not generate reasonable prices.” 

The plaintiffs, represented by DLA Piper LLP, filed 11 counts against Always Fresh, including negligence, breach of contract, and misrepresentation, and asked for a jury trial.