LOS ANGELES — Unified Grocers here said Wednesday it has named Charlie's Produce, Seattle, as its exclusive partner in all produce categories for its independent retail customers in Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

The partnership will make available more than 5,500 fresh produce items and a broad assortment of specialty and prepared produce, floral and home-meal replacement products, Unified said. Charlie's also offers extensive lines of organic and local produce.

Unified had been servicing its stores from produce facilities in Seattle and Portland. The Portland warehouse will continue to fill the produce needs of the Cash & Carry stores in the Pacific Northwest, but all of Unified's other independent retail customers there will have produce serviced by Charlie's — out of its facilities in Portland, Ore.; Seattle; Spokane, Wash.; and Anchorage, Alaska, a spokesman told SN.

Unified is analyzing its options and has no definitive plans at this point for the existing produce space in its warehouses, he added.

According to Bob Ling, president and chief executive officer of Unified, "This new program enables our independent retailers to compete more effectively and differentiate their stores through a wide variety of quality fresh produce. it also simplifies billing by consolidating statements and providing incentives for our retailers' continued purchases through Unified and Charlie's."

Charlie Billow, CEO of Charlie's, said, "Combing the strength of the largest retailer-owned wholesale grocery distributor in the western U.S. with the largest produce company on the West Coast creates a new innovative dynamic force in the marketplace."

Unified said current produce employees will remain on the Unified staff or they may join the Charlie's organization.

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