Western Growers mourns the loss of board member and beloved fresh produce industry veteran Franz De Klotz at age 60. Most recently on the sales staff at Peter Rabbit Farms in Coachella, Calif., Franz spent the better part of four decades bringing his passion and expertise to multiple food and agriculture companies.
“On behalf of the Western Growers board of directors, membership and entire fresh produce industry, we wish to express our profound sadness at the passing of Franz,” Western Growers President and CEO Dave Puglia said. “He was driven by a deep desire to serve our association and has left a lasting, meaningful impact on our industry through his service on our board as well as other industry and civic organizations. Franz brought his big heart, warm smile and sharp mind into so many of our deliberations. We have lost a champion. Our hearts go out to his wife, Judy, and their four children.”
Franz was not born into agriculture, but instead took an interest in the industry after working on several Madera-area farms as a teenager. After high school, he went to the University of California, Davis, and then transferred to Fresno State where he earned a degree in plant science and viticulture.
Fresh out of college in 1983, Franz began working for the state’s Agricultural Inspection Service where he spent time inspecting grapevines in the Coachella and San Joaquin valleys, which ultimately led to his first position inside the produce industry with Sun World in 1985. After several years, Franz made the move to Sysco, where he was involved in the creation of the company’s produce procurement department in Southern California.
His next move took him back to Sun World, where Franz was part of the team that pioneered and launched several widely successful proprietary crops, including the Superior Seedless grape and the Le Rouge Royale pepper. This is also where Franz met his future wife, who just happened to be the granddaughter of Los Angeles citrus industry icon, Sam Perricone. After he married, Franz went to work in the family business until the Perricone operation was sold in 1999.
From here, Franz saw his career come full circle, returning to the Coachella Valley where it all began. For the next twenty years, he served as vice president of marketing for both Richard Bagdasarian Inc. and Pasha Marketing, the company’s vegetable division that he was recruited to launch. Following the sale of Richard Bagdasarian Inc. to a private equity group, Franz joined the sales team at Peter Rabbit Farms, also based in the Coachella Valley.
In addition to serving on the Western Growers board of directors since 2019, Franz was extremely active in several Coachella Valley government and community organizations, including the Coachella Valley Water District board and the Coachella Valley Mosquito and Vector Control District. He was also appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to serve as a member of the Colorado River Board of California.
He maintained close ties to the San Joaquin Valley where he was raised, farming almonds and pistachios with his brother in Madera County. Franz is survived by his wife, Judy, and their four children: Emerson, Parker, Lloyd and Olivia.