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Calavo’s avocado program focused on California and Mexico

“We are totally focused on California and Mexico,” said Rob Wedin, vice president of fresh sales and marketing at Calavo Growers Inc., in Santa Paula, CA, coming right to the point in an interview with The Produce News.

Calavo has avocado packinghouses in California and Mexico, which between the two of them, offer year-round supplies of avocados. With Mexico currently at its low point of the year in terms of volume, “right now California is about 75 percent of what we are doing, and 25 percent is out of Mexico,” Wedin said. By mid-August, “we will have come back out of Mexico’s slowest volume period.” Mexico’s volume will be increasing, but will still be only about “50 percent of the volume that it will be operating at in October.”

001-GlobalAvos-Calavo-Rob-WRob WedinBy mid-August, the shipment of Calavo’s 2013 California crop will be about 70 percent complete, he said. “We will still have a lot of northern fruit, but we will be pretty well finished in the south. From Irvine north, [especially in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura] we will be hitting it pretty good.”

Calavo’s California volume will be “very strong” throughout August and will be “pretty good” through September. “We will have California fruit in October,” amounting to between five and 10 percent of the company’s total California volume, and also “a little bit of California fruit in November,” he said.

“We will be positioning the California avocados in the West, and we will be selling and shipping most of the avocados from Mexico to the Midwest and the East,” crossing the fruit at Laredo, TX.

“Almost all of our sales” for avocados from Mexico in September and October are made out of Garland, TX, in the Dallas area, and out of Swedesboro, NJ, in the Philadelphia area, he said. “So those are our two primary distribution points.” Additionally, “we have shipping points that we use in Louisville and Chicago.”

Calavo does some shipping out of Laredo as well, “and we are in the planning process” for increasing the Laredo operation.

“As we get into later October, and especially into November and December,” after the wind-down of the California crop, “then we begin shipping a lot of avocados from Mexico out of Santa Paula” to customers in the western states, Wedin said.

The ongoing growth in the U.S. avocado market “is incredible, not only in percentages but in total pounds,” said Wedin, noting an increase in the order of 200 million pounds in the second quarter alone. And although prices went through a period of weakness during the wintertime, “which is typical” because people aren’t eating as many salads or doing outdoor cooking at that time of year, “as we have gotten into the summertime, prices just continually strengthen and we are oftentimes shorter on inventory than we would like to be. Demand, sometimes, is just incredible.”

Along with growth in total volume has come a continued growth in ripening and bagging. At Calavo, “the ripe program is evolving,” Wedin said. “This is one of our biggest changes.” Not only is the company building more ripening rooms to handle increased volume, but “we have gone away from acoustic firmness sensing. We still verify internal pressure, but we are doing it using near infrared technology,” which is giving better results with no damage to the fruit. Also, the testing is now being done before rather than after ripening, and the fruit is sorted according to how much time it needs in the ripening rooms to achieve specified results, rather than sorting according to pressure after ripening, as in the previous process. The result is “a more uniform pack without any damage to the fruit,” he said.

Every month, the amount of fruit Calavo ripens is up over what it was the year prior, he said.

Calavo’s bag business continues to grow as well. Less than a year ago, the company was packing less than a million consumer bags a month. Now, “we are doing easily 1.5 million consumer bags a month,” Wedin said. With that much monthly volume, it is necessary to make sure the process is well automated, so Calavo “bought the best machines you can buy” in order to get the job done. “Some of our bagging operations are working 24 hours a day” to meet the demand.