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Mission Produce is set to handle larger Mexican Hass avocado crop

Ross Wileman

In anticipation of an increased volume of Mexican-grown Hass avocados in the U.S. market and an increased company involvement in that volume, Mission Produce Inc. in Oxnard, CA, last year expanded its avocado packing facility in Uruapan, Michoacán, Mexico.

“We put in new equipment” on the packingline, including new sizers, and also increased cooling capacity coming into the 2010-11 season, and with the larger crop coming on for 2011-12, “we are ready to go for this season,” said Ross Wileman, vice president of sales and marketing.

A company press release from fall 2010 quoted Mission Produce President Steve Barnard as saying that Mission’s Uruapan packing plant “has all of the newest fruit handling technology, energy-efficient systems and operating efficiencies making it one of the most modern avocado facilities in the world.”

The new 2011-12 season has “already started,” Mr. Wileman told The Produce News Oct. 25. “It appears that the crop is going to be up anywhere from 10 [percent] to 15 percent larger than last year.”

There will, in fact, be increases in all producing regions over the coming year, not only for Mexico but for Chile and California as well. So there should be good availability of Hass avocados “for the foreseeable future,” he said. “This year will be very interesting,” with more volume expected from all sources.

Mexican and Chilean supplies will dominate the market through the balance of the fall and most of the winter. But looking ahead toward spring, “Chile should be winding down, Mexico will [still] be in full production, California will have just got started, and looming over everybody’s head is Peru,” which will have its first full season as an approved exporter of avocados to the United States during 2012, Mr. Wileman said. “We could conceivably have [fruit from] all four countries in the United States at the same time.”

Mission Produce will be handling fruit from all four sources. In its packinghouses in California and in Mexico, Mission Produce packs its fruit in the “Mission” label. In Chile and Peru, the company’s partners also pack for Mission Produce in the “Mission” label, according to Mr. Wileman.

Having fruit from multiple producing areas will provide opportunities and benefits from customers, Mr. Wileman explained. There will be “a lot more flexibility, and pricing will be very promotable for the retailers.”

After the tight supplies and high pricing of the past year, “I think for all of us it is good to get back to what I consider a more reasonable price structure that will be passed on to the consumer,” he said, adding that he expects more promotable pricing at retail “than we saw” during the 2010-11 marketing season.

He said that one frequently asked question is regarding how to make the decision about which fruit from which country to send to which customer. Part of the answer is that freight costs from point of origin or port of entry to the customer’s distribution center is a factor.

“But ultimately, the consumer will decide that” by making repeat purchases when the fruit meets their satisfaction and not coming back when it fails to do so.

“What we try to promote is what the best eating quality is at a given time frame, because all of these countries vary” in the quality of the fruit they ship at different times due to the seasonality of the product.

Pricing, of course, is also a factor. “Quality doesn’t seem to be as important if there is a $5 spread” between fruit from one country and fruit from another, he said.