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Calavo remains a leader in avocados

Calavo Growers has been in the avocado business for nearly a century, but it’s far from an old-fashioned company. In fact, it’s always looking for new ways to become more modern and improve on its already excellent reputation.

“We have worked really hard on establishing a sustainability council,” said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales for the Santa Paula, CA-based company. “So we have people from all our business units and all our facilities and operations on board. We’re developing metrics to judge ourselves by, and we’ll be publishing our first annual report pretty soon.”

Another new initiative is the upgrading of equipment at its three main fresh avocado packinghouses, including optical grading and signing.

L1-Tray-pack11Calavo Growers has upgraded equipment at its three main fresh avocado packinghouses.“Our packs are more consistent and the efficiency in the packing houses is improving,” said Wedin. “For example, there’s a picture taken of every piece of fruit that goes through the system. And it’s increasing our capacity, primarily in Mexico, and that’s where the major growth is in the industry.”

Fresh avocados are the company’s top-selling product, making up about half its business, followed by cut fruits and vegetables sold through its Renaissance Food Group leg. Its third-largest line is the foods division, which sells frozen and high-pressured guacamole, avocado blends and sauces. Calavo also sells fresh tomatoes and fresh Hawaiian papaya year-round.

But its main focus is on avocados.

“The volume now is at about 2.5 billion pounds a year, and it is a leading item at retail and it’s a special item on menus in a lot of restaurants,” Wedin said. “They’re popular on sandwiches and they’re popular in salads.”

In addition to that versatility, Wedin attributes avocados’ growth to three driving factors, starting with its status a superfood. Second, are the efforts of the Hass Avocado Promotion Order and its advertising programs, primarily with Mexican avocados, but also with avocados from California and recently from Peru.

Lastly, he noted, is that as a healthy fat, many people have added avocados to their diet on a daily basis.

“It’s one of the leading items at retail, pretty much nationwide,” he said, adding that Calavo sells nationwide and also exports avocados to other parts of the world.

California has a growing season that lasts about four months to sometimes eight months, starting in March or April. Peru generally has a four-month season, which began in mid-May this year and mid-June last year. Mexico supplies avocados to the U.S. year-round.

“California has sort of a history of a having a big crop and then a medium-sized crop, and then a big crop,” Wedin said. “Now this last year, because of the heat a summer ago, this crop was one of the smallest probably in the last 20 years, but we’ll working on 350,000 acres.”

Wedin said avocados have been mainstream in the West for a while.

“Where it really took off in growth is in the East, that’s where 65 percent of the population is, and avocados from Mexico helped grow that business,” he said. “It’s harder to detect where it’s mainstream and where it’s not. I think it’s based more on demographics than geography.”

He added that customers don’t generally have a preference between Californian, Mexican or Peruvian avocados. Rather, success comes with selling the best available avocados from each area’s season.

“These days it’s harder to sell avocados that aren’t at the high quality of their season,” Wedin said. “The market and the growers have all kind of fallen into a pattern of selling avocados at their peak flavor, and in the case of Mexico and California, peak freshness. But Peru has done a really good job in the handling of avocados and the use of controlled atmosphere to bring their fruit here in ships. So the quality is improved in all of them compared to, say, 20 years ago.”