(Oct. 18) Sound waves are the latest tool that Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc. is employing to test avocado ripeness.

In early October, Calavo installed sorting equipment called ProRipe VIP at its first value-added depot in Santa Paula, said Robin Osterhues, director of corporate marketing. Calavo plans to open a series of value-added depots nationwide where it will ripen and repack avocados for regional distribution.

ProRipe VIP uses acoustic firmness sensor technology.

“The AFS listens to the fruit,” Osterhues said. “It touches the fruit but doesn’t apply pressure.”

The equipment emits a sound wave and measures the vibration pattern of the entire piece of fruit, she said. Measured fruit then is sorted into different stages of ripeness.

“It is the only way to get a proper index,” Osterhues said. “It won’t give you the water content or internal structure, but all of those characteristics go into the vibration pattern measurement.”

Calavo started the ProRipe program about three years ago with a $2 million investment into its Santa Paula and Temecula locations. The upgrade included the installation of forced-air technology rooms that were designed for avocados, she said.

VIP in ProRipe VIP was added with the acoustic sensor and stands for “verified internal pressure,” according to Calavo.

The avocado industry is preparing for a landmark year, when volume of imports and California production for the 2005-06 season is expected to reach more than a billion pounds.

About 85% of consumers want to purchase a ripe avocado to consume either that night or the next day, Osterhues said. So having ripe avocados available plays a vital role in selling more, Osterhues said.

Calavo plans to keep the nation supplied with ripe fruit by adding the ProRipe VIP technology to new value-added depots as well as existing forward distribution centers, Osterhues said.