“Ripe-and-ready” technology is no longer a marketing luxury, avocado marketers say.

Ripe and ready-to-eat fruit has become “the key driver” for the avocado category, said David Fausset, salesman/category manager with Oxnard, Calif.-based Mission Produce Inc.

“If customers only have hard fruit to choose from, sales can drop by 50-75%, especially since many shoppers are looking to use them the same day or the next day,” Fausset said.

Shippers intensify custom-ripening focusCustomized ripening programs are a major marketing asset, grower-shippers say. 

“We picked fruit Wednesday in Mexico and will ship it Thursday and it will be in Dallas Saturday and in ripening rooms Sunday and to customers Tuesday,” said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing with Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc.

It’s a point of major emphasis, Wedin said.

“Our value–added programs are improving in Texas and New Jersey, with more bagging and ripening technology,” he said.

Ripening technology took hold in the 1980s, and the industry never has looked back, said Dana Thomas, president of Riverside, Calif.-based Index Fresh Inc.

“We were blown away by putting ripe fruit on the shelf how fast it moved relative to hard green,” he said.

The technology has evolved over the years, he said.

“But it still requires a tremendous amount of attention,” he said, noting that avocados change how long they have to be ripened as the season progresses.

“Ripening is in the details,” he said.

One of which involves working with customers individually, Thomas said.

“We like to go out and spend time with customers so we know exactly what they want, and it’s going back and doing the hard work to make sure it’s right when it goes out the door,” he said.

Perhaps nothing has caused avocado sales to boom more than the onset of ripe-and-ready fruit, said Barrett Johnson, salesman with Interfresh Inc. in Fullerton, Calif.

“Your more educated consumer know they can buy some green fruit and ripen it themselves, but new consumers and people that are growing the market, it’s been a huge boost for them,” he said.

Customized ripening programs can get very specific, said Dick Spezzano, owner of Spezzano Consulting Service in Monrovia, Calif.

“if you want them in 8 and 10 pounds pressure, they’ll deliver every avocado in every box on every pallet in the entire load at that pressure,” Spezzano said.

Meeting such exact orders is a challenge, but that’s the way the business is trending, said Bob Lucy, partner at Fallbrook, Calif.-based Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc.

“It’s probably the single greatest thing we’ve done,” he said. “We’ve spent a lot of money, going after this preconditioned avocado.”

Escondido, Calif.-based Henry Avocado Corp.’s Custom Ripe Avocado Co. division is solely devoted to the technology, said Phil Henry, president.

“We’ve used the term ‘custom ripening’ for many years and to describe our service that we ripen the fruit to an agreed-upon standard. Of course, we developed that custom ripening chart many years ago to improve the communication between our customers and our people to make sure that we could ripen through the many grade standards,” he said.