Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing at Calavo Growers Inc., will mark his 40th anniversary with the company in February.
When the University of Iowa graduate arrived in California, the first job he could get was as a shipping clerk for Calavo. He went on to his first management job at 26.
“I didn’t even know what avocados were,” said Wedin, 63. “I’ve been with them ever since.”
At the time, avocado consumption in the U.S. was about a half pound per person annually. It has increased about tenfold since. Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo has been a big player in that growth, and Wedin one of the contributors.
He has primary responsibility for profit and loss on Calavo Growers’ avocado business — the bulk of it sourced in the U.S. and Mexico — and develops corporate sales strategy from his office at Limoneira Ranch in Santa Paula. Calavo has a sales staff of about a dozen. Limoneira is California’s largest avocado grower, Wedin said, and each company is a part owner in the other.
“The industry when he started is totally different from what it is today,” said Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing at the California Avocado Commission. “Rob has been able to transform and play a key role in the analysis of fruit flow. He’s exceptional at working with the California and import volumes, the timing of it all.”
Wedin was on the commission’s board for 10 years and continues to serve on its marketing advisory committee.
“We were the original avocado company,” he said. “Calavo led to the beginning of the California Avocado Commission, which in the old days was the California Avocado Advisory Board. While I was on the commission, we passed the hass avocado promotional order.”
That order assessed 2.5 cents a pound so that as production grew, so did the budget for promotion and advertising in countries of origin. That’s fed a demand Wedin says shows no sign of leveling off.
“Consumption of avocados in Mexico is close to four times what it is here — about 5 pounds per capita — so that gives you an idea where it could go,” he said. “The opportunity for consumption to be much higher in the near future is exciting stuff.”
Though demand is pulling avocado growth, the category remains one that requires pushing, according to Wedin.
“A lot of what we do is encourage customers to get on that bandwagon and make a go of it,” he said. “The primary way is by helping them display ripe avocados at retail and have multiple displays, including consumer bags. We ripen close to a third of the fruit we sell, and we pack more than 1.5 million consumer bags a month.”
Wedin has climbed onto that bandwagon himself. He eats two to three avocados daily — with every breakfast and lunch, and sometimes with dinner.
“I’m not sick of them,” he said. “It helps that we have access to the best every week of the year.”
Those eating habits are part of a healthy lifestyle he’s pursued more vigorously in the last two years. He cut his work day to 10 hours to accommodate a 4-mile walk, which he also takes on days off.
“I turned a big corner on my personal health and don’t eat the high-calorie foods anymore,” he said. “When we raise a family, some of us lose focus on our own lives. When the kids go away and come back with grandchildren, the light starts to go on. What about yourself? I got organized and a lot more healthy.”
Wedin is one of several key supporters of two Calavo programs, ProRipe and VIP, that reshaped the company’s business in the last seven to 10 years. VIP verifies internal pressure and fruit firmness using acoustic sound waves. ProRipe combines sensing capability with ripening rooms and logistics. Besides Santa Paula, ProRipe is run out of Garland, Texas, and Swedesboro, N.J.
“The upgrade to our capability is night and day,” he said. “We move a lot of fruit on our own trucks. The f.o.b. business is by far a smaller portion of our business than it was.”
“He doesn’t let history get in the way,” said Mike Browne, vice president of fresh operations at Calavo. “Change used to be every four or five years, but now it’s constant and Rob thrives on that.”