It’s been 30 years since Gil Henry, cousin of Phil Henry, president of Henry Avocado Corp., Escondido, Calif., developed the first forced-air avocado ripening rooms, and today, the concept of preripened avocados has spread throughout the industry.

About 80% of the avocados that Henry Avocado sells today are custom-ripened, Phil Henry said.

Foodservice and retail customers have responded well to the program, which speeds up the ripening process and ripens the fruit more evenly, he said.

Restaurants, often cramped for space, don’t have to store boxes of hard avocados and hope they ripen in time to meet diners’ demands.

The company can provide fruit ripened to any stage that a customer requests.

Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc., Fallbrook, Calif., keeps some preconditioned avocados on hand at all times, anticipating that some foodservice customers or Los Angeles-area shippers will place an urgent call for preripened size 48 or 60 avocados, said partner Bob Lucy.

“We’re constantly preconditioning,” he said. “If we could do more, we would.”

The company preconditions nearly one-third of its volume, and the program continues to grow.

Del Rey Avocado typically charges only a nominal fee for the service, he said.

The amount of fruit that Interfresh Inc., Fullerton, Calif., preripens varies by time of the season, said Brandon Gritters, avocado salesman.

As the season progresses and the oil content of the fruit increases, avocados ripen more quickly on their own, he said. Early in the season, the ripening process takes longer.

About half of the avocados Interfresh sells are preconditioned, he said.

Some customers prefer to ripen their own fruit, said Steve Taft, president and chief executive officer of Eco-Farms Corp., Temecula, Calif. That can make sense.

If sales are slow, customers who precondition their fruit themselves can adjust the volume they ripen.

Sometimes, customers order a certain amount of avocados ripened to a certain stage from Eco-Farms, then, when the fruit is delivered, they decide they don’t need it all and send it back, he said.

That problem would be eliminated if they handled their own ripening program, Taft said.

The company ripens up to 20% of its avocados, and that figure seems to increase every year, he said.

Some of the larger shippers ripen fruit at widespread locations.

“We ripen in multiple facilities across the country,” said Bruce Dowhan, general manager for Escondido, Calif.-based Giumarra Agricom International LLC.

With its regional network, the supplier can offer customers same-day service for ripening and delivering product, he said.

“We make sure it’s the exact specs they are looking for,” he added.

All eight of the forward distribution facilities that Oxnard, Calif.-based Mission Produce Inc. operates have been expanded as the company’s ripening program has grown over the past two years, said Ross Wileman, vice president of sales and marketing.

Now, up to 65% of the firm’s avocados are preripened, he said.

It pays to have ripe avocados at retail, he said.

Unless consumers are buying avocados for a party or special occasion, chances are they’re making the purchase on impulse.

“The first thing they do is pick it up to see if it’s ready to eat,” he said. “More times than not, if it’s hard, they put it back.”

Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, Calif., has plenty of preripened avocados available to help retailers kick off the 2012 California avocado season, said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and fresh marketing.

Calavo preripens more than 35% of its avocados at facilities in Santa Paula, Temecula and Swedesboro, N.J., he said.

Including product from customers who ripen avocados themselves, Wedin estimates that nearly half of avocados sold are preripened.