Since Henry Avocado Co. built its first ripening room in 1982, the Escondido, Calif., grower-packer has expanded over the years to its current 54 rooms just to keep up with demand for preconditioned fruit.

In fact, about 75% of the avocados it handles undergo custom ripening based on customers’ requirements, said Phil Henry, president of Henry Avocado.

He isn’t alone.

Ripening has become a mainstay of the industry, and most packers offer some type of preconditioning program.

“When you look back, Henry kind of wrote the book on the area of ripening,” said Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the Irvine, Calif.-based California Avocado Commission. “Now there are different technologies that people are using to get there.”

She and others point to preconditioning as one of the reasons for the California industry’s tremendous growth.

In fact, commission-sponsored research has shown that ripe avocados outsell green fruit by a 4-to-1 margin.

“It allows consumers to have confidence that when they buy their avocados that they’ll be able to get something that’s ripe and ready to eat,” DeLyser said.

Henry agreed.

“It’s one of the dramatic improvements in our product and one of the factors that’s increasing the demand for avocados, because you don’t have to wait any more (for fruit to ripen,)” he said. “It’s helped impulse sales and the quality, because they’re fresher.”

To help educate consumers about fruit maturity, Henry Avocado helped develop the “Ripe When Soft” sticker that also carries traceability bar code information.

Index Fresh Inc., which markets under the AvoTerra label, offers five stages of ripening, said Dana Thomas, president.

“Ripening is one of the keys to demand increasing that we’ve seen every year, whether it’s ready to eat or allowing people to buy four of five avocados with one ready today, one for tomorrow and one for the next.”

Bruce Dowhan, general manager and vice president of Giumarra Agricom International LLC, Escondido, said many retailers have jumped on board the program.

“Having ripe fruit ready for the customer is a tremendous way to increase sales,” he said.

Not only is ripening important at the shipper level, but several retailers during the past five years have opened ripening facilities to serve their own stores, Thomas said.

Manual available

The California Avocado Commission offers a 21-page manual for retailers and wholesale warehouse operators who want to implement in-house ripening programs.

In addition, the commission created a poster to educate produce employees about handling ripe avocados, since they require a more gentle touch than hard green fruit.

But nowhere is ripening more important than for foodservice users, many of whom have adopted just-in-time deliveries, Dowhan said.

“They bring in product, and they want to be able to use it right away,” he said. “It’s important that you have the service capability to get ripe fruit delivered to the regions where they’ll distribute it from.”

Thomas of Index Fresh agreed.

“Most restaurant chains don’t have a lot of room in the back, so they can’t store fruit,” he said.