When it comes to the value-added area, avocado growers, shippers and marketers look to old and new means for making sales.
The heart of the category includes ripening programs that have been around in one form or another for decades at some companies.
Ripening programs are a foundation of the value-added business, some marketers say.
“We’re continuing to get new customers to sign up for our ripening program,” said Rob Wedin, vice president of fresh sales and marketing for Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, Calif.
“We now get them to try and test our verified internal pressure that we are still exclusive packers, sellers that are using that process. And we’re continuing to make believers out of more and more people in the market. They see increased sales velocity and reduced shrink.”
Wedin described Calavo’s ripening program as the flagship of its avocado sales.
“We encourage retailers and foodservice distributors more to adapt a genuine ripe program and it just pays dividends incredibly,” he said.
“About 40% or more that we sell have gone through some ripening process, but we have some customers who do their own ripening process. We have coached them and tried to help them attain maturity and flavor levels of the avocados. They’re getting so they know they’re doing a good job.”
Phil Henry, president of Henry Avocado Corp., Escondido, Calif., said his company was a pioneer in ripening.
“Of course, our company started that almost 30 years ago, with the first ripening room in the industry, so we got the technology going and then we started going out and marketing,” he said.
The idea took some time to catch on, Henry said.
“In those days, it wasn’t an instant success — let’s put it that way — but it’s grown over the years, and now it’s very well accepted,” he said.
Henry Avocado ripens more than 80% of the product it sells, Henry said.
“We’re continuing to grow with that as we add more ripening capabilities,” he said.
Giovanni Cavaletto, vice president of operations for Bloomington, Calif.-based Index Fresh Inc., said ripening is a key sales tool.
“Research has shown that helps increase velocity at retail level by 200% to 300%,” he said.
Another value-added concept that seems to be gaining consumer acceptance is bags, Henry said.
“I think it helps, because sometimes the bags are better value than the loose,” he said.
“Bags are an increasing part of what we do,” he said.
“They’ve expanded from the club centers to the more traditional retail outlets. Bags depend on the customer. Index is a very customer-oriented company. We’ve done as many as 20 kiwis in a bag for our customers to doing five avocados size 40 or four size 36. We’ll find out what the customer’s needs are, what their demographics and price points are and develop a program that works for them.”
The idea of bagging avocados didn’t appeal to all growers and shippers at first.
Bob Lucy, president of Fallbrook, Calif.-based Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc., said he was initially opposed to the concept, but he came around.
“I personally am not a real big fan of bagged avocados, but it’s a real winner,” he said.
“We are trying to do more of that. Take a look at what Costco’s done for bagged avocados. It’s a wonderful program. It’s increasing. It’s a very good option, and I’m very much for it, although 10 years ago I’d like to pick up an (individual) avocado as a consumer. But as a marketer, it’s a wonderful choice.”
There are other value-added ideas that have found their way into the market. Guacamole kits, for example, are a staple for Los Angeles-based Melissa’s World Variety Produce, said Robert Schueller, director of public relations.
“In the clamshell kit are two avocados, along with the raw ingredients used to make guacamole, and we sell that in a kit called Guacamole Kit,” he said.
“We also do the same product — we’re well known for distribution to Trader Joe’s for that particular item — for a salsa kit, as well.”
The company has marketed the kits for five years, he said.
“We’ve had a great response,” he said.
“During promotional time periods, when retailers are pulled heavy on them — Super Bowl, Cinco de Mayo, Fourth of July and Labor Day and the Hispanic holidays — are the most high demand for those particular items.”