Bloomington, Calif.-based Index Fresh Inc. is 100 years old this year, and the company plans to spend the year celebrating, said president Dana Thomas.

The firm recounted its history during its annual meeting in March by talking about its past, showing off old photos and labels and hearing stories from packinghouse manager Mike Winfrey, who has been with the company for about half a century.

Index Fresh already is gearing up for Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit in Anaheim, Calif., this fall, where the firm will host a party where employees will celebrate the company’s centennial with customers.

“Our goal is to thank customers and growers for that 100 years and show our appreciation,” Thomas said.

Grower-owned Index Fresh has almost 400 growers, to whom Thomas attributes much of the company’s success.

The firm sources from Chile, Peru and Mexico as well as California.

The company has been growing steadily over its first 100 years.

Within the past year alone, the firm moved the offices it outgrew at the packinghouse to nearby downtown.

The company also installed a “vision machine” in its packinghouse that includes a camera that reads boxes and automatically generates the appropriate Global Trade Item Number for the box, Thomas said.

“We’re not having to do that as a hand operation anymore,” Thomas said.

Index Fresh also invested in some new trucks to carry its product.

Although the company has expanded its export business over the years, Thomas still sees room for substantial growth at home.

“I’m really bullish on the U.S. market,” he said.

First hass avocados

Index Fresh was founded in Orange County, Calif., as Index Orchards by a group of growers who wanted to pack their own citrus at a time when Orange County was a rural area and the citrus industry in Southern California was growing and thriving, Thomas said.

Index Orchards was a fast-growing, profitable entity that became a cooperative and was renamed Index Mutual in 1929.

The packinghouse was built next to the La Habra Hills, where Rudolph Hass planted a tree from unknown avocado parent stock, patented the black-skin fruit and named it after himself.

Producers started United Avocado Growers to help market the new avocado, and in the 1950s, Index Mutual absorbed United Avocado Growers.

By the 1970s, avocados had become the company’s primary product.

When fire destroyed the packinghouse in 1988, the company moved to Bloomington, where it built a plant in 1989. The next year the company changed its name to Index Fresh and continued to pack and market avocados from California.

In 1999, shareholders voted to convert from a cooperative to a corporation with cooperative members becoming shareholders, Thomas said.

The company expanded its packinghouse in 2003-04.

Today avocados are the firm’s sole business.

Index Fresh avocados are marketed under the AvoTerra, AvoSol and AvoLoma labels. Bagged avocados are sold under the AvoBuddies program that promotes the flavor, health benefits and convenience of avocados, Thomas said.

Index Fresh supplies avocados to major retailers and large food service companies throughout the U.S. and exports to Canada and Asia.