Everybody gains when retailers offer preconditioned avocados, grower-shippers say.

Consumers are able to buy fresh avocados and take them home and eat them that night, and that, in turn, helps retailers and suppliers sell more fruit.

In fact, industry research has shown that retailers can enjoy three times the movement of avocados when they offer shoppers ready-to-eat fruit versus a hard piece of fruit that they have to wait several days to eat, said Robb Bertels vice president of sales and marketing for Mission Produce Co., Oxnard, Calif.

"We"re big believers in ripening the fruit," Bertels said.

"A lot of people want ripe avocados because they sell much faster," said Dave Fausset, director of sales for the company.

He estimated that about 50% of the industry"s avocados are preconditioned and said Mission Produce is in line with that figure.

The preconditioning process originated at Henry Avocado Co. in Escondido, Calif., when Gil Henry, cousin of current president Phil Henry, built the first forced-air ripening room in 1982.

He collaborated with Vic Tokar, who also worked at the company and eventually left to form his own consulting business and helped spread the word about preconditioning.

The challenge at first was to convince retailers to adopt the company"s custom ripening program, Phil Henry said.

"That was a rather hard sell," he said.

The company first approached retailers, then went to foodservice operators and distributors who serviced foodservice establishments.

"Our message to them was, they don"t have to be in the avocado storage business anymore," Henry said. "They can be in the avocado distribution business."

About one-third of the avocados Del Rey Avocado Co., Fallbrook, Calif., sells are preconditioned, said partner Bob Lucy.

Many other customers preripen their fruit themselves in their own facilities, he said.

Giumarra Agricom International, Escondido, Calif., sees demand for green, hard avocados as well as preconditioned fruit, said Gary Caloroso, marketing director.

"Consumers love to have the choice," he said. "They may want to have their avocados that evening, or they may want to wait three or four days."

"Ripening sells more avocados at both retail and foodservice, there"s no doubt about it," said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing for Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, Calif.

Calavo offers two programs.

First is the standard preconditioning program that is similar to what other suppliers offer.

The other is the company"s VIP for Verify Internal Pressure program.

The VIP program verifies the maturity level of avocados using near-infrared technology and then divides the fruit into separate lots based on maturity level.

"A single tree can have different maturity levels, which react to the ripening process differently," Wedin said.

This process enables the company to designate ready-to-eat fruit with large orange stickers, which reduces the amount of squeezing shoppers do to find ripe avocados.

"It makes the avocado displays look better because they"re less bruised, and it also reduces spoilage," Wedin said.

The company preripens 45% of the avocados it sells.

Mission Produce has the ability to distribute hard fruit to distribution centers throughout the U.S. and ripen it to meet specific customers" needs, Bertels said.

Many customers want fruit ripened to a specific stage so it can go through the distribution system and end up ripe in the store, he said.

"Some customers want hard fruit, and we"ll gladly supply that," he said.

Henry Avocado Co. soon will have 71 ripening rooms in several locations, Henry said.

At least 80% of the avocados the company sells undergo custom ripening, he said.

"We ripen to the pre-agreed specifications with the customer," Henry said.

An increasing number of foodservice operators order preconditioned avocados.

"When people in the kitchen have ripe avocados they can count on, they promote and push more of the menu items that have avocados in them, and it increases consumption," Wedin said.

At Del Rey Avocado, Lucy estimated that up to 60% of the avocados he sells for foodservice are preconditioned.