(April 12) IRVINE, Calif. — To look at the California Avocado Commission’s new high-tech Network Marketing Center, one might think that the commission is plotting to take over the world.

Actually, that’s not too far from the truth. At least in terms of avocado sales.

Resembling something out of a James Bond movie, the center, combined with the Hass Avocado Board’s forthcoming avohq.com Web site, is part of a plan to create a network of marketing information and resources for hass avocado growers everywhere in the world.

The project is the brainchild of Mark Affleck, president and chief executive officer of the commission, who said he came up with the idea after the Hass Avocado Board was established in 2002.

“At the time we envisioned a broad, ‘Got Milk?’-style campaign with the new hass money that was being raised from South and Central America,” he said.

REBATE REDUCES FUNDS

There was a slight hitch in the plan, however, as the marketing order for the board allowed for an 85% rebate in funds contributed by members. California, Chile and Mexico quickly took advantage of this, leaving the board with less money than it had originally envisioned.

“That left us with $4 million rather than $14 million,” Affleck said. “You can’t run a national campaign with that.”

That’s when Affleck hit upon the idea to build a room that would have access to every single piece of marketing data available on hass avocados.

“We wanted to be able to call and talk to producers at the push of a button,” he said. “And to be able to manage information in a way that’s never been done before.”

Affleck said the key idea behind this project is that it’s not just a California project. Everyone and anyone around the world will have access to the marketing data collected by the California Avocado Commission in the past 30 years.

“Everyone in the deal assumes that the California industry would do everything it could to protect itself,” he said. “But we’ve decided to open up our strategic vault and become true marketing partners with other producers. We want to make a complete gesture of openness. We’ll have our merchandisers go into the marketplace and not just sell California but sell a 52-week (avocado deal).”

WEB SITE

A major component of that marketing strategy is Avohq.com, a Web site that will allow just about anyone access to an enormous amount of information gathered by the commission. The site will contain a volume tracker with real-time and historical volume levels and shipment, arrival and wholesale price information.

In addition, there will be a database featuring market profiles, promotion and advertising information, inventory and wholesale and retail price data for the top 64 avocado markets in the U.S.

The Web site also will feature customizable weather updates and live Web cameras at key ports in the U.S. Ports in San Diego and Oakland have already struck deals with the commission for camera access. The commission is working to gain access to the Port of Long Beach.

Affleck said global communication with growers will be important to the project’s success. To create that level of communication, the Network Marketing Center features a variety of high-tech tools.

One wall of the room is made up of five plasma-screen monitors that will be used to display live camera feeds from major U.S. ports, breaking news from cable and network sources, marketing data and information from avohq.com and video conferencing feeds with growers from around the world.

Another wall features an electronic map of the world that can be used to monitor weather, shipping and other issues that can effect hass avocado production and shipments.

The room also features two Tech Pod workstations that will allow members access to industry research, analysis and data collection. Information from the pods can be uploaded for use on the five monitors during presentations or can be downloaded from the avohq.com.

To date, the commission has spent $1 million on the project, and Affleck estimated that it will spend $1 million more on the next phase, which is to take the project out into the world.

The Web site will be launched by the end of the summer, with the whole center expected to be fully operational by fall.