For years a leader of the U.S. potato industry, Tim O’Connor now is one of the most visible presences in the avocado business.

As of July 1, Avocados From Mexico was doing business, and O’Connor was leading its efforts.

O’Connor, 14-year president and chief executive officer of the Denver-based U.S. Potato Board, is now chief executive officer of Avocados From Mexico, a newly created confluence of the U.S.-focused marketing efforts of the
Mexican Hass Avocado Importers Association and Avocado Producers and Exporting Packers Association of Michoacán.

O’Connor officially took up his new duties in April and spent the ensuing months between then and the July launch putting together a staff of eight executives and one consultant.

Maggie Bezart, who had been marketing director for the Chilean Avocado Importers Association, is now vice president of trade and promotions with Avocados From Mexico. Bezart, who served as a consultant from mid-May until the end of June, directs Avocados From Mexico’s retail program, which includes five staffers who have “district-level responsibilities,” O’Connor said.

Kathleen Triou, a former Perishables Group employee and marketer with the U.S. Potato Board, joined Avocados From Mexico as chief marketing officer.

“When I said I was going off on this new venture, she asked if she could join too,” O’Connor said. “She will be involved in all of our consumer PR work.”

Another employee has been hired to handle consumer programs and has “real solid agency experience,” but O’Connor said he said he was not ready to identify that staff member.

Don Ladhoff, who in 2010 was hired to lead the retail marketing efforts of the U.S. Potato Board and in 2012 launched marketing firm FreshSmartSolutions, was retained as an outside consultant.

“He’s an expert in retail and spent a lot of years on all sides of that,” O’Connor said.

Avocados From Mexico also hired New York-based public relations firm Ketchum, O’Connor said.

O’Connor said the opportunity to start a new marketing agency was too tempting to pass by.

“This was one of those offers you simply couldn’t refuse — all kinds of potential, a great product, tremendous growth and the opportunity for even more growth was quite evident,” he said.

Avocados From Mexico starts with a $36 million budget.

O’Connor, who started there April 1, said he wasn’t apprehensive about switching from potatoes to avocados.

“If we have any apprehensions, it’s that there aren’t enough hours in the day, but we make the most of all of them,” he said.

The fall promotion MHAIA had built around the Major League Baseball playoffs will continue, O’Connor said.

“We’re excited, but we’re crafting a lot in a brand-new strategy and execution,” he said.

O’Connor said he will apply much of what he learned in his stint as CEO of the U.S. Potato Board in his new job.

“There is that combination of our grower and importer deep knowledge of the product and their experiences in selling the product for years,” he said.

O’Connor takes up his new job in the same year that Mexico shipped more than 1 billion pounds of avocados to the U.S. for the first time. Final shipments likely will be around 1.2 billion, he said.

“It’s a huge step. The growth in demand is spectacular,” he said.

But there is plenty of room for further growth, he said.

“When you look at per-capita consumption rates, you realize the potential growth is virtually unlimited,” he said.

Avocados from Mexico has no headquarters so O’Connor remains in Denver, and other staffers stay where they have been, O’Connor said.

Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing with Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers, said the industry is excited about O’Connor and his new marketing effort.

“It looks promising,” Wedin said.

Ross Wileman, vice president of sales and marketing for Oxnard, Calif.-based Mission Produce Inc., said O’Connor has put together a highly qualified staff.

“I think there’s going to be a learning curve for Tim and his team to understand his commodity, but it’s definitely a great team they put together,” Wileman said.