Widespread availability of preripened or preconditioned fruit has been a major factor in boosting demand for avocados in the U.S., grower-shippers say.

Up to 80% of retailers offer ripe avocados, and about 70% of all hass avocados sold in the U.S. have undergone some degree of preripening, according to estimates from the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission.

Avocados usually are an impulse item that shoppers want to enjoy that night or the next night, said Ross Wileman, vice president of sales and marketing at Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif. A preconditioning program makes that possible.

The term “preconditioned” means different things to different customers, said Dana Thomas, president and chief executive officer at Index Fresh Inc., Bloomington, Calif.

To some, it means fruit that is ready to eat, he said, while to others, it means even ripening across an entire carton.

Henry Avocado Corp., Escondido, Calif., was the first company to install a forced-air ripening room back in 1982, said president Phil Henry.

The concept was the brainchild of his cousin, Gil Henry, who thought ripe avocados would sell better than hard ones.

He worked with researchers from the University of California to develop the technology. However, equally challenging was convincing customers that offering preripened avocados would increase their sales and profits.

The company continues to specialize in custom ripening and has nearly 50 forced-air ripening rooms where it ripens 80% of its product, Henry said.

Most of the company’s retail customers and nearly all of its foodservice customers request ripe fruit, he said.

“They prefer to have avocados that are ripe so they won’t have to be in the cold storage business,” Henry said.

All of the retail customers and many of foodservice accounts that do business with Interfresh Inc., Fullerton, Calif., use some type of ripening program so they can ensure consistent deliveries, said Brandon Gritters, avocado salesman.

“They want a certain level of ripeness every time they get avocados,” he said.

Preconditioned fruit helps buyers manage their inventories and not have to worry about which lots are ready to go and which are still too hard, he said.

Mission Produce now ripens 60% of its avocados in facilities in Oxnard, Seattle, Denver, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, New Jersey and Toronto, Wileman said.

The process adds 4 or 5 cents to the cost of an avocado, but with double-digit growth in category sales, the increased profits and other advantages outweigh the added cost, he said.

“The retailer doesn’t want the liability of warehousing product and trying to guess what his movement is going to be,” Wileman said.

Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc. recently added a ripe shipping point at The Horton Fruit Co. Inc. in Louisville, Ky., said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and fresh marketing.

The internal pressure of the fruit is verified in Texas, and the product is shipped daily to Louisville.

Many California shippers operate ripening facilities throughout the U.S.

Henry Avocado has ripening facilities in Escondido, San Jose, Calif., Phoenix and San Antonio.
Index Fresh ripens avocados in California, Texas, Denver, Chicago and in the Northeast, Thomas said, and strives to avoid handling its fruit multiple times, incurring additional costs for customers.

“We know we can deliver real high-quality, preconditioned fruit without the extra handling and cost,” he said.

Up to 40% of the company’s fruit is preconditioned somewhere along the distribution channel he said.

Calavo has ripening facilities in Santa Paula; Garland, Texas; Swedesboro, N.J.; and Temecula, Calif., Wedin said.

“There’s no doubt in our minds that (preripening) has had a major impact on demand,” he said.