(April 15) Mission Produce Inc. hasn’t cornered the market on avocados from New Zealand bound for the U.S., but the Oxnard, Calif.-based company appears to be getting close.

In early April, Mission announced that it had signed a deal with three of New Zealand’s largest avocado exporters that will give it control over 12 million to 13 million pounds, or about 80% of New Zealand’s U.S.-bound hass avocado exports in 2004.

“It’s an important move,” said Jim Donovan, Mission’s vice president of international operations. “We were actually the largest importer of Chilean avocados this year and (accounted for) about 25% of the Mexican deal to the U.S. They’re all important.”

Mission has been importing avocados from New Zealand since 1995 but on a much smaller basis, Donovan said. The company’s new agreement with New Zealand exporters Primor Produce, Team Avocado and Freshco is as much about future volumes as current numbers, he added.

“They could double production,” he said.

According to the New Zealand Fruit Growers Association, more than half of avocado trees in the ground there are not yet in production.

“We’re getting more acreage down there,” Donovan said. “There’s about 7,000 to 8,000 acres in production now, but we expect 12,000 to 15,000 acres in the near future.”

The New Zealand avocado deal runs from September through December. The Chilean season generally runs from mid-August through the end of February, Mexico ships from mid-October through mid-April.

But, the shipments from New Zealand serve as a bit of insurance, Donovan said.

By comparison, Mission imported 187 million pounds from Chile and 95 million pounds from Mexico this year, Donovan said, adding that California anticipates a statewide volume of about 385 million pounds in 2004.

“It’s a small volume, but a couple of things play major for us,” Donovan said. “It’s a matter of being regionally diverse. In other words, if there are weather issues in other parts of the world, whether in Mexico, Chile or California, it’s potentially unaffected. So, that’s important, regardless of the volume.”