Calavo’s Wedin talks avocados at Santa Paula Rotary meeting
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula News
Published: September 21, 2012
Avocados are a huge part of Santa Clara River Valley life - where they are grown and packaged - but the green fruit is considered gold throughout the world, Santa Paula Rotarians heard at recent meeting.
Rob Wedin, Calavo’s vice president of fresh sales and marketing, told of Calavo’s history as well as the phenomenal demand for avocados that shows no signs of slowing down.
Calavo started in 1926 when the California Avocado Growers Exchange - formed in 1924 - adopted the name, the result of a national naming contest. Two years later Calavo built its first grower-owned packinghouse in Vernon.
Over the decades the product line diversified and grew, and in 1964 markets expanded internationally. In 1974 Calavo celebrated its 50th anniversary by building a new processing plant in Santa Paula.
In 1973 when Wedin entered the business, the annual consumption of avocados was a half-pound per person. By 1985 it was 1.5 pounds per person, and by 1993 the number had climbed to two pounds per person. Now, “It’s 4.5 pounds per person,” reflected by the sales of $500 million.
Calavo has different divisions and products, including ripened avocados and guacamole, and customers that range from individuals in markets to restaurants to restaurant chains.
“It all starts with our customers,” and Wedin said Calavo’s first customer is the grower that supplies the fruit. Sales to retailers rank second then food services, with Calavo “the primary supplier” to many restaurant chains.
California is ranked second to number one avocado grower Mexico, and Calavo has operations in both. Aside from a Santa Paula West Main Street packinghouse built in 1955, Calavo also has packinghouses in Temecula and Mexico; inventory is maintained at just under 500,000 boxes.
Calavo has two objectives: “First, make money for the growers and make a profit for our shareholders.” And that means various sales strategies benefiting all that Wedin said include “listening to our customers and encouraging them to promote avocados. We have strong competition in California and crazy competition” in Mexico - about half of Calavo’s market - and South America.
Calavo understands the market and opportunities that are “very dynamic that we have to stay on top of.... We track the weather, shipment levels, inventory levels, prices,” ripening, sizing and product codes among other data that Wedin joked benefit from his degree in sociology.
The company has various sales offices and now has its corporate headquarters at Limoneira Ranch, the result of equity cross-investments that occurred in 2005. “We own part of Limoneira and Limoneira owns part of us,” with Limoneira President Harold Edwards serving on the Calavo Board of Directors and Calavo President Lee Cole serving on the Limoneira Board of Directors.
Wedin, an Ojai resident, is a good Calavo customer: “I eat two to three avocados a day,” he said.