Have you ever had the pleasure of witnessing an avocado harvest? The first time I stood in a California grove, I remember staring up at the 40-foot trees and seeing no easy solution to collecting the popular fruit. Even with the tool, which consists of a cutter and bag attached to a long stick, I could not imagine gathering a fruit so delicate from a tree so tall. It seemed impossible.
When Mario Pacheco, Chief Executive Officer for West Pak Avocado, looks up at those towering trees, however, he sees the impossible as possible. He sees the trees and knows to climb; he sees the stars and knows to reach; he sees the unrelentingly popular avocado category and knows there are still new ways of keeping it fresh, fun, and at the forefront of grocery lists for years to come—which is exactly the type of mind you want leading a global avocado grower, packer, and distributor at a time of great transition and opportunity.
As West Pak’s Founders, Randy Shoup and Galen Newhouse, step back from their original roles and take on new directions with the company, Mario is not only stepping up, but stepping out of the box and getting creative as he and his team build on West Pak’s family values, avocado legacy, and company strengths while also chasing after innovation and the allusive future of the category.
But how exactly is he doing that? As someone still immobilized by the simple task of harvesting avocados, I couldn’t tell you. Fortunately, Mario himself was on hand to answer that very question as well as reveal what he has in store for one of the avocado category’s biggest players.
Kayla Webb: What is your vision for West Pak Avocado?
Mario Pacheco: My vision is for our company to become a global leader in the avocado space and to maintain that standing. We want to be known for our fruit quality and service levels and to be acknowledged for our efforts. The vision is also about building our brand, both our trade brand with customers and growers, as well as our brand as an employer. The thing is that we want to achieve that vision our way: by preserving our values as a family company based on integrity, commitment, hard work, and valuing our people.
KW: What have you brought to the table to fulfil your vision for the company?
MP: In 2017, we implemented a five-year strategic plan, which encompasses West Pak's core values and business activities. Dubbed Strategic Avocado, the plan's purpose is to envision West Pak over the next five years and create a roadmap to get there. The strategy was designed to help our team focus on the most important things and also prioritize the decisions that we make. With Strategic Avocado, West Pak will work to meet the goals outlined, which will require effort and dedication of all employees. As a company, we see Strategic Avocado as a journey, not a destination.
KW: What are your goals for the company?
MP: Sustainable growth and efficiency—for West Pak to grow and expand while maintaining our quality and service standards. We reject the idea that we must choose between bottom-line performance and growth or between efficiency and delivered quality. Instead, we choose to deliver on all counts.
KW: How do you plan to realize these goals?
MP: We find that alignment between our sourcing and sales functions is essential to achieving our objectives. Alignment means having the right fruit for the right customer at the right time and in the right place. It also means that our operations departments are focused on efficiently packing our avocados in the configuration/pack styles desired by our customers and getting the product to the proper distribution centers in a timely manner. Freshness is key!
KW: How has sourcing changed?
MP: With the increasing market appetite for longer-term contracts, we look to more controlled sourcing, which is essentially us growing more of our own fruit.
We also have a vast network of growers that has always been a critical ingredient of West Pak's success. We see them not just as our suppliers, but as our partners and an extension of our avocado family. We will continue to build and maintain these relationships as we move forward. However, to meet the high demand for avocados, we are diversifying where we are sourcing and strengthening where we are currently growing.
First, we are expanding our presence in Michoacán, Mexico, which is considered the avocado capital of the world. With its fertile land and optimal growing conditions, it really is the prime location to grow our fruit. It's also where our largest packing facility resides. Second, we are very committed to our California grower base, where we also have a packing facility and distribution center. Last, we source from Chile and Peru when in season and are now evaluating expanding our sourcing into other countries to provide for our growing customer base.
Also, we've recently partnered with Fairtrade America, the U.S division of the leading international Fairtrade certification. West Pak has met all of the organization's rigorous standards and is therefore now sourcing and marketing Fairtrade avocados. For us, as a company, this is an important step - it demonstrates that we are truly dedicated to enabling farmers and workers so they have more control of their lives and can decide how to invest in their own futures.
KW: What are some of West Pak's strongest assets?
MP: One of West Pak's key strategic assets is our packinghouse and sourcing team in Mexico. This strategically placed facility creates a competitive advantage for us.
In addition, we offer value-added activities like bagging, ripening, and delivery—all of which are critical in our path to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace. To empower retailers, we've also launched our Avo-Opportunites retail program and a highly effective branded bag program where we optimize the excitement of avocados geographically, seasonally, demographically, and by use.
We've also been certified to carry the Heart-Check mark on our U.S. avocado offerings including our bagged avocado program. The American Heart Association Heart-Check Food Certification Program uses this Heart-Check mark to make it easy for consumers to spot heart-healthy foods in the grocery store or when dining out. This designation is important, as it continues our commitment to helping educate others about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet.
KW: How has marketing changed for the avocado space?
MP: Avocados have become the best produce segment to be in at the moment and offer tremendous potential for continued growth. People are eating healthier and are looking for ways to help achieve a balanced diet. Avocados have been recognized as a nutrient-dense food, meaning that they provide substantial amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients with relatively few calories. Between research data showing that they are heart-healthy to increased awareness due to strong marketing campaigns, the popularity of this fruit has gained tremendous momentum and is showing no signs of letting up.
While only in his third year as West Pak Avocado’s CEO, Mario is already proving to be an essential visionary to the company’s growth. As he continues to juggle the minutiae of day-to-day operations with the bigger picture of West Pak’s future, including overseeing its financial and business development efforts, there’s no telling what’s to come for Mario and the West Pak Avocado team. Afterall, anything is possible when nothing’s impossible.