If avocados were mountains, their paths would be well-traversed, the trails soft with time and tread. But if avocados were mountains, the team at Mission Produce wouldn’t be hiking those well-trodden routes with the rest of the crowd. Instead, Denise Junqueiro and the Mission team would be leading a summiting expedition to the highest peaks and encouraging all to jump.
“Don’t be afraid to try it,” Denise, Mission Produce’s Director of Marketing, urged when I sat down to chat with her one afternoon. It was this conversation that made me first think of the avocado/mountain metaphor, in part because of Denise’s insistence that retailers, foodservice operators, and marketers practice fearlessness when merchandising avocados.
In Mission Produce's world, the word ‘fearless’ knows no bounds. To me, marketing the avocado seems an easy feat—especially since the fervency for the fruit remains just as strong as it was years ago. To Denise, marketing the avocado is an opportunity to take a risk—especially since the fervency for the fruit remains just as strong as it was years ago.
“We encourage retailers to be unafraid to try something new and employ Mission Produce’s merchandising programs—because the consumer is out there and looking for more than one type of avocado,” Denise continued, before listing Mission’s programs, including AvocaDOs and DON’Ts, Size-Minded, Ready, Mission Minis, Small but Mighty, and Emeralds in the Rough as excellent starting points for retailers to fearlessly merchandise avocados.
Mission Produce itself first took this risk when it decided to switch up its marketing strategy to one almost no one else in produce was doing.
“Consumers want avocados, when and how they want them, but no one is servicing that—except for us,” noted Jenna Rose Lee, Marketing Associate.
"...We’re focusing solely on what our customers need and how we can help them. We are a resource."
Denise Junqueiro, Director of Marketing, Mission Produce
This mindset led to the creation of Mission’s programs. Specifically, different consumers want different pieces of fruit—from ready-to-eat to not-quite-ripe-yet fruit (Ready); small, on-the-go to jumbo varieties (Mission Minis, Small but Mighty, and Size-Minded); and those that help to eliminate food waste (Emeralds in the Rough). With this diversity in consumer demand comes a tangled web that Mission Produce is helping to unweave for its retail and foodservice customers.
“Our programs aren’t built off of what we think will work, nor are we saying ‘here, try our new scheme.’ Instead, we’re focusing solely on what our customers need and how we can help them. We are a resource,” Denise emphasized.
While Denise was the first to introduce me to the fearlessness that has become characteristic of Mission Produce, she dates the unique strategy back to the company’s origins.
Mission Produce has long been unique in the avocado category—even before the inception of its merchandising programs. Denise detailed a national ripe program, avocado-specific ripe rooms, a hydro-cooling process, food safety initiatives, and vertical integration in Peru as key strategies the grower has implemented to ensure its avocados—available year-round—are more than just fruit for retailers to sell and shoppers to buy. In fact, all of these differentiators helped give Mission Produce legs to stand on—and to trek avocado mountains with—as it developed more ways of being a valuable partner for its customers.
“We decided to create our merchandising programs because we had a lot of data from our Avocado Intel program and expertise from being in business as avocado experts for 36 years. This data came from handling practices and researching what was going to give our customers the best advantages in increasing consumer access to high-quality avocados,” Denise explained. “From there, we began working to educate the industry on the reality of avocados—like how color is not always an indication of ripeness—in order to provide a better retail and
As Denise filled in the backstory of Mission Produce’s merchandising practices, I began to piece together a different linchpin behind the strategy: the addition of Denise to the team. It was this moment that gave Mission Produce an extra push in the right direction, as Denise was the one who spearheaded the merchandising programs that turned into a labor of love shared by the whole company.
“I started at Mission four years ago as the Customer and Marketing Manager. In my first quarter, I worked with the sales team on how to provide the service of marketing to our customer base. I would sit in meetings where our customers would say, ‘It would be really great if we had this or that,’ and ask questions like ‘Are we providing the most value?’ and ‘What’s on the forefront of the category?’ The merchandising programs came about from these conversations because we realized we needed an educational tool,” Denise said. “Our customers were looking to support the avocado category with their staff and needed to know the best decisions to make. We decided we’d be the ones to help them.”
"We are helping our customers grow the avocado categories and get the fruit into more shoppers’ hands."
Jennifer Anazawa, Category Manager, Mission Produce
From there, Mission Produce dove into the data to examine what promotions and SKUs were working on-shelf and what was missing from the current programs. The team began gathering the basis of what then became its merchandising programs, uncovering ways to add value that could be as simple as retailers offering two bulk sizes rather than one or even providing displays of beautifully blemished fruit.
It was at this point in time that Mission Produce laid the foundation for another of its unique characteristics: its goal of helping customers grow the avocado category as a whole. With this goal, the grower has set itself apart as an important asset for retail and foodservice operators.
Again, I’d argue this difference in Mission Produce was only strengthened by Denise and her background and experience. She comes from the commission world, where she worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, among others. She then made the jump to marketing, running programs for the fig, treefruit, and California olive industries before joining Mission. Through it all, Denise developed a service-oriented viewpoint that has given her the necessary groundwork for her problem-solving and solutions-providing skill set. With Denise and the team as its trailblazers, creating new trailheads for the company to follow, Mission was able to build its educational programs to what they are today: easy to digest and eye-catchingly attractive.
“Mission Produce comes from a place of solving problems, education, data, and utilizing the whole tree. Our merchandising programs based on our business intel built up our marketing as a whole. Immediately we set ourselves apart because we aren’t trying to create a brand for ourselves. Rather, we are helping our customers grow the avocado categories and get the fruit into more shoppers’ hands,” Jennifer Anazawa, Category Manager, expanded.
Mission Produce started its merchandising overhaul with the very informational AvocaDOs and DON’Ts program. The company then expanded its offerings by creating the Mission Minis and Small But Mighty bags, which Denise disclosed have gone through the roof. When the data showed that this unique program was servicing an important customer base, Mission then introduced Emeralds in the Rough, a program built out of consumer demand for food waste elimination.
“Emeralds in the Rough was something not seen before, since it was utilizing the whole tree while still growing the category,” Denise noted.
"At the end of the day, we’re here to help, and we’re never going to stop."
Julianna St. Geme, Marketing Manager, Mission Produce
After hearing Denise and the team throw out the goal of growing the category ad nauseam, I interrupted to ask what this means for Mission Produce.
“For Mission, it means providing the highest level of service and value to our buy-side customer base,” Denise answered. “The category is becoming more and more developed in the U.S. Avocados used to be very niche, but now are used in everything. So, we at Mission Produce ask, ‘How can we continue to develop, grow, and drive sales?’ We review what’s going on in the category and build programs based on customers’ needs. We’ve even built a program for foodservice to help with the size curve change. We’ve helped our customers in the sector be flexible while still meeting demands—that’s growing the category.”
Denise also disclosed that retailers who have taken the risk and picked up Mission Produce’s programs have experienced fantastic results.
“While we don’t recommend our programs to every retailer, the ones who have ran with them and taken the risk have seen double-digit growth,” Denise shared. “And they’ve received great feedback. We’re helping our customers meet their consumers where they are at, and it’s working.”
While Mission Produce has seemingly reached a crucial avocado mountain peak with its successful merchandising programs, Denise makes it very apparent that the trek isn’t over for the company and its team. In terms of what’s next, she couldn’t yet say, but there’s no doubt in my mind that it will involve another risk, maybe even a cliff jump or two.
“At the end of the day, we’re here to help, and we’re never going to stop. So, retailers and foodservice operators, don’t be afraid—give us a call. The customers that have taken on our programs have seen huge success, and that’s been the best part. They’re getting the benefit of what we created,” Julianna St. Geme, Marketing Manager, concluded.
The avocado mountains are calling, and Mission Produce must go. The question remains: Will you?