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Dare to be Different

Dare to be Different

"We’re different because we’re daring.” Steve Barnard isn’t one to mince words.

When making a cut-throat industry play, it takes nerve, as Mission Produce’s Chief Executive Officer and Founder knows well. When the company began investing in a Peruvian avocado import program, it implemented an action plan worthy of its daring.

“In California, you can’t grow enough,” Steve tells me, painting a picture of the accelerating avocado consumption in the early 2000s that drove Mission to act. “When the opportunity to get into Peru came up, I thought, this is going to be a perfect chance to fill and meet that demand.”

That chance turned into something far bigger than Steve initially imagined, as Luis Gonzalez, Former President of Camposol International, had already planted a 900-hectare test plot of avocados.

“Keep in mind that a hectare is two and a half acres. And the average farm in California is about six acres,” Steve recalls. “So, 900 hectares made that farm one of the largest in the world—instantly.”

Steve immediately put together a group of investors and started outlining a contract to market the avocados. Eventually, as a non-compete agreement aged out, Steve called up Luis again, asking, “You ready to go back to the sandbox and start playing?”

Suffice it to say, Luis said yes.

By the end of 2011, the stage was set to actualize an 1,800-hectare plan. Today, Mission controls over 4,000 hectares—or roughly 10,000 acres.

“We’re arguably the biggest avocado grower in Peru,” Steve proclaims. “And really, it’s like the Garden of Eden there.”

“Consumption just keeps going up, and we as a supplier need to be able to meet that demand.”

Steve Barnard, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Mission Produce

Coupling the premium growing region with a new supply source has indeed made Peru akin to near-mythic proportions. As Mission sought to cement surety of supply for its partners, the seasonality of the Peruvian program became paramount.

“It’s not competing with California—it’s supplementing California’s season. The weekly average for avocado consumption in the United States is 60 million pounds a week. A big week in California alone could be 15–20 million pounds. Consumption just keeps going up, and we as a supplier need to be able to meet that demand.”

 

Denise Junqueiro notes that this is one of the program’s biggest selling points.

“What’s really great about the Peruvian program is that it fills that demand. It’s become a crucial source in both the United States and globally. Without this import program at the ready, U.S. consumers wouldn’t have the avocados available. And the number-one thing for us is being a source of supply surety so that our customers will not fail,” says the Senior Director of Marketing and Communications.

That’s an essential part of this story, I realize, that Steve already had the vision to combat increasing demand.

“To Steve’s credit, he saw the opportunity to grow and build infrastructure that complemented the infrastructure we already had in the States,” Denise adds. “And, because we’ve built that infrastructure to support us, we have learned to manage this product like no one else.”

The Peruvian fruit itself is relatively new, meaning that it produces avocados with thicker, bumpier skin. This appearance plays a role in how to judge ripeness, which, as you may have guessed, Mission Produce has down to a science.

“We’ve done a lot of research on this fruit,” Denise imparts. “I’ll go so far as to say that we’ve partnered with it. From planting to harvesting to ripening, we’ve been there every step of the way and worked through any issues that arose. Our people are experts in these avocados. We’ve got the appropriate ripening rooms, where we don’t ripen them with other products. The amount of detail, research, time, and effort that we put into this avocado ensures that our customers have the information necessary to succeed.”

 

Partnering with its customer base, Mission also began offering resources to support produce departments so that retailers knew precisely how to market the fruit coming in. The Thick Skin campaign was designed specifically with this in mind.

The willingness to dive headfirst is part of Mission’s mettle, and one of the reasons why it isn’t hard to imagine the team getting their hands dirty to ensure a high-quality product.

“We don’t shy away from feedback,” Denise shares. “We don’t want to ignore that the fruit is different: We want to embrace it.”

Another key part of Mission’s Peruvian program is its experience in shipping the fruit.

“Dry matter is so crucial to the avocado experience. One of the things we’re really great at is shipping the fruit at those optimal times. Not everybody understands that,” Denise explains, adding that dry matter is the solid content of the fruit, minus the water, and can be an indirect indicator for ripeness. “Shipping the fruit when it has a lower dry matter doesn’t create as good an eating experience and then people start to compare this variety to others. So, if it’s early season fruit and it’s too early, people are going to automatically compare it to Mexico and feel that it’s an inferior piece of fruit. And that’s because somebody wasn’t managing it properly. When Mission brings this fruit to market, we have the advantage of our knowledge.”

 

Steve also notes that there are challenges in presenting Peruvian avocados to the U.S. market, which he sees as primarily programmed to favor Mexican imports.

“It’s a cultural change, but we’re going to keep pushing,” he asserts.

With Peru providing 12–15 percent of the world’s avocado supply, both Steve and Denise take it very seriously that Mission is a conduit for that supply. And, as my conversation with both of them bobs and weaves to a conclusion, it’s not hard to imagine that Steve’s little market push will work to his favor.

Dare to be different? Dare accepted.