Bako Sweet - Make it Sweet With Our Organic & Conventional Seedless Watermelons - June/July 2020

The Crown of a Craft

The Crown of a Craft

What’s in a name? That which we call Del Rey Avocado by any other name wouldn’t be as sweet. Or impactful. Nor would it serve as the company’s looking glass, reflecting the team’s mission and goals in the avocado category.

“At Del Rey Avocado, we have strived to be an industry leader in the organic and conventional avocado categories by offering year-round supplies of healthy and great-tasting avocados,” Bob Lucy, President and one of the Founding Partners alongside Bob Siemer, shares with me. “We are a family-owned operation that has been in business in Fallbrook, California, since 1969. Together, our team has well over 40 years of experience running quality packing houses and a very successful farming operation. We are blessed to have a diverse mix of older and younger people on our packing, field, and sales teams.”

Since its inception, Del Rey has worked to strategically broaden its operational footprint, gaining an appetite for growth as a team. In the past year, this growth has taken the form of a flotilla of expansion efforts, including new markets and facilities—both of which are bolstering Del Rey Avocado’s standing in the flourishing avocado category.

“Del Rey is one of the few California-based companies that owns facilities on the West and East Coasts, giving it greater control over its operations. In addition, we grow and import from four different growing regions, including Mexico, Peru, Colombia, and Chile,” adds Patrick Lucy, Vice President of Sales. “We also operate a total of seven packing and distribution centers strategically located throughout North America—a number that only continues to grow as we expand as a business.”

Among its operations on both U.S. coasts are its new state-of-the-art bagging and distribution facilities in Vista, California, and Vineland, New Jersey.

“We want to be a place where our employees are proud to work and a company the communities we operate in are pleased to partner with as we support numerous local economies.”

Jessica Hunter, Vice President of Production, Del Rey Avocado

“The decision to purchase our newest facility in Southern California follows in the footsteps of our 2017 expansion in Vineland, New Jersey. We needed to double capacity, thanks in large part to increased avocado consumption and outstanding retail and foodservice customer relationships,” Patrick explains.

The Vista facility is located along key transportation routes, adds 43,000 square feet of cold storage and ripening rooms to Del Rey’s existing footprint, and infuses a touch of modernity to its operations. When the company made the decision to expand in this region, Bob Siemer and Bob Lucy looked to Jessica Hunter, Vice President of Production and third-generation family member, to oversee the entire project. Since coming to work for her family’s business, Jessica has overseen major initiatives like converting conventional acreage to organic acreage, expanding Del Rey’s solar power capabilities, and other sustainability projects.

“I enjoy the challenge of new and significant projects we as a company undertake. We are doing these things to create a stronger, more sustainable company as well as being a good corporate citizen. We want to be a place where our employees are proud to work and a company the communities we operate in are pleased to partner with as we support numerous local economies,” Jessica tells me. “Opening new facilities is one of our main goals as we continue to streamline our operations, improve efficiencies, and innovate how we meet the needs of our customers. The new Vista facility is one way we’re meeting this goal while simultaneously providing our growers with many benefits.”

Del Rey Avocado always strives to do better and to do more, as people and as a company. This mindset is one of the many reasons why the grower now offers organic avocados, which the team views as more than just a way to connect with today’s consumers. Since its expansion into the sector, the grower has transitioned significant acreage from conventional to organic and even planted new trees in its groves.

“After all,” Bob Siemer says, “we are farmers at heart.”

I can’t disagree with Bob. Only farmers would respond to the rising demand for organic produce by returning to their orchards with a plan to build their own organic avocado program—which is exactly what the Del Rey team did.

“We aligned ourselves with a number of farmers who share the same values of produce sustainability and organics. With the help of these farmers, Jessica and our field team have seen our organic production increase each year. With their ongoing support and our continued organic avocado planting, we will strive to offer a high-quality supply of organic avocados to the market,” Patrick notes.

Though this socially and environmentally responsible mindset isn’t always congruous with companies’ expansion efforts, Del Rey Avocado is committed to balancing both in its business model.

“We are dedicated to improving all aspects of our business practices, including ethical behavior, concern for employee health and safety, care for the environment, and community involvement. We recognize that our social, environmental, and ethical conduct has an impact on our reputation,” Donny Lucy, Vice President of Procurement, emphasizes. “Therefore, we commit to continual improvement in our performance, efficient use of natural resources, and aspire to commit zero harm to people and the environment where we grow and source avocados.”

“The avocados we grow and import meet our high standards for the world’s most perfect fruit.”

Patrick Lucy, Vice President of Sales, Del Rey Avocado

These days, you can’t walk through any of our industry’s groves without hearing the word “sustainability.” Both a reflection of the extent of the produce industry’s innovation and the change underway in consumer buying habits, the green trend is overtaking the market and inspiring Del Rey Avocado to center its expansion plans around its compassion for the communities and environments it operates in.

If these communities aren’t benefiting from its growth, then Del Rey Avocado isn’t accomplishing its goal. When I ask Jessica and Bob Siemer what programs the grower has adopted to help it stay on track, we end up discussing its solar energy projects at great length.

“Our commitment to the environment runs deep,” Jessica says. “It is part of who we are as people and as a family.”

At two of Del Rey’s Fallbrook area groves, the grower has installed ground-mounted solar power installations, designed by the San Diego branch of Sullivan Solar Power, with another installation on the roof of its Vista packing house designed by Baker Electric of Escondido.

“Solar energy isn’t just for homes or office buildings. Farms, wineries, breweries, and avocado orchards can greatly benefit from going solar,” Bob Siemer explains. “Solar power for farms can help decrease energy costs and increase productivity. And, of course, it can also benefit the environment by utilizing natural, renewable energy.”

Jessica chimes in again, promising, “We will continue to expand our sustainable practices long into the future. It makes sense for our company and the planet.”

Translated from Spanish to English, “Del Rey” means “of the king.” After talking with the team, it’s easy to see how this self-given title is a way for the company to call a spade a spade—or rather, an avocado an avocado—and outfit itself in the crown of its craft: growing and packing a category ubiquitously referred to as green gold. And gold fit for a king, at that.

“The avocados we grow and import meet our high standards for the world’s most perfect fruit. We also maintain close connections with all our growers worldwide. Our field staff personally visits every growing region throughout the year. In fact, our employees are the key to our growth and success. On top of that, our expansion would not be possible without the support of our customers and the tremendous relationships we enjoy with them. Not a day goes by where we don’t count our blessings,” Patrick concludes.

Between the Lucy and Siemer families, and the many team members at Del Rey Avocado, there are generations of experience growing, packing, and shipping avocados—with each generation taking up the mantle of change. As it continues to expand its operations, Del Rey Avocado is distinguishing itself as an industry leader by not just assuming this mantle but donning it with pride.

What’s in a name? For Del Rey Avocado, everything.