Tom Bellamore has been named president of the California Avocado Commission, and he promises that there will be some noticeable changes to the operation within just a few months.
The commission's board of directors approved the appointment of Mr. Bellamore at its June 18 board meeting. He has been serving as acting president since May 2008, when longtime President Mark Affleck resigned. Following Mr. Affleck's resignation, a California Department of Food & Agriculture audit claimed lavish spending by the commission president and some of the staff. The staff and commission received much criticism from the department, growers, the media and even late-night television comedians.
Mr. Bellamore said that he is looking forward to instituting some changes that he has had in mind for a long time. "I have had some ideas that I'd like to see implemented but I wasn't able to either because Mark [Affleck] was here or I was serving in an acting capacity," he told The Produce News June 30. "I'm really anxious to get started and put some new measures in place."
He said that California avocado growers have had a difficult 18 months, contending with both external pressures such as scarcity of water and a terrible firestorm, and internal issues including somewhat of a lack of confidence in the commission. "They have been justifiably concerned about how efficiently the commission has been run. There is a strong mandate to make sure we run as efficiently as possible and we spend as much money as possible on marketing. You will see some changes very early in my tenure."
Mr. Bellamore said that one manifestation of that will most likely be the downsizing of the CAC offices "to something smaller and less costly."
He said that the avocado industry is undergoing profound changes including the decrease in California dominance. This year, California growers will contribute about one-third of the 1 billion pounds that will be sold to U.S. consumers. As the volume from Mexico and Chile has increased, Mr. Bellamore said it is obvious that the Hass Avocado Board, which represents all of the fruit marketed in the United States, is maturing and will assume a larger role in the marketing of the entire Hass crop. He said that as such, the Hass Avocado Board will soon be physically separating from the California Avocado Commission, allowing for a downsizing of the commission offices and an upgrading of the board's presence.
Mr. Bellamore expects the commission to continue to promote the "California" brand and trade on the equity that has been created for the brand over the past 40 years, but he said that more generic promotions and programs will probably be shifted to the board. In this category, he listed the nutrition research and promotion effort that the commission conducts. "While CAC has been running the nutrition program, that is something that benefits all avocados and probably belongs under the Hass Avocado Board."
But even as the commission might downsize, Mr. Bellamore was quick to point out, "We believe very strongly in the 'California' brand and will continue to promote that." He does not anticipate a decrease in consumer or trade promotion for California avocados by the commission.
In a press release from the organization, CAC Chairman of the Board Rick Shade said, "The appointment of Tom Bellamore as president of CAC demonstrates California avocado growers' confidence in the commission's staff leadership. Tom's experience with commodity boards and non-profit governance is invaluable as we chart the course for the California avocado industry."
Mr. Bellamore added, "Even with the unprecedented challenges, I am confident in our ability to further solidify our premium positioning with consumers and to identify efficiencies in production that will enhance our yield per acre."
California is suffering through its third-straight drought year, which has made water both scarce and very expensive. And the 2009 crop had numerous adversarial environmental factors that further limited the volume of the crop.
Mr. Bellamore joined the commission in 1994 and served as senior vice president and corporate counsel until he was appointed acting president last year. Prior to joining the commission, he worked with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, American Brandy Association and the USA Pea & Lentil Council. His background includes extensive experience in the design and supervision of domestic and international commodity marketing programs as well as the administration of overseas offices. In addition, he brings expertise on scientific and technical issues relating to U.S. phytosanitary policy, U.S. trade policy and government affairs.
Mr. Bellamore is a member of the California State Bar and holds a master of business administration degree from Pepperdine University and a bachelor of science degree in Biology from the University of Alaska.