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With fruit from four countries, identifying customer preference important to McDaniel

McDaniel Fruit Co. in Fallbrook, CA, will be marketing avocados from four countries over the course of the next year. The seasons differ, providing customers with year-round availability, but there is also extensive overlap, giving customers often a choice as to which country of origin they prefer for their fruit.

“And there is customer preference for country of origin,” said President Rankin McDaniel in an interview with The Produce News July 21.

With “sourcing from different countries that overlap in seasons,” he said, “it becomes more important to identify the customer preference for country of origin. And working through that process with customers and ensuring that they are getting what they want from the country that they want is going to continue to create new challenges for everybody.”

The inclusion of Peruvian avocados in the mix in the months and years ahead (following the recent approval by the U.S. Department of Agriculture of the importation of Peruvian avocados without cold treatment) adds another layer to that process, giving customers yet another choice.

In the 2011 California avocado crop, “we are coming down to the end of the season” and “getting ready to transition into South America,” Mr. McDaniel said. And with the just announced USDA nod for fruit from Peru just as the Peruvian season also approaches its finish, there will be “a very short Peruvian window opening up sometime in August.” That may run through mid-September, he said.

The first Peruvian fruit should “start arriving here in the United States, for the industry, sometime around the middle of August,” and McDaniel will be handling some of that fruit “on a small scale,” Mr. McDaniel said. “It is going to be a short crop window for Peru this year, maybe four to six weeks, and an introductory process for a lot of our customers, so they can have a little firsthand knowledge about how this Peruvian fruit looks, acts and tastes.” That firsthand experience with the fruit this year will benefit them next year “when the new Peruvian season starts” in April or May.

“So we will see a little of that [Peruvian fruit] going through our distribution network” over the course of the next several weeks, he said. It will be “not much, but enough that everybody will have the opportunity to look at it and to get reactions from their customers, so they can have a basis to make decisions in the future.”

At around the same time, but “towards the tail of that Peruvian window,” he said, “we will start our main Chilean import season.” For McDaniel Fruit, the “launch date” for Chilean imports “is scheduled to be timed around the Labor Day promotion period. So we will be arriving with our first commercial volumes the latter part of August” in order that the fruit will be prepared and available for Labor Day promotions.

Mr. McDaniel said that he expects the quality of the Chilean fruit to be “like previous years,” which is to say, “excellent.” As with fruit from other sources, when “it is done right it is excellent quality, excellent eating fruit.” And “given the expertise that everyone has in the Chilean industry” and throughout “the entire logistics process,” there should be no issues” with quality, he said.

McDaniel Fruit is also involved in handling avocados from Mexico. “Our Mexican program has been growing” over the last several years, he said. “We are doing more Mexican business this past year than we have ever done in previous years.”

But “it is becoming a different world … now that Peru is entering the market, because their marketing time frame will overlap California and a large part of the normal Mexican season.”

McDaniel Fruit packs its California avocados under the company’s “Linda Vista” brand. That house label is also used on McDaniel’s fruit from Mexico and on “a large percentage of our Chilean avocados,” Mr. McDaniel said.

For fruit from Peru this year, the company will be using a generic avocado label, “because it is going to be such a short … concise season, due to the delay in getting the final rule passed on the Peruvian avocado issue with the USDA,” he said.