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New hires, new offices, new bag program are among changes at Index Fresh

There are “some fun things going on” at Index Fresh Inc. this year, according to Dana Thomas, president of the company. One of those is a new bagging program called “AvoBuddies,” which was rolled out to help move the abundance of small fruit being harvested in California this spring

The “AvoBuddies” program was “designed to bring some excitement to smaller fruit in bags,” Thomas said. The graphics feature three cartoon characters — Connie Convenience, Chef Charlotte and Muscle Marv — playing to “the culinary, convenience and nutritional aspects of avocados.” A back strap on the bag has either recipes on it or has messages about nutrition or “about how to use [avocados] quickly and easily.”

That program “is rolling out right now,” Thomas said. “We’ve had really good results with it and good take-up on it.”

Another major development at Index this year is the relocation of the corporate offices. “We outgrew our offices in the packinghouse” in Bloomington, CA, Thomas said. “We moved to a site in downtown Riverside,” about 12 miles south, “which doubles our office area and provides easier access for customers and suppliers to come visit.”

By moving the offices out of the packinghouse in Bloomington, “we will be able to expand the production floor a little bit” in the packinghouse, he said.

New on sales at Index Fresh is Tim Threadgill, who “started with us last summer as an intern” while a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and who has now “come on board as a full-fledged sales person this year. He is handling accounts and doing a lot of account development work for us,” Thomas said.

Index Fresh has also hired a new director of production, Luis Avila, who was previously with Sugar Foods in Los Angeles and has a background both in produce and in packaged foods.

He has “responsibility for all production in the company,” Thomas said. “His focus will be on making us more efficient and taking our customer service to the next level.”

Index Fresh handles avocados from California, Mexico, Chile and Peru. As of the third week in July, the company was in the middle of the California season, in the middle of the Peruvian season, and “in a transition period out of Mexico.”

The early season new crop was just getting started with light volumes, Thomas said, “and we anticipate that Mexico will be back in full swing by mid-August.”

“We are anticipating a similar crop out of Mexico” for the 2013-14 season to the just-completed 2012-13 crop, he said. “In Mexico, we think there is a whole lot of opportunities for customers to do promotions and to do some creative things.”

Index will continue with the Peruvian fruit until about the middle of September, he said. “The quality has been great this year, and the acceptance by the customers has been good as well.”

This year is Index’s sixth year of involvement with Peruvian avocados, “but the first years we were basically going to Canada” as Peruvian avocados did not gain access to the U.S. market until late in the 2011 season. “This is our second full season” in the U.S. market with the Peruvian fruit, he said.

Out of Chile this coming season, “we anticipate some volume in August,” with the deal “hitting its stride near the end of September” or in October. Chile has a bigger crop this year than a year ago, providing “good opportunities for customers,” Thomas said. The Chilean volume will probably peak beginning in late September and should continue through April.

In California, “we are right in the peak of the season” with “really good volumes and really good quality, I’d call it excellent quality,” he said. “The size curve, which ran small early on, ha shifted a little bit and gotten bigger. Again, there are a lot of good opportunities for customers.”

Index anticipates having California fruit into October, with peak volume continuing through August and into mid-September.