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West Pak continues to expand, adds forward-distribution center

As avocado consumption continues to increase in the United States, West Pak Avocado Inc., a grower, packer and shipper headquartered in Murrieta, CA, continues to look at ways to enlarge its U.S. footprint.

Kellen Newhouse, who was recently promoted to vice president of sourcing for the firm, told The Produce News that West Pak currently is looking to increase its presence across the country by adding another forward-distribution center. Besides its state-of-the-art packing facility in southern Riverside County, the firm has distribution facilities in Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and south Texas, and is looking to add another facility this summer. Newhouse said each facility can precondition the firm’s avocado packs to provide perfect fruit for each customer no matter where they are located. The facilities can put West Pak avocados in the hands of their customers within a day no matter where they are located in the United States.

As Newhouse spoke during the first week of March, the marketing of California avocados was already under way. For this season, the company expects to market the vast majority of its California fruit between March and the end of July. Most of that fruit will be sold in the more Western states, but Newhouse said there are customers for the California product throughout the country. “Some customers do want that California home-grown product and are willing to pay a premium,” he said.

16-CalAvos-WestPakInside the West Pak packing facility in Murrieta, CA.Newhouse, who is a member of the California Avocado Commission, said West Pak completely endorses the commission’s targeted marketing strategy, and it stickers as much of its fruit as it can with both a “California PLU” and a “Hand Grown in California” sticker. Ultimately, about 50 percent of the California fruit goes out the door with both of these identifying stickers affixed. “Absolutely we have both retail and foodservice customers that prefer the California fruit,” he said. “We are a California grower, packer and shipper and California remains an important part of our program.”

Another important part of West Pak’s marketing effort is bagged fruit. Dan Acevedo, director of business development, said more customers are asking for bags, which often allow for value pricing of the multiple counts. Sales of bagged fruit now represent about 15 percent of West Pak’s sales. As such, the firm is developing a new pouch-type bag that stands up on its own as an attractive retail display option. It is currently in development and testing phase, but Acevedo expects it to be offered to the trade by early summer. The bag will be presented as both a piece count and on a pound basis, depending upon the size of fruit enclosed. For example, it could be a five-count with very large fruit or marketed as a five-pound bag of avocados with smaller fruit.

The material of this structured bag, which is similar to what is used for several other fresh commodities, allows for a high-graphic look and the inclusion of messaging to the consumer. West Pak will include recipes on each bag as well as the tagline of the Hass Avocado Board, “Love One Today.”

While avocado consumption has grown tremendously over the past decade, Newhouse sees continued growth in the future for both the industry at large and West Pak. He noted that even in non-traditional avocado markets, sales are increasing rapidly. “I was in a café in Louisville, KY, recently and they were featuring tableside guacamole. I talked to the waitress who had never eaten an avocado until recently. Even six months ago that café wouldn’t have been selling guacamole. We are seeing growth everywhere,” he added.