When you dip a tortilla chip into a fresh scoop of guacamole, you probably don’t think about how it got from the tree to your table, but there’s a chance a Toyota forklift was part of its journey. A native of Mexico, the avocado is a berry (yes, you read that right) cultivated today from trees grown in tropical and Mediterranean climates. Thousands of these fruits make their way to Calavo Growers’ distribution facilities every week.
Calavo started off as the California Avocado Growers Exchange in the 1920s and is now a worldwide leader in avocado sales. Headquartered in Santa Paula, California, they now have value-added distribution facilities across the United States.
Take a step inside Calavo’s 149,000 square-foot facility in Garland, Texas, and you’ll be met with ripe rooms, packing rooms, racking systems, bagging machines, and, of course, plenty of avocados. Claudio Madrid, General Operations Manager at Calavo, is the man who makes sure the facility is up and running every day, and he’s no stranger to the world of avocados. “I actually started in avocados when I was 18,” said Claudio, who joined Calavo’s team in 2007.
Managing these popular fruits takes a careful understanding and the laser-sharp focus that Calavo has cultivated over decades in the business. There’s a trick to getting these avocados just right. Proper storage and temperature technique is critical to keeping the avocados’ quality top notch. Some of the fruits are frozen while others are placed into cold storage.
Ripe rooms also play a key role. But how does ripening work? We asked Claudio to break the process down for us. “The ripening consists of our production area,” he said. “We take our fresh avocados that come in from Mexico or from California, we run them through our packing line, we sort them and then we pack them into the specific carton or RPC that our customer requires.”
Calavo will then put the avocados into the ripe room for the stage of ripeness the customer desires – anywhere from precondition (24 hours) to a stage five (four days). Moving an average of 210 loads of avocados per month is no small feat. So what’s the secret to getting all of this done? Against a backdrop of racks stacked with boxes of green fruit, you’ll notice a fleet of orange Toyota forklifts moving in and out of aisles, lifting the heavy loads and playing an important role in Calavo’s operation.
“We are very dependent on our forklifts,” said Claudio. “Each pallet weighs over 2,000 pounds, and just to move that manually is very difficult. Having a forklift or pallet jack to move that makes it a lot easier for our operations.”
When Claudio started with Calavo, Toyota forklifts were already in use, but the process of getting the avocados from place to place wasn’t quite right. For a time, Calavo relied on different forklifts in their ripening rooms and coolers than those used for their dock work.
Calavo called on their local Toyota dealer, Shoppa’s Material Handling, Ltd., to help them find a solution to their problem. “The forklifts on their dock area were shorter than the forklifts in their warehouse or in their ripening rooms,” said Randy White, Strategic Account Manager at Shoppa’s. Randy worked with the avocado distributor to spec out every forklift in their fleet. Shoppa’s Material Handling was able to deliver the right size forklift to tackle the work throughout the facility, helping Calavo avoid transferring loads between lifts.
Shoppa’s has made it easy for Claudio from the start. A forklift breakdown can have a huge impact on daily operations and result in the loss of serious revenue, but Claudio knows that Shoppa’s is just a phone call away. “With Shoppa’s, it makes it easier because they’ll come and repair it, and if they can’t, they’ll give us a rental and be able to stay on board with all our operations here,” said Claudio. “I don’t worry about it because I know if an issue should arise, Shoppa’s is there for us and they could come and service a forklift at any given time.”
And Calavo has come a long with Shoppa’s, especially now that they have one lift that meets all specifications. It’s a solution that has saved them a lot of time and money. “That’s been a big win for the customer,” said Randy.
Due to food industry regulations, Calavo can only use electric forklifts, which means they depend on batteries for power. In the past, changing out batteries meant a lengthy process of using a hoist and having Calavo’s personal mechanic oversee the process of removing the batteries, readying them for charging, putting the new batteries in, and checking the water levels in all of the batteries before getting the forklift up and running again. The entire process required downtime that Calavo couldn’t afford.
To help combat this issue, Shoppa’s conducted a study on opportunity charging, a system that allows for multiple short battery charging sessions throughout the work day during breaks or downtime. Thanks to opportunity charging, forklift batteries can last for two or more shifts throughout the day, keeping Calavo’s fleet at work moving the avocados.
Now that Calavo has made a complete conversion to opportunity charging, all employees need to do is plug in the machine during their breaks and the batteries are good to last the rest of the work day– an easy task to complete during employee break times.
Avocados are a big deal in Texas, but the avocados from Calavo’s Garland facility end up all over the United States and even Canada. And they’re moving a lot of avocados, especially when a big event like the Superbowl is underway. And, with major events like Cinco de Mayo just around the corner, they can’t afford downtime.
Calavo relies on Toyota forklifts for peace of mind when doing the heavy lifting, and on their dealer, Shoppa’s, to make sure the experience is seamless. “We’re loading trucks quicker,” said Claudio. “We’re receiving them quicker, we’re doing our production in our production area a lot smoother and there’s basically no downtime.” For Claudio and Calavo, Toyota forklifts made the perfect match. “I have worked with other lifts,” said Claudio. “I’ve been in this industry since I was 20 years old, and for me, Toyota has been better.”
Working in the food business takes careful planning, and having the right forklift for the job is a critical part of the equation. “I take my job serious, because at the end of the day, that’s food that we’re bringing onto somebody’s table,” said Claudio, who works hard to instill Calavo’s values in his employees. “That that avocado is going to be on somebody’s table, and that’s why I think it’s very important to take it serious.”