Calavo Growers, Inc. (Calavo, the Company, we, us or our) procures and markets avocados and other perishable commodities and prepares and distributes processed avocado products. Our expertise in marketing and distributing avocados, processed avocados, and other perishable foods allows us to deliver a wide array of fresh and processed food products to food distributors, produce wholesalers, supermarkets, and restaurants on a worldwide basis. We procure avocados principally from California, Mexico, and Chile. Through our operating facilities in southern California, Texas, New Jersey, Arizona, and Mexico, we sort, pack, and/or ripen avocados for distribution both domestically and internationally. Additionally, we also distribute other perishable foods, such as Hawaiian grown papayas, and prepare processed avocado products. We report our operations in two different business segments: (1) fresh products and (2) processed products. See Note 11 in our consolidated financial statements for further information about our business segments.
On October 9, 2001, we completed a series of transactions whereby common and preferred shareholders of Calavo Growers of California (the Cooperative), an agricultural marketing cooperative association, exchanged all of their outstanding shares for shares of our common stock. Concurrent with this transaction, the Cooperative was merged into us with Calavo Growers, Inc. (Calavo) emerging as the surviving entity. These transactions had the effect of converting the legal structure of the business from a non-profit cooperative to a for-profit corporation. All references herein to us for periods prior to the merger refer to the business and operations of the Cooperative.
In August 2006, we entered into a joint venture agreement with San Rafael Distributing (SRD) for the purpose of the marketing, sale and distribution of fresh produce from the existing location of SRD at the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market (Terminal Market), located in Los Angeles, California. Such joint venture operates under the name of Maui Fresh International, LLC (Maui Fresh) and commenced operations in August 2006. SRD and Calavo each have an equal one-half ownership interest in Maui Fresh, but SRD has overall management responsibility for the operations of Maui Fresh at the Terminal Market. We use the equity method to account for our investment.
In June 2007, we entered into a distribution agreement with Agricola Belher (Belher) of Mexico, a well-established quality producer of fresh vegetables, primarily tomatoes, for export to the U.S. market. Pursuant to such distribution agreement, Belher agreed, at their sole cost and expense, to harvest, pack, export, ship, and deliver tomatoes exclusively to our company, primarily our Arizona facility. In exchange, we agreed to sell and distribute such tomatoes, advance $2 million to Belher for operating purposes, provide additional advances as shipments are made during the season (subject to limitations, as defined), and return the proceeds from such tomato sales to Belher, net of our commission and aforementioned advances. The agreement also allows for us to advance additional amounts to Belher at our sole discretion. As of October 31, 2009 and 2008, we have advanced $2.0 million to Belher pursuant to this agreement, which is recorded in advances to suppliers.
We also entered into an infrastructure agreement in June 2007 with Belher in order to significantly increase production yields and fruit quality. Pursuant to this agreement, we are to advance up to $5.0 million to be used solely for the acquisition, construction, and installation of improvements to and on certain land owned by Belher, as well as packing line equipment. Advances incur interest at 6.8% and 8.8% at October 31, 2009 and 2008. We advanced $4.2 million and $4.8 million as of October 31, 2009 and 2008 ($1.8 million and $1.2 million included in prepaid expenses and other current assets and $2.4 million and $3.6 million included in other long-term assets). Belher is to annually repay these advances in no less than 20% increments through July 2012. For fiscal 2009, a portion of the 2009 payment was not made and both parties agreed to defer the payment until 2010. For fiscal year 2008, we advanced $0.8 million to Agricola Belher pursuant to our infrastructure agreement. Agricola Belher paid $1.0 million in 2008 for net cash provided of $0.2 million. For fiscal year 2009, we have not made any infrastructure advances to Agricola Belher. Agricola Belher paid $0.5 million in fiscal year 2009 related to infrastructure advances. In addition, the agreement allows for additional $1.0 million advances to take place during the last five months of each of our fiscal years 2009 and 2010, but they are subject to certain conditions and are to be made at our sole discretion. Belher is to annually repay these advances in full on or before each of July 2010 and July 2011. For fiscal 2009, no additional advances were made to Belher. Interest is to be paid monthly or annually, as defined. Belher may prepay, without penalty, all or any portion of the advances at any time.
In order to secure their obligations pursuant to both agreements discussed above, Belher granted us a first-priority security interest in certain assets, including cash, inventory and fixed assets, as defined.
Effective December 2007, we entered into a consignment and marketing agreement with Maui Pineapple Company, LTD. (MPC) to market and sell Maui Gold Pineapples throughout the continental United States and Canada. MPC agreed, among other things, to source, pack and ship such pineapples to an agreed port of entry. In exchange, we agreed, among other things, to be responsible for such product upon arrival at the port, to market and sell the related product, and to develop and implement marketing strategies aimed at building the Maui Gold brand recognition. The agreement calls for us to provide certain advances, as defined, and return the proceeds from such pineapple sales to MPC, net of our commission, fees, and incentives, if applicable. Our agreement expired in December 2009. See Note 16 in our consolidated financial statements for further information.
In May 2008, we purchased all of the outstanding shares of Hawaiian Sweet, Inc. (“HS”) and all ownership interests of Hawaiian Pride, LLC (“HP”) from the Chairman of our Board of Directors, Chief Executive Office and President. HS and HP engage in tropical-product packing and processing operations in Hawaii. The Acquisition Agreement provides, among other things, that as a result of the Acquisition Agreement, Calavo shall make an initial purchase price payment in the aggregate amount of $3,500,000 for both entities. Calavo made the initial payment on May 20, 2008. Calavo shall also make two additional annual payments, ranging from $2,500,000 to $4,500,000, based on certain operating results (the “Earn-Out Payment(s)”), as defined. On September 23, 2009, we remitted the first annual Earn-Out payment, totaling approximately $2.4 million. This represents the minimum payment of $2.5 million, less $0.1 million of working capital shortfall. As a result of this payment, we recorded an adjustment decreasing property, plant and equipment by $0.9 million, other assets by $0.1 million, and accrued expenses by $1.0 million. Such adjustment relates to the resolution of the first deferred and contingent payment. We anticipate recording one more adjustment once the second deferred and contingent payment is determined in fiscal 2010. See Note 17 in our consolidated financial statements.
We maintain an Internet website at http://www.calavo.com. Our annual reports on Form 10-K, quarterly reports on Form 10-Q, current reports on Form 8-K and amendments to such reports filed or furnished pursuant to section 13(a) or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, and other information related to us, are available, free of charge, on our website as soon as reasonably practicable after we electronically file those documents with, or otherwise furnish them to, the Securities and Exchange Commission. Our Internet website and the information contained therein, or connected thereto, is not and is not intended to be incorporated into this Annual Report on Form 10-K.
Calavo was founded in 1924 to market California avocados. In California, the growing area stretches from San Diego County to Monterey County, with the majority of the growing areas located approximately 100 miles north and south of Los Angeles County. The storage life of fresh avocados is limited. It generally ranges from one to four weeks, depending upon the maturity of the fruit, the growing methods used, and the handling conditions in the distribution chain.
We sell avocados to a diverse group of supermarket chains, wholesalers, food service and other distributors, under the Calavo family of brand labels, as well as private labels. From time to time, some of our larger customers seek short-term sales contracts that formalize their pricing and volume requirements. Generally, these contracts contain provisions that establish a price floor and/or ceiling during the contract duration. Again, in our judgment, the shift by our customers to drafting sales contracts benefits large handlers like us, which have the ability to fulfill the terms of these contracts. During fiscal year 2009, our 5 and 25 largest fresh customers represented approximately 20% and 46% of our total consolidated revenues. During fiscal year 2008, our 5 and 25 largest fresh customers represented approximately 17% and 43% of our total consolidated revenues. During fiscal years 2009, 2008 and 2007 none of our fresh customers represented more than 10% of total consolidated revenues.
The Hass variety is the predominant avocado variety marketed on a worldwide basis. Generally, California grown Hass avocados are available year-round, with peak production periods occurring between January through October. Other varieties have a more limited picking season and generally command a lower price. Approximately 2,000 California growers deliver avocados to us, generally pursuant to a standard marketing agreement. Over the past several years, our share of the California avocado crop has remained strong, with approximately 31% of the 2009 shipped California avocado crop handled by us, based on data published by the California Avocado Commission. We attribute our solid foothold in the California industry principally to the competitiveness of the per pound returns we pay and the communication and service we maintain with our growers.
California avocados delivered to our packinghouses are graded, sized, packed, cooled and, at times, ripened for delivery to customers. Our ability to estimate the size, as well as the timing of the delivery of the annual avocado crop, has a substantial impact on both our costs and the sales price we receive for the fruit. To that end, our field personnel maintain direct contact with growers and farm managers and coordinate harvest plans. The feedback from our field-managers is used by our sales department to prepare sales plans used by our direct sales force.
A significant portion of our California avocado handling costs is fixed. As a result, significant fluctuations in the volume of avocados delivered have a considerable impact on the per pound packing costs of avocados we handle. Generally, larger crops will result in a lower per pound handling cost. We believe that our cost structure is geared to optimally handle larger avocado crops. Our strategy calls for continued efforts in aggressively recruiting new growers, retaining existing growers, and procuring a larger percentage of the California avocado crop.
California avocados delivered to us are grouped as a homogenous pool on a weekly basis based on the variety, size, and grade. The proceeds we receive from the sale of each separate avocado pool, net of a packing and marketing fee to cover our costs and a profit, are paid back to the growers once each month. The packing and marketing fee we withhold is set annually by our Board of Directors and is revised based on our estimated per pound packing and operating costs, as well as our operating profit. This fee is a fixed rate per pound. Significant competitive pressures dictate that our grower returns are set at the highest possible level to attract new and retain existing grower business. We believe that, if net proceeds paid ceased to be competitive, growers would choose to deliver their avocados to alternate competitive handlers. Consequently, we strive to deliver growers the highest return possible on avocados delivered to our packinghouses.
The California avocado market is highly competitive with 9 major avocado handlers. A marketing order enacted by the state legislature is in effect for California grown avocados and provides the financial resource to fund generic advertising and promotional programs. Avocados handled by us are identifiable through packaging and the Calavo brand name sticker.
We have leveraged our expertise in the handling and marketing of California avocados to our non-California sourced avocados and perishable food products. Non-California sourced avocados primarily include fruit imported from Mexico, Chile and Peru. Our strategy is to increase our market share of currently sourced avocados to all accepted marketplaces. We believe our diversified avocado sources provide a level of supply stability that may, over time, help solidify the demand for avocados among consumers in the United States and elsewhere in the world. We believe our efforts in distributing our other various commodities complement our offerings of avocados.
We typically purchase Mexican avocados from two sources located in Mexico, growers and packers. The purchase price we pay for fruit acquired from Mexican growers is generally negotiated for substantially all the fruit in a particular grove. Once a purchase price is agreed to, the fruit is then harvested and delivered to our packinghouse located in Uruapan, Michoacán, Mexico. Once delivered, such fruit is weighed, graded, sized, packed, and cooled for shipment, primarily to the United States. Fruit purchased directly from Mexican packers, however, is already packed for shipment and, as a result, generally commands a higher purchase price, as it is already boxed and ready for shipment. In either case, the purchase price of Mexican avocados is generally based our estimated selling prices of such fruit, less anticipated packing and/or selling costs and our desired margin. We believe these two sources allow us to maximize both the timely acquisition, as well as purchase price, of Mexican fruit.
Similar to California avocados, a significant portion of our handling costs for Mexican avocados are fixed. As a result, significant fluctuations in the volume of Mexican avocados delivered to our packinghouse can have a considerable impact on the per pound packing costs of avocados we handle. Generally, larger crops will result in a lower per pound handling cost. We believe that our cost structure for Mexican avocados is geared to optimally handle larger avocado crops.
We believe that our continued success in marketing Mexican avocados is largely dependent upon securing a reliable, high-quality supply of avocados at reasonable prices, and keeping the handling costs low as we ship the Mexican avocados to our packinghouses. We are subject to USDA and other regulatory inspections to ensure the safety and the quality of the fruit being delivered from Mexico. The Mexican avocado harvest, which is often considerably larger than the California avocado harvest, is both complimentary and competitive with the California market, as the Mexican harvest is near year round (most significant from September to June). As a result, it is common for Mexican growers to monitor the supply of avocados for export to the United States in order to obtain higher field prices. During 2009, we packed and distributed approximately 20% of the avocados exported from Mexico into the United States and approximately 3% of the avocados exported from Mexico to countries other than the United States, based on our estimates.
We also handle avocados from Chile and Peru, most of which are on a consignment basis with the suppliers. Our commission percentages often range from 8% to 10%. Additionally, from time to time, we may purchase Chilean sourced avocados. Pursuant to our consignment arrangements, we occasionally make advances to both Chilean and Peruvian growers. Historically, we made such advances related to both pre-harvest and post-harvest activities, but our focus during fiscal 2008 and 2009 was primarily related to post-harvest activities. Typically, we obtain collateral (i.e. fruit, fixed assets, etc.) that approximates the value at risk, prior to making such advances. Historical experience demonstrates that providing post-harvest advances results in our acquiring full market risk for the product, as it is possible (although unlikely) that our resale proceeds may be less than the amounts we paid to the grower. This is a result of the high level of volatility inherent in the avocado and perishable food markets, which are subject to significant pricing declines based on the availability of fruit in the market. In the event that we do make a pre-season advance, our ability to recover such pre-harvest advance would be largely dependent on the growers’ ability to deliver avocados to us, as well as the inherent risks of farming, such as weather and pests.
Chilean growers continue to increase/monitor avocado plantings to capitalize on returns available in the worldwide avocado markets. Sales of Chilean grown avocados have generally been significant during our 4th and 1st fiscal quarters. Additionally, with the Chilean harvesting season being complimentary to the California season (August through February), Chilean avocados are able to command competitive retail pricing in the market. During 2009, we distributed approximately 8% of the total Chilean avocados imported into the United States, based on our estimates.
We have developed a series of marketing and sales initiatives primarily aimed at our largest customers that are designed to differentiate our products and services from those offered by our competitors. Some of these key initiatives are as follows: We continue to have success with our ProRipeVIP™ avocado ripening program. This proprietary program allows us to deliver avocados evenly ripened to our customers’ specifications. We have invested in the Aweta AFS (acoustic firmness sensor) technology and equipment. ProRipeVIP™ is the next generation of selling conditioned avocados that have firmness determined via soundwaves. This technology is new to avocados. The most significant and compelling reason we invested in the Aweta systems is because the acoustic sensors measure firmness of the entire piece of fruit, as opposed to competitive mechanical tests that use pressure and calculated averages to measure firmness. We believe that ripened avocados help our customers address the consumers’ immediate needs and accelerate the sale of avocados through their stores. We currently have three Aweta systems in use in the United States, which, we believe, can effectively meet our customers’ demand for conditioned fruit.
We have developed various display techniques and packages that appeal to consumers and, in particular, impulse buyers. Some of our techniques include the bagging of avocados and the strategic display of the bags within the produce section of retail stores. Our research has demonstrated that consumers generally purchase a larger quantity of avocados when presented in a bag as opposed to the conventional bulk displays. We also believe that the value proposition of avocados in a bag provides for a higher level of sales to grocery stores.
From time to time, we market our avocados under joint promotion programs with other food manufacturers. Under these programs, we seek to increase the promotional exposure of our products by providing certain sales incentives. These incentives will be offered in conjunction with various promotional campaigns designed to advertise the products of all parties involved. We believe these programs will help us minimize our advertising costs, as they will be shared with other parties, while still achieving recognition in the marketplace.
The acquisition of Maui Fresh International, Inc. expanded our perishable food products to include various commodities, like tomatoes, mushrooms, and pineapples. While many of these items are purchased, the majority of our sales are generated from tomatoes and pineapples, both of which are handled on a consigned basis. Commission rates for all products generally range from a flat commission rate per dollar sold to a fixed rate per-carton. Sales of our diversified products do not generally experience significant fluctuations related to seasonality.
The processed product segment was originally conceived as a mechanism to stabilize the price of California avocados by reducing the volume of avocados available to the marketplace. In the 1960’s and early 1970’s, we pioneered the process of freezing avocado pulp and developed a wide variety of guacamole recipes to address the diverse tastes of consumers and buyers in both the retail and food service industries. One of the key benefits of frozen products is its long shelf-life. With the introduction of low cost processed products delivered from Mexican based processors, however, we realigned the segment’s strategy by shifting the fruit procurement and pulp processing functions to Mexico. In 1995, we invested in a processing plant in Mexicali, Mexico to derive the benefit of competitive avocado prices available in Mexico.
Through January 2003, the primary function of our Mexicali processed operation was to produce pulp for our Santa Paula plant. Our processing facility in Santa Paula, California would receive the pulp from Mexicali, add ingredients, and package the product in various containers. The product would then be frozen for storage with shipment to warehouses and, ultimately, to our customers. From January 2003 to August 2004, however, our Mexicali processed operations became primarily focused on our individually quick frozen (IQF) avocado half product line and one of our ultra high-pressure lines. Our IQF line provides food service and retail customers with peeled avocado halves that are ripe and suitable for immediate consumption. These halves were frozen, packaged and shipped out of Mexicali to warehouses located in the U.S., and, ultimately, to our customers.
In February 2003, our Board of Directors approved a plan whereby the operations of our processed products business would be relocated. The plan called for the closing of our Santa Paula, California and Mexicali, Baja California Norte (Mexicali) processing facilities and relocating these operations to a new facility in Uruapan, Michoacan, Mexico (Uruapan). This restructuring has provided for cost savings in the elimination of certain transportation costs, duplicative overhead structures, and savings in the overall cost of labor and services. The Uruapan facility commenced operations in February 2004 and the Santa Paula and Mexicali facilities ceased production in February 2003 and August 2004. Net sales of frozen products, typically sold to foodservices customers, represented approximately 53% and 56% of total processed segment sales for the years ended October 31, 2009 and 2008.
We have two 215L ultra high pressure machines designed to “cold pasteurize” fresh guacamole. Utilizing ultra high pressure only and without the need of any additives or preservatives, this procedure substantially destroys the cells of any bacteria that could lead to spoilage or oxidation issues. Once the procedure is completed, our guacamole is cased and shipped to various retail and food service customers throughout the United States and Canada. These two 215L ultra high pressure machines are located in Uruapan and we estimate are operating at approximately 59% and 50% of the combined machines’ capacities as of October 31, 2009 and 2008. We believe the capacity provided by these two machines is reasonable given our current sales projections and expected growth. Net sales of our ultra high pressure (fresh) products, typically sold to retail customers, represented approximately 47% and 44% of total processed segment sales for the years ended October 31, 2009 and 2008.
Sales are made principally through a commissioned nationwide broker network, which is supported by our regional sales managers. We believe that our marketing strength is distinguished by providing quality products, innovation, year-round product availability, strategically located warehouses, and market relationships. During fiscal year 2009, our 5 and 25 largest processed product customers represented approximately 7% and 12% of our total consolidated revenues. During fiscal year 2008, our 5 and 25 largest processed product customers represented approximately 6% and 11% of our total consolidated revenues. During fiscal years 2009, 2008 and 2007 none of our processed product customers represented more than 10% of total consolidated revenues.
We believe that these ultra high pressure machines will enable our company to deliver the widest available array of prepared avocado and other products to our customers. Consequently, we believe that we are positioned to expand our ultra high pressure product line to include more avocado related products, high-end salsas, mangoes and other readily available fruit products.
Sales and Other Financial Information by Business Segment and Product Category
Patents and Trademarks
Our trademarks include the Calavo brand name and related logos. We also utilize the following trademarks in conducting our business: Avo Fresco, Bueno, Calavo Gold, Celebrate the Taste, El Dorado, Fresh Ripe, Select, Taste of Paradise, The First Name in Avocados, Tico, Mfresh, Maui Fresh International and Triggered Avocados, and ProRipeVIP™.
Working Capital Requirements
Generally, we make payments to our California avocado growers and other suppliers in advance of collecting all of the related accounts receivable. We generally bridge the timing between vendor payments and customer receipts by using operating cash flows and commercial bank borrowings. In addition, we provide crop loans and other advances to some of our growers, which are also funded through operating cash flows and borrowings.
Non-California sourced avocados and perishable food products often require working capital to finance the payment of advances to suppliers and collection of accounts receivable. These working capital needs are also financed through the use of operating cash flows and bank borrowings.
With respect to our processed products business, we require working capital to finance the production of our processed avocado products, building and maintaining an adequate supply of finished product, and collecting our accounts receivable balances. These working capital needs are financed through the use of operating cash flows and bank borrowings.
Our customers do not place product orders significantly in advance of the requested product delivery dates. Customers typically order perishable products two to ten days in advance of shipment, and typically order processed products within thirty days in advance of shipment.