Expansion of Milpitas Distribution Center Reflects Henry’s Goals for California’s 2022 Crop
By Rob Bryant
While this year’s entire California avocado crop is projected at 306 million lbs.- slightly higher than the state’s sub-300-million total last year – Henry Avocado greatly increased its capacity for ripening at its Milpitas distribution center in Northern California. The expansion increases the annual volume there to more than 2 million cartons.
According to Phil Henry, the year-round grower/distributor’s emphasis on quality and freshness prompted the additional capability, which is all part of the corporate 5-year growth plan. One of seven strategically located centers in California, Arizona, Texas and North Carolina, Henry’s enhanced Milpitas operation will keep it poised to meet the increasing needs of the populous Bay Area and beyond.
In addition to San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, Milpitas distributes as far south as Monterey and Salinas; east to Modesto; and north to Sacramento. By having its own fleet of five refrigerated tractor trailers, and two smaller refrigerated delivery trucks, which are operated by Henry drivers, this important link in the supply chain is totally under company control.
Key to the bigger number in Milpitas is the increase in ripening rooms from 18 to 25 and cold storage capacity from 216 pallets to 300. Henry prefers the term “fresh chain” to “cold storage” as it reinforces the precise logistics the company has established to minimize the time from harvest to customer delivery.
“We’re in the ‘fresh’ business,” Humberto Arteaga, the center’s manager explains. “We promise ‘Always fresh, Always on time,’ so we expand our capability to provide consistent service as the market increases.”
The vigilance is present in every Henry center. Earlier this year, Andrew Flores joined the headquarters office in Escondido to serve as supply manager and market analyst. A graduate of California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Flores brings extensive experience in production, sourcing, logistics and sales. He is the latest addition to a team chartered to anticipate and expand Centers as required.
Henry could equally claim the company is in the custom-ripening business. Currently 75% of its deliveries are in that state of readiness. Ripening to order, which Henry pioneered in 1983, requires a production regimentation centered around a total of 120 ripening rooms. In effect, Henry’s capacities and capabilities change regularly so its performance and commitments don’t.
The favorable impact of custom-ripening can’t be overstated. Henry’s commitment to the process assures its retail and foodservice buyers that they will receive the desired stage of product ripeness to meet individual needs from promotion to impulse buying and menu planning.
A one-page HASS AVOCADO CustomRipe Ordering Guide, a marketing fixture in the industry for almost two decades, is available from any of Henry’s marketing and sales offices listed on its website. The Guide has helped inform nearly a generation of avocado buyers about the five separate and distinct stages of ripening that are available from Henry’s distribution centers.
All of Henry’s distribution centers are Primus Labs certified and meet or exceed federal, state and industry Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) guidelines. Two are located in Escondido, CA; two in San Antonio and Houston, TX; and one each in Phoenix, AZ, Charlotte, NC and Milpitas, CA. All seven also have Oxyion air purification systems to reduce bacteria, viruses and mold to keep the safest and sanitary environment possible.
Prior to the start of the California harvest, the California packing house in Escondido upgraded its Aweta Optical Sorter, which improves the speed and accuracy of grading, sizing and packing. During peak harvest from spring through early summer, when the California fruit is most abundant, the machine’s efficiency and capability mark its place as a quality contributor in the time-sensitive process.
A grower since its founding in 1925, Henry has been a year-round distributor since 1990. With the California season well underway and the quality and supply established, Phil Henry anticipates the kind of pricing balance that will accommodate whatever promotions Henry’s retail and foodservice customers will want throughout the season.
The multiple safety measures that went into the design and construction of Henry Avocado’s packing and distribution center in 2018 were just a beginning. Since then, empowered employees have investigated and implemented new processes to maintain a leadership position in product and facility cleanliness.
A year-round distributor since 1990, and a grower-packer since 1925, Henry has established many important partnerships, yet none more important nor timely than those involved in strengthening its product purity from sourcing to distribution from a number of sources.
Luke Varvel, food safety manager, and Jorge Tostado, sanitation manager, have linked their responsibilities to give Henry an around-the-clock regimen that is among the finest in the fresh produce industry, and one that certainly far exceeds established standards.
First, Henry launched an upgraded sanitation program in 2019 that was developed under the expert guidance of Justin Kerr at Factor IV Solutions, a food facility sanitation consulting firm recognized for creating customized food safety practices.
At his suggestion, Henry reworked its packing line to eliminate components that were difficult to clean and implemented several operational improvements. Among them are the nightly use of state-of-the-art cleaning equipment, including foamers, floor scrubbers, and a dry vapor steam machine. New cleaning agents like chlorine dioxide were an important part of the mix.
Now, Tostado’s cleaning crews apply rotating sanitizers to effectively treat all equipment and they have implemented a Full Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs), validated by Factor IV Solutions. It includes modernizing the packing line and performing annual “deep-cleaning” procedures. The after-hours sanitation crew were provided with the latest hygienic sanitation tools and detergents best suited to avocado packing lines.
Kerr believes that the Henry duo of Varvel and Tostado has exceeded fresh avocado processing standards. “Luke and Jorge’s objective was to create the best sanitizing system possible by reducing contaminants from every source possible,” Kerr recalls. “Ensuring their success, all levels of Henry’s personnel showed a remarkable spirit to learn and practice the procedures we introduced.”
“A sanitation program, however, is only as good as its verification by independent sources,” Kerr advises, “and we are allowed to continuously validate that Henry is getting the results you need to be the best.”
Capping the Factor IV innovations is a product flow sequence that limits the possibility of cross contamination. It includes isolating all product handling equipment to designated zones.
Any bins used in overnight storage are cleaned and sanitized with a bin-washer, before being returned to the field for reuse. And, all food surfaces in the production area are cleaned and sanitized nightly. Even Sterilex Ultra Step treated mats are placed at entrances, and between the rest area and production area, to eliminate contamination from employee footwear.
Elimination of up to 99.9 percent of viruses and bacteria
As part of the facility-wide sanitation upgrade, Henry also added the products and services of Oxyion, whose process features Oxyion®, a scientifically-validated antiviral and antimicrobial technology that eliminates up to 99.9% of viruses and bacteria such as Listeria, Salmonella and E.coli.
Jimmy Williams, sales and marketing director for Oxyion North America, explains the hydrogen peroxide-based system effectively sanitizes the product and work surfaces at Henry. “The Oxyion generators, which now operate continuously throughout Henry’s production and cold storage areas, offer a food safety solution, and an important level of biosecurity through continuous neutralization of air and surface pathogens,” he confirmed.
Oxyion is also applied in the pre-cooler area to treat field bins of avocados nightly prior to entering the production facility, and to sanitize all production area surfaces and equipment on a round the clock basis.
After packing, all cartons of avocados are placed into forced-air rooms as soon as possible and are then cooled and treated with ozone, at a minimum of 300 ppb for 6 hours prior to being released for forced-air ripening or shipping.
“Henry’s commitment to bring their customers an overall better, safer avocado enabled it to develop one of the best overall post-harvest solutions currently available. We were proud to play a role in setting that bar,” Williams said.
Coronavirus prevention requirements
Coronavirus prevention practices were swiftly put into place in the packing and processing areas and will evolve as health agencies develop new models. Among them are prohibiting visitors in the processing areas, and, prior to starting a shift, all employees must wear a mask, answer Coronavirus questions, and have their temperature taken.
As a new facility, Henry’s production area was built to handle higher volumes in the future and therefore has ample space to place workstations at least six feet apart and social distancing is required in the break and lunch rooms.
Headed by the Escondido facility, all of Henry’s Primus Labs-certified distribution centers meet or exceed the federal, state and Industry Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) guidelines. Two are located in Escondido and there are one each in Phoenix, AZ; Milpitas, CA; San Antonio and Houston, TX and Charlotte, NC. All participate in the safety programs of the home office wherever applicable.
“We strive to lead our industry with the latest and most effective food safety programs,” Phil Henry added. “We’ve made a commitment to stay current and vigilant so that our customers in retail and foodservice can be confident in receiving fresh conventional and organic avocados that surpass industry food safety standards.”