Aug. 21, 2019
Aug. 9, 2019
We had the opportunity to chat with Adrian Rico, Research and Development Project Engineer at Mission Produce Inc., about their use and experience with the Felix Instruments Avocado Quality Meter. Founded in 1983 and one of the first to import Mexican avocados to the US with USDA approval, Mission Produce is now one of the largest producers of avocados in the world.
The following is our conversation with Adrian…
UPCOMING LIVE DEMONSTRATION & WEBINAR: If you're interested in learning more about the Avocado Quality Meter, we are hosting a webinar and live demonstration of the meter this Tuesday the 25th, in which we'll run through how it works, best practices and live demo. We are hosting 2 sessions to ensure it accommodates most international schedules.
Adrian, can you first give a quick rundown of your background?
My background is in R&D and project engineering. So, I work with packaging and new packaging technologies. Then, the other half of my job is doing R&D and familiarizing myself with new, emerging biotechnologies in the agriculture industry.
How long have you been using Felix equipment?
We’ve been using the Felix meter from their initial inception unit, so I believe for about a year to a year and a half - even before I was with the company. I’ve been using it for the last ten months with all different types of fruits or different types of avocados in the region.
For those who do not know how to use it, what is the procedure that you follow? Do you use it before harvest or after harvest?
So, we’ve used it three different ways in California, Mexico, and Peru. In California, we’ve been primarily using it on the post-harvest sites in our R&D Department. Basically, we’ll align ourselves in R&D studies, and we’ll take dry matter measurements, which is as simple as grabbing an avocado and placing it onto the meter. They’re scanned just by pressing a button on the device, as simple as that.
In Peru, we’ve been using it for two different methods: at harvest and also at post-harvest for R&D. We still do not have a lot of experience with the harvest method, but our results have been good so far. We’ll pick it out in the field and take some measurements. It’s really important right now because our fruit season is ongoing and our fruits are changing every year, so we need to learn more about the fruit however we can. This can be as simple as taking it out to the field, grabbing an avocado on the tree, still leaving it on the tree, placing it on the device, and pressing the scan button again. The newest feature that we’ve been implementing is the GPS tracker with FruitMaps. I believe we started using that down in Peru, which helps track the reading at the scanning location and build a map for our harvest in Peru.
In Mexico, we’ve primarily been using it as a secondary measurement for our dry matter, our current microwave method. We’re still validating the machine down there with the Mexico team, but it’s been good as a second measurement for dry matter because we’re taking dry matter measurements every day. Again, it’s as simple as placing it on the device and taking a scan. I think the big selling point, and the biggest strength for us, is how quickly it can give us a dry matter measurement, and also, the fact that it’s non-destructive, which I know everyone is happy about.
Do people need long training to start using the equipment? If someone is using it for the first time, what length of training would you recommend?
When you’re initially starting out, setting up the device on your WiFi and seeing all the capabilities on FruitMaps, I would say it’ll take at least an hour of training for someone with some technical experience. But, for every day usage, it took less than five minutes for our quality assurance team to really get familiar with the device and see its capabilities.
The ease of use is the main thing. It’s as easy as having someone press the button, take the reading, and then the device goes to work for itself – or, really, it goes to work for you.
Considering you are a big company based in the U.S., what are the advantages for you of using this equipment?
We are in different regions, so the capabilities are huge. For us, I would say the equipment gives an advantage on the quality assurance side. Quality is really important to Mission, and ensuring the avocados are at the best quality for our customers is one of our biggest goals.
Taking a dry matter measurement with the current microwave or dehydration method involves a lot of time. We expend at least two to three hours of labor doing these measurements, and we could easily see Felix taking a couple of scans of fruit and reducing that work to maybe less than 30 minutes.
From a harvesting standpoint, I think the ultimate goal of this device would be creating a map of the areas that we grow or pick fruit and telling us what the dry matter measurements for a certain tree is year after year. I know it has the online capability; it’s just us teaching our harvesting team how to use it and getting more familiar with those capabilities.
How many devices do you have in your company, and do you plan on purchasing more?
Currently we have five devices in all of our locations around the world. I can definitely see our California facility purchasing more as we familiarize ourselves with the device and get more comfortable using it, but I wouldn’t expect that for at least another year. I definitely see the California Avocado Commission and other major commissions starting to show the devices as accurate and as another method for accessible dry matter readings. I can see ourselves moving towards that direction just to stop the destructive method and save time.
Do you use other equipment from Felix, or do you only use the avocado quality meter?
We only use the avocado quality meter on dry matter readings. However, we also use 3 gas analyzers by Felix Instruments.
What is the 3 gas analyzer?
The three gas analyzers measure O2, CO2, and ethylene levels. I’ve had a good experience with it. Its quick readings are perfect for what we do. We have different coolers and taking measurements quickly is definitely something that’s important for us. It’s been easy to use and easy to train someone else to use. It gives us good data, and from what we’ve seen, it’s been pretty accurate.
With the traditional method, when you guys are not using the Avocado Quality Meter and you’re just using either a microwave or a dehydrator, how many avocados are you typically measuring per day?
At a minimum we’re sampling around 30 avocados per day.
How time intensive is that? How many man hours is that taking do you think?
If everyone is working efficiently, you’re talking about 2-3 hours of labor. The labor part isn’t the most difficult; it’s the waiting for the microwave. So, the current method that everyone uses is minimum at least 15 minutes of waiting for a microwave to do stuff and heat up all the avocados. That is the frustrating part. You have people that are just sitting watching the microwave go for X amount of hours. People want to be challenged and do other things. Having these abilities cuts that down by 60-70%; that’s a ridiculous amount of time to belabor all of this.
With the introduction of this tool, it becomes possible to collect far more data – fruit isn’t destroyed and measurements take a fraction of the time. Do you believe collecting more data will help your operation in the future?
Yes - where I can definitely answer your question is in Peru. We’re still getting to know our [Peruvian] trees, as they’re changing every year and improving.
For us, it’s really about seeing how we can treat two trees with different nutrients and soil compositions, and then see the impact as far as the dry matter after a year. So, we can change the soil composition on two trees and see which nutrient composition is providing a higher dry matter fruit.
It’s going to change the game for us completely. We’re going to be able to scan fruit as it’s growing on the tree and really understand our tree and its trends of what kind of quality avocado it’s producing.
With regard to the 30 avocados per day that you are measuring, are you able to approximate the amount of money you could be losing using the microwave method versus exclusively using the Felix Avocado Meter?
Well, the price of avocados really varies. It depends. Our average price last year for size 24 lugs was around $40 of potential sales per day.
So the microwave method costs you more than $40/day in missed sales?
Yes, because for dry matter measurements, avocados are taken out of our supply chain, breaking the cold chain, and we don’t ever put those back. We destroy them. So, I can imagine that by changing our procedure a little bit for it to be done in our supply chain, under cold conditions, we can actually re-wash them or re-process them again.
Adrian, it’s been a pleasure talking with you. Thanks so much for your time.
Of course, you guys too.
For more information on the Felix Instruments Avocado Quality Meter, contact Scott Trimble, Marketing Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out a quote request on the Felix Instruments website - https://felixinstruments.com/.