Mission Produce Celebrates 40 Years in the Avocado Business

Steve Barnard in one of Mission’s first packhouses.
Originally printed in the December 2023 issue of Produce Business.

Forty years ago, when Steve Barnard started Mission Produce in Oxnard, CA, he says he “had no idea we’d be where we are today.”

“We started in 1983 with a 35-foot office trailer and a pickup truck, and happened to be in the right place at the right time,” says Barnard, who serves as the company’s chief executive.

Mission Produce has grown to become the world’s most advanced avocado network and a global leader in the worldwide avocado business. Today, Mission Produce is a billion-dollar public company, delivering ripe avocados and mangos around the world, with operations in 10 countries and customers in 25 countries, supplying billions of avocados a year.

In the early years, Mission rode the wave of what Barnard calls the “Avocado Revolution.” The three events that catapulted the avocado industry in the U.S. were the opening of the U.S./Mexico border for avocados, the selling of ripe fruit and the promotion of the health benefits of avocados.

The trailer that was Mission Produce’s original office in 1983.

Mission Produce was also among the first to supply ripe, ready-to-eat avocados. When Mission started testing ripe programs, retail grocers offered only hard fruit, so Barnard convinced Ralphs Supermarket in Southern California to give the ripe fruit a shot. The first 10 cases sold in 24 hours. Later that year, Mission started its first ripe program with Ralphs, and the results spoke for themselves. Soon after, more retail partners wanted a taste of ripe avocados.

As pioneers of ripe avocados in the U.S., Mission uses a science-based ripening process, industry-leading technology, and four decades of artistic intuition to get the ripeness right and to design tailor-made ripe programs.

The company continues to expand its distribution network into emerging markets to bring avocados to more customers and consumers around the world. Mission continues to capitalize on opportunities to align its offerings with industry growth trends and the consumer demand for ripe fruit.

Since Mission entered the mango category in the U.S. in 2021, ripe mango programs have expanded nationally. The company says it plans to continue growing the category, bringing ripe mangos to more markets internationally.

Mission Produce also continues to expand vertical integration in premium growing regions, as part of its diversified sourcing strategy to remain a reliable supplier of high-quality fruit year-round. It is now vertically integrated in four premium growing regions (Peru, Guatemala, Colombia and South Africa), which promotes supply reliability.

“Since the beginning of Mission Produce, it’s always been about innovation, hard work, vision, taking risks, and not being afraid to fail,” says Barnard.

In 2023, in honor of Mission’s third listing anniversary, and its 40th business anniversary, Barnard and the management team rang the Nasdaq stock market bell in Times Square, New York.

“When I think about the future of Mission Produce, I see lots of opportunity. We’ve got nowhere to go but up. Over these last 40 years, it’s been a great journey, and we’re not done yet,” says Barnard.