The ambient sounds form a contrast like day and night.
In the production hall where avocados are made into guacamole, among other products, machines clatter and conveyor belts buzz. Among them, well-practised employees check, cut and sort the fruit.
In the avocado grove a few hundred metres away, silence.
Or so it seems at first. In fact, a gentle wind blows through the rows of trees, softly rustling their dense foliage. The voices of the workers only become audible at closer range. In the 30-hectare field, the ten men can hardly be made out at first among the closely growing, metres-high trees. This troop, too, is well-seasoned, smoothly working from tree to tree, row by row. It’s the peak of the avocado harvest, and each one is picked by hand.
Frutas Montosa: Europe’s largest guacamole producer
As much as the scene may bring a tropical jungle to mind, the setting is in the south of Spain, in the Málaga region, on the grounds of Frutas Montosa. The company is one of the most important avocado growers and the largest guacamole producer in Europe. Its workforce of 750 generates annual sales of €130 million. METRO is among its customers. All of which proves that, contrary to their sometimes bad reputation, avocados don’t have to come from overseas. Frutas Montosa cultivates a total of 110 hectares of its own fields around Málaga and also takes delivery from a number of independent farmers in the surrounding area.
The fruit delivered daily to the production facility amounts to 100,000 kilos. ‘To reliably supply our customers with our products, we have to purchase avocados from various sources,’ explains Mario Sager, Sales Manager at Frutas Montosa. On the one hand, to compensate for fluctuations in the harvest. On the other, because the harvest season for avocados in Spain runs from December until April – and demand for the superfood remains high year-round. Frutas Montosa therefore additionally sources fruit from South America and from Morocco and other African countries.
Human and machine …
Whether they’re from external suppliers or from the field next door, all of the avocados undergo strict quality control – likewise by hand. The impressive, high-tech facility is equipped with a modern laboratory, automated ripening chambers and conveyor lines. A calibrating machine sorts the avocados so that, for example, they roll off the belt at the designated point according to their weight. But the inspection for bruises and appearance is still most reliably carried out by people.
The trained employees on the conveyor line sort the fruit carefully and quickly. Each avocado that isn’t perfect is diverted to a parallel belt and is processed into guacamole. Flawless ones continue down the line, are sorted for hardness and, depending on their destination, are placed in a cooling chamber set to the appropriate temperature for further ripening. On average, one million kilos of fruit lie in storage in the various ripening chambers at any given time.
Frutas Montosa serves METRO in France, Austria, Poland and more than a dozen other countries. The degree of ripeness at which the avocados are packed for delivery depends on the transport distance. For example, fruit loaded for a METRO store in the Netherlands today arrives at its destination two days later. In contrast, delivery to France only takes one day – so the avocados are correspondingly pre-ripened before shipping. Along with pure avocados, Frutas Montosa also supplies the METRO own brand METRO Chef with guacamole and avocado pulp for further processing, in mild and spicy varieties. This is practical for restaurant use, as every avocado that doesn’t have to be painstakingly peeled and pitted saves time in the kitchen.
… working hand in hand
In the adjoining guacamole production facility, too, 20 employees manually halve the avocados, piece by piece. It’s a task that could be done by machine. ‘But cutting them by hand guarantees the highest quality,’ Sager emphasises. ‘It takes a lot of effort – but it means that our guacamole doesn’t contain any fibres or substandard fruit pulp.’ The in-house laboratory next door additionally carries out microbiological examinations, on a random sample basis, of both the finished products and the delivered avocados. The proportion of the avocado’s so-called dry matter is important – the higher the value, the more flavourful the fruit. ‘It has to be at least 23%, and at the end of the season, it can increase to as much as 29%,’ says Sager.
Modern systems reduce the climate footprint
As in-demand as the avocado may be, it is also the subject of criticism. Due to water consumption, for instance. ‘That’s an issue, of course,’ Sager says. ‘However, our avocado trees need only about 5% more water than, for example, orange trees. And when it comes to our climate footprint, we’re a long, long way from that of meat production.’ The company uses a modern irrigation system on its plantations that measures the moisture at two different soil depths and provides water in a targeted manner according to need. In addition, all of Frutas Montosa’s own fields are 100% organically cultivated, without the use of industrial pesticides, and are certified ‘bee-friendly’.
And what about the challenging vicissitudes of the weather – such as the recent drought in southern Spain? ‘We have to adapt to the changing conditions, just like everyone else,’ says Sager. He explains that the avocados were smaller this year as a result, but didn’t suffer at all in quality: ‘On the contrary, the small avocados sometimes taste even better.’
Pooled purchasing minus the middleman
Whether it be avocados, citrus fruits or fish – for global procurement, METRO relies on ‘common sourcing’. This means that International Trading Offices (ITOs) bundle the demand from over 30 METRO countries. The ITOs source the products directly from local suppliers – without intermediaries. That guarantees not only variety, freshness and quality, but also price advantages, which in turn benefit customers. In addition to the Spanish Trading Office in Valencia, which specialises in fruit and vegetables, further Trading Offices for meat and fish are located in the Netherlands and France. At the ITOs, global sourcing and the regional sourcing of the countries complement each other. Depending on the season and availability, products like tomatoes may be sourced either from regional growers or – in the winter months, for example – Spain or Morocco. Around 80% of the food METRO sells is procured regionally and about 20% through the ITOs.