Blog 3 Tips for Bringing an Innovative Produce Distribution Facility to Fruition
Dec 13, 2021
It’s official. The Certificate of Occupancy is in hand. The ribbon cutting ceremony has wrapped up. Now, avocados, mangos and other select fruit are arriving from growers at North America’s largest, state-of-the-art avocado plant.
We began working with Mission Produce, Inc. executives when this new facility in Laredo, TX was just a concept, a challenge and a desire to grow their network. Our teams identified problems and proposed innovative solutions that resulted in development of a premier, 262,000 sf facility. These strategies are specific to Mission Produce but could likely serve as guidelines for how we develop a successful produce project:
Mission Produce currently owns and operates state-of-the-art avocado packing facilities in multiple global locations including California, Mexico and Peru. In addition, its global distribution network includes 12 forward distribution centers in North America, China and Europe.
While the company has been crossing the U.S.-Mexico border for years, Mission executives wanted to capitalize on the continued popularity of its signature product in the nation’s busiest land port. They believed that the southern border of Texas would not only be the next big growth area, but also open to development of a large-scale food facility. They decided that the best way to serve customers through this location would be by building a combination packing house and distribution center, giving them the ability to ripen, pack, bag, ship and store avocados and mangos under one roof. Now all they had to do was find a partner who could assist them in developing this complex, distinctive, hybrid facility.
Secure the Ideal Site
When Mission Produce discovered A M King through a mutual produce industry contact, we all began talks about their needs related to design and construction services. As we learned more about the project and the possible site that they had already identified, we offered to provide full property consulting as well. It was a fortuitous decision, as the prospective tract of land had numerous pitfalls.
Our analysis included property requirements for the business today, as well as for future planned expansions. We explored the subcontractor market, examined soils and determined adequate site infrastructure requirements for securing local economic development incentives. Our team, working in tandem with Mission Produce, was then able to identify a new, 33-acre site in Laredo’s Pinnacle Industry Center adjacent to the Rio Grande River and the Mexican Border. Lastly, we managed the complicated process of acquiring the site while meeting all zoning and municipal ordinances specific to site development of greenfield land in the City of Laredo.
Design-Build a Wholly Unique Hybrid Facility
We had a blank canvas on a very large swath of land. Our design team was tasked with designing a building around Mission Produce’s desire for a state-of-the-art, dual-function facility. There were a number of different iterations, rooms and jurisdictional requirements related to transporting produce from Mexico to the United States or Canada that changed during the design process and how we approached certain aspects of the project.
It truly was a collaborative process, with Mission Produce and within our company. Our design and construction teams consistently shared ideas about the best way to approach certain situations, such as material availability. As is often the case with projects of this scale, plans will change before and after construction begins. After the foundations were set and steel erected, Mission Produce decided to pursue a larger, more flexible packaging line than was specified in the design phase. The new equipment, covering approximately 21,000 square feet, would have greater production capacity.
The challenge was trying to fit that line into the original space. We worked closely with Mission executives, the local jurisdiction and a third-party vendor to develop a solution. Ultimately, we arranged the equipment within the existing structural steel design, upgraded necessary service utilities to operate the equipment, and relocated floor drain systems while maintaining a place for future Ripening Room operations. Not only did we successfully accomplish these formidable tasks, but we did it all without impacting schedule.
Plan for Future Growth
There was so much planning that went into developing this facility. It’s built for growth, to be here for a long time and to bring a lot of things into this country and on the produce side. Take Mission Produce’s addition of mangos, for example. There are many similarities between mangos and avocados in terms of the ripening and cooling technology. Because we already built the highest standard avocado facility, mangos are a perfect fit. So, this a turnkey mango facility, whether that was the original intent or not.
Another aspect related to growth goes back to the land that was selected for development of this project. It has the capacity for a mirror image of this new facility. That way if there is a need for expansion in the future that process will be seamless. What could drive that need? Perhaps Mission is moving more product from its own network or third parties. Maybe they want to procure a new piece of equipment or a new advancement in processing. They will want to be able to make those changes without interrupting the existing product flow and output. With this new facility, they can.
Just seeing what they’ve done in the last four months of operations is amazing. The facility is so efficient and so clean.
I’m curious to see if it’s going to develop in that linear fashion that we’ve talked about for the last two years, or if it’s going to branch out this way or branch out that way. Will the flexibility that we designed serve the company well as it continues to grow?
There is a ripple effect when a company like Mission comes to town. They are generating business, creating jobs, fueling the local economy and enticing more companies to join the party. To be a part of all of that, to know that we assisted the company in achieving their goals, to have helped place them in the perfect position for growth, as a Design-Build professional, there is no better feeling.
The Produce Industry Podcast with Patrick Kelly