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Millions of Mexican Mangoes Give New Company a Sweet Start


Three million boxes of mangoes will make their way from a grower in western Mexico to the United States between now and September, and a couple of Ventura County entrepreneurs can claim at least half the credit.

Jesus Loza and Manny del Toro formed the El Tropico produce company in Thousand Oaks in January. Last month they received their first shipment of mangoes from the Agricola el Tropico company.

The mangoes, which will be marketed under the El Tropico label, are the first stage of what Loza and Del Toro hope will be a major tropical produce operation.

"For the first year, we will be introducing the Tropico label, getting established and little by little introducing more tropical, high-quality products," Loza said. "Mangoes are a core product now, but we're looking at going into Mexican limes and papayas in the near future."

Loza and Del Toro got off to a running start with their business largely because of their experience and their contacts in the produce industry.

Both left sales positions at Oxnard's Mission Produce late last year to strike out on their own, and Del Toro has nearly 30 years of wholesale experience. The two worked with Agricola through their positions with Mission Produce.

"I used to be in international sales at Mission Produce and Manny used to be in domestic," Loza said. "We know how the mango deal works, and we know the players. That's why we are able to go in there and make an impact right away."

El Tropico mangoes are being stocked in Safeway stores and this week are scheduled to be added to the Price-Costco inventory. El Tropico also has made a dent in wholesale and retail markets in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington state.

To help the six-employee company gain an even larger presence in the mango market, Loza and Del Toro last week signed an agreement with Tustin-based Calavo Growers of California, which will assist El Tropico in mango sales and marketing.

Calavo, a growers cooperative formed in 1924, produces 36% of California's avocados. The company grossed $154 million in sales for 1995.

"Calavo has been established for a long time. They've made a lot of inroads in retail," Loza said. "We're constantly in communication with them with regard to how the market is doing."

Rob Wedin, vice president of fresh sales for Calavo, said it is rare for his cooperative to form an alliance with such a young company.

"The real reason we're working with them is because of the people involved," Wedin said. "We've worked with them for 20 years. [Del Toro] did street sales--he was a wholesaler--in Los Angeles. At one time he was probably selling more avocados than anyone in the U.S."

Wedin said El Tropico's ability to get a large volume of fresh mangoes into the United States and Calavo's expertise in marketing to retail customers should blend well.

"We discussed a deal with them and it looked like a high-quality deal," Wedin said. "If we can kind of help their momentum and make some money, it makes sense to us."

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