The Next Generation in the Supply Chain

Kellen Newhouse grew up with the tasty green fruit all around him. His family was one of the founders of West Pak Avocado, and today the Newhouse name is synonymous with growing, packing, and distributing the produce commodity. Generation NEXT for the family-owned business, the younger Newhouse is making his own mark. In his 11 years with the firm, for the past five, he’s been firmly planted in the role of Vice President of Global Sourcing and International Business Development—a long title with an equally lengthy roster of responsibilities essential to the company’s continued success.

What does your job entail?

Kellen: In a nutshell, I manage the supply chain for the company and work to ensure that we have a year-round supply of avocados. 

On the sourcing side, I manage all the buying and our buying teams at West Pak Avocado. We are pretty strong here in California, so I lead a group of buyers who have relationships with our growers. They go out and source for our sales needs here in California. 

Our largest source area is Mexico. We have a team of agricultural engineers in the states of Jalisco and Michoacán that buy and source for all of West Pak, which is sold into the United States and our export markets of Japan, Korea, and Europe, and then a lot of Southeast Asia. 

I also manage all of our import deals, which are Colombia, Peru, and Chile. I manage the relationships with those shippers, and I work with our team here on setting pricing and importing fruit for our offshore programs that specific retailers set up with those countries of origin.

West Pak is continuing to invest in our farming operations. I work with teams here in California and in Latin America to further integrate our supply chain by putting trees in the ground.

And then I have my other side, which is sales outside of the United States. West Pak has a very strong international sales program, and I manage those customer relationships, as well. Our biggest market is Japan and Asia, and we’re working right now on developing Europe.

What is a typical day, week, or month like for you?

Kellen: Well, I like being on the ground in these areas of my job. Sourcing requires you to be where the fruit is coming from, being in touch with your team and so I travel a large part of the year into Mexico, South America, and Asia. I’m constantly traveling and spend a lot of time on the road, obviously, pre-COVID. I work very closely with the domestic sales team here in the United States. I spend a lot of my days working on pricing and communicating with our sales team on how the market is unfolding. 

What would you consider to be the favorite part of what you do?

Kellen: I think that I have a unique job that I am allowed to interact with growers and a lot of different people in a lot of different countries. So, I’m in touch with a lot of different cultures that I have come to learn, and continue to learn from, and how to work inside of those countries. That cultural experience for me is a lot of fun.

What is the most difficult or challenging part of what you do?

Kellen: How rapidly everything is growing and changing — I would say that’s probably the most significant part of the challenge. 

The avocado market is exceptionally dynamic. It’s challenging just how different every single year is. You can only use past experiences to help you in your decisions because the avocado market is growing so fast, there are so many different countries, there are so many more competitors. Being able to blend your experience but not allowing your experience to hold you back because things are changing so much — if you can use your experience and have an open mind, that’s where you can really be the most successful.

Tell us a bit about your education.

Kellen: I did my undergraduate at the University of Arizona graduate at Duke in business management. 

I also speak fluent Spanish. I think I was the only kid that took Spanish seriously in high school and college. But it gets me so much closer to the culture and the people and understanding how people work in those regions. 

What’s one thing people don’t know about you?

Kellen: I’m a winemaker on the side. My wife and I have a vineyard, so we make our own wine. 

What do you like to do in your downtime?

Kellen: Between the vineyard and my two-year-old daughter, there’s not really any time for anything else. 

What do avocados mean to you?

Kellen: I think we are fortunate in the avocado industry to sell something that is exciting. For me, it’s all about believing in it and watching it grow from a niche or an exotic item to where it is now a staple in the American diet. 

I think my biggest shock of how avocados have become so mainstream was, without even looking, when 50 percent of my daughter’s toys are avocados – everything is avocados. It’s just crazy: even her diapers have tiny avocados all over them. It’s just outrageous! Avocados have gone from a food to pop culture.