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Mexican avocado imports and promotios surge as Super Bowl approaches

by Rand Green | January 21, 2009
The Hass Avocado Board in Irvine, CA, estimated that Super Bowl fans will consume 46.3 million pounds of Hass avocados "during this year's Big Game Day parties." That is a lot of guacamole, and it makes Super Bowl weekend a strong contender for the biggest weekend of the year for avocado consumption in the United States.

It also comes during the peak of the season for Mexican avocados, and Mexican fruit represents a significant share of the market in the weeks leading up to the Feb. 1 Super Bowl festivities.

According to the board, Mexican fruit is expected to account for more than half of the total Hass avocado volume marketed in the United States during the 2008-09 fiscal year, which runs from November through October. On the week ending Jan. 4, Mexican imports were 10.7 million pounds, nearly 75 percent of the total, with Chile accounting for most of the balance and California just getting started with its new crop.

The following week, imports of Mexican Hass jumped to around 17 million pounds (428 containers at an estimated 40,000 pounds per container), according to Emiliano Escobedo, Los Angeles-based marketing director for the Avocado Producers & Exporting Packers Association of Michoac?n in Uruapan, Michoac?n, Mexico.

"The week that ended yesterday was an outstanding week," Mr. Escobedo told The Produce News Monday, Jan. 12. He expected the numbers to rise again for the next two weeks and then ease off during the final days of January as most avocados for Super Bowl promotions would, by then, either be on their way to the stores or already delivered.

With reports in the news about California going from a light crop in 2008 to an even lighter crop in 2009 and Chile also having a short crop this year, some retailers have expressed concern about whether there would be enough Hass avocados available for their Super Bowl promotions, Mr. Escobedo said. His message to the trade is: "We will cover Super Bowl, and there will be fruit from Mexico ... in quantity. Retailers need to know that and feel confident that Mexico is supporting [those promotions]. The numbers speak for themselves."

To consumers, Mr. Escobedo was also reassuring. "Don't you worry," he said. "You will have your guacamole. You are not going to go to the store and find that the avocados are not in the store. They will be available from Mexico."

APEAM is supporting the retail Super Bowl promotions not only with significant volumes of fruit but with a major marketing campaign as well. In fact, that campaign is proving successful beyond expectations simply because of the downturn in the economy, Mr. Escobedo noted. While that sounds a little surprising, there are always some winners in down markets, and in this case, APEAM has benefited from a softening of the television advertising market as the auto industry and others backed off their spending, he explained. "That has really opened opportunities for those that are advertising to get much, much more exposure."

When APEAM put its marketing plan together in November, "we were estimating 165 million impressions" for the entire three-month campaign, he said. "Now that we actually finalized our buy, the numbers are way up compared to that." Total impressions are now expected to be over 300 million, with more than 120 million impressions just from Super Bowl spending - and all "with the same budget" that was originally planned.

In addition to media buys, "we launched a very successful retail plan," Mr. Escobedo said. "We are working with major retailers in Texas promoting avocados at point of sale ... and getting our message across right from the store" with chefs and produce specialists talking about Mexican avocados on television.

"We have a very successful marketing campaign in Chicago as well," mostly targeted to Hispanics, he said. "We did some merchandising there with independents" and have seen significant sales increases during promotion weeks. "We are going to continue that through super bowl."

APEAM is also sponsoring an on-line video contest. "We solicited creative videos" of people talking about why they love avocados and demonstrating a recipe using avocados, he said. "A total of 65 videos were submitted" from which 20 finalists were selected. They can be viewed

In the second phase of the competition, the public is encouraged to view and vote on the videos, and the winning entry will receive a $5,000 prize. And just for voting, consumers are entered in a daily drawing to win $100 he said. "Today, as we speak, a three-week radio campaign just launched in Texas, Chicago and New York" promoting the contest, and entrants were also encouraged to promote their own videos -- and avocados -- on the Internet. Voting was scheduled to end Jan. 18.

The third phase of the contest will consist of a public relations effort promoting the winning entry.

HAB also has promotional activities going on for Super Bowl. "It is our biggest promotional period," said Jose Luis Obregon, managing director. It is "the right fit" for HAB, which represents avocados from all sources, as it comes during a "transition period," with Chilean imports tailing off and California harvest beginning.

"This year, we have [three-time super Bowl champion] Shannon Sharpe on board" to serve as official spokesperson for the program, he said. Mr. Sharpe has worked with HAB in developing a signature guacamole recipe - Shannon Sharpe's smokin' hot guacamole - and he will be "pitching his recipe" and the benefits of Hass avocados through various media outlets.

Even after Super Bowl, Mexican avocados will continue to be available in quantity, Mr. Escobedo said. "We had a very good crop this year in Mexico, and ... you are going to see substantial volume -- and promotable volume -- available throughout the rest of the year." The heaviest production for Mexican Hass will continue through May. Then there will be "a natural decline" in June and July "before the new season starts back again in July."