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Brooks Tropicals, the largest producer of Florida avocados, has begun picking fruit and said that there will be ample promotional opportunities once the peak shipping season begins later this summer.

"It will be a big year overall for the 'SlimCado' avocado," Mary Ostlund, marketing director for Brooks Tropicals LLC, based in Homestead, FL, told The Produce News. With all of the media attention to the healthy fat in avocados, consumer demand is strong and growing. But people are also learning how to make the best of the 70 grams of fat per day limit recommended by doctors. The SlimCado brand is important because it tells consumers they can eat more of this delicious item and still stay within their fat and calorie limits.

Ms. Ostlund said that the Florida-grown SlimCado has 50 percent less fat and a third fewer calories than other avocado varieties. And people are finding new and interesting ways to use the item.

Salsa recipes are vastly expanding, she said. There is a lot of buzz now about recipes that incorporate avocados, papayas and mangos, as alternatives to tomato salsas, and they are particularly good with vinaigrette dressings. At the foodservice level, chefs are even using salsas made with tropical produce as toppings on seafood and poultry entrees. The creative doors are wide open for recipes that include tropicals for bringing interest, excitement and great flavor to plates.

Ms. Ostlund said that statewide estimates call for 1 million boxes of avocados this season. Brooks grows on about 3,100 acres and produces about half of the states volume. The majority of the commercial crop is located in the Miami-Dade area in south Florida.

If you think about where most commercial volumes of avocados are produced, such as the Hass variety, you find climates that are typically hot and dry, said Ms. Ostlund. But south Florida is anything but dry -- its hot and very humid. It is understandable that a different kind of avocado would flourish in this region. The SlimCado is naturally grown without [genetically modified organisms]. The result is a great tasting, lower fat and calorie avocado.

Volume statewide is expected to be about 10 percent lower than last year, but that is good news.

Florida avocado trees have an alternative annual growing cycle, so this figure is pretty impressive for a lower-volume year, she said. We have learned how to keep the trees pruned and manicured in ways that enable the trees to yield larger crops during the lower cycle year. It looks like a great season overall.

Brooks Tropicals started picking SlimCado avocados in mid-May. In mid- June, the company will be up to commercial volumes. In July, August and even into September, promotional opportunities will be prime for the abundant crop. Ms. Ostlund said the fruit is good size and high quality.

The volume in Florida has decreased since Hurricane Andrew devastated the area in 1992, she added. But SlimCado volumes have increased because we have gotten so good at growing them.