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Record avocado movement seen as Super Bowl period approaches

by Rand Green | January 24, 2010
Demand for Hass avocados in the United States has grown at a steady pace for a number of years, but for the last couple of years, annual volume had plateaued at around 1 billion pounds due to limited availability of supply. This year, Hass avocado movement in the United States is expected to reach a record 1.35 billion pounds, with good volumes available from California, Mexico and Chile.

Mexico, which ships year round, has been exporting exceptionally high volumes of Hass to the United States since the second week in January, as Super Bowl weekend, traditionally the biggest time of the year for avocado promotions, approaches.

Chile has also been shipping large volumes of fruit, but Chilean arrivals are expected to taper off following the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the California harvest is underway and is expected to ramp up as the Chilean season winds down.

"We have seen very good numbers coming through," said Luis Obregon, executive director of the Irvine, CA-based Hass Avocado Board, which coordinates promotional activities for all Hass avocados in the United States regardless of source. "We have seen a lot of promotional activities leaning toward [the] Super Bowl, which is great. I have seen various ads out there on avocados" in retail stores, and the favorable price points are "really motivating the consumption of the product," he said.

In addition to all the usual promotional activity around the Super Bowl, the board and the industry as a whole this year have "made a good effort of starting earlier in the weeks leading up to [the] Super Bowl," Mr. Obregon said. That has generated "increasing interest" in avocados not only for Feb. 7, the day of the big game, but also for the playoffs.

There has been a lot of "activity in the market," he continued. "Prices are, I think, at an appropriate level for the amount of inventory we have. What is interesting is the amount of fruit that is coming through from all of the various sources."

From July through December 2009, Mexico exported just over 265 million pounds of avocados to the United States, according to Emiliano Escobedo, marketing director for the Avocado Producers & Exporting Packers Association of Michoacán, commonly known by its acronym APEAM. That is 16 million pounds below projections for the period, but APEAM continues to project a total of 705 million pounds of fruit for the U.S. market for the marketing year - July through June. "We are projecting 233 million" pounds for the January-through-June period and 200 million pounds for the second quarter, he said.

Average avocado movements in the United States for the last two or three years have been around 20 million pounds a week. During the second week of January this year, Mexico alone put 21 million pounds of fruit on the market, according to Mr. Escobedo. In addition to that, importers of Chilean avocados have been bringing in a significant amount of fruit.

Chile's total U.S. exports this year will be down somewhat from expectations, according to Maggie Bezart, marketing director of the Chilean Avocado Importers Association. "We projected 310 million pounds," which would have been a 70 percent increase over last year, but "growers are finishing much sooner than anticipated," and there is good demand in other overseas markets. She now expects total volume coming into the United States to be around 285 million pounds. "We are not cutting back on our Super Bowl supplies," she said. "It will be after the Super Bowl period" that the decline will occur.

That "will be good because California supplies will be picking up" and many importers of Chilean avocados are also growers of California fruit, Ms. Bezart added.

California has projected a 2010 crop of 470 million pounds, up from a scant 170 million last year, according to Jan DeLyser, director of marketing for the California Avocado Commission. The harvest was underway, and "we have seen some good early size," she said Jan. 19. "We will see the harvest accelerate through March and into April, and our marketing programs are going to roll out in mid-April and run through September."

There are customers "who have been really eager to get their hands on some California fruit," she said.

Bob Lucy, president of Del Rey Avocado Co. in Fallbrook, CA, who is on the board of directors of both the Chilean Avocado Importers Association and the California Avocado Commission, said Jan. 19, "The Chilean season is going to wind up in two to three weeks. Mexico is really cranking in. California is trying to get started." California growers are hoping to see prices go up "another couple of dollars a box," putting another 4 cents per dollar "in their pockets" before they begin picking heavy volumes. "Growers are watching what the price is, and if Chile steps out, California growers can get started," he said.

Following last year's water shortage, recent rains should help by leaching salts out of the soil and helping fruit to size more quickly "going into the spring," he said.