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With early-season shipments of California avocados underway and volume expected to increase in February and March, the California Avocado Commission expects broad availability from April through September and plans for a marketing campaign to support the fruit nationwide.

"The heavy rainstorms in California in January were welcomed by most growers because the moisture enhances fruit sizing," Tom Bellamore, president of the commission, said in a Feb. 16 press release. "The forecast for this season's crop is in excess of 470 million pounds with exceptional quality, which means national distribution of California avocados will be available."

According to data from IRI/Fresh Look, retail avocado dollar sales from April through September, when California avocados are at the peak of their season, have outpaced the prior six months for the past three years. This equates to an additional $292 million in retail business and 116 million more avocados in just three seasons. The commission hopes to continue this trend, encouraging demand at retail and foodservice via a fresh approach to its well-received California avocado grower marketing campaign.

This season's campaign will take on heightened California branding. Appealing to consumer interest in the locally grown movement and the American farmer, the California avocado grower story will continue but with a fresh graphic look that emphasizes California heritage and craftsmanship.

To build consumer demand for California avocados, the commission plans to advertise nationally in epicurean and lifestyle magazines as well as through on-line media. The campaign will overlay that support with radio, billboards, health club posters and shopping cart ads in more mature avocado markets.

"We will invest $9 million in marketing this year, which is similar to the commission's marketing budget during 2005-06, the year of the largest California crop in history," Mr. Bellamore added in the press release.

On-line marketing and public relations continue to play a significant role in the commission's consumer outreach. A fresh design of www.CaliforniaAvocado.com will highlight the "Insist on California Avocados" message and encourage expanded avocado usage. The commission also will engage with loyal fans and advocates via social media, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, with frequent news and videos from California avocado growers and chefs.

In the retail arena, California avocado merchandising will include display bins, recipe cards, point-of-sale materials, market-specific overlays and support to implement avocado-handling best practices.

Foodservice is another key component of the commission's plan to increase demand for California avocados. Innovative menu concepts and customized menu promotions during California's peak avocado season will support foodservice operators and management companies.