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Harvest is now underway for the 2010 California avocado crop, which is estimated at 470 million pounds -- up dramatically from just 170 million pounds in 2009 -- which promises to provide some excellent promotional opportunities for retailers, according to Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the California Avocado Commission.

Retail sales data show that even last year, the six-month period from April through September, when California avocados were at their peak, provided retailers with increased revenues compared to the prior six-month period, she said Feb. 23. And those opportunities should be even greater with this year's much-larger crop.

In fact, with good volumes of fruit expected to be harvested in March, those opportunities were expected to begin even before the harvest reaches peak volume.

"A lot of research that we have demonstrates some really good retail potential during that time frame when California [fruit] is available," Ms. DeLyser said. It is also the time period that avocado demand is at its highest level, and that is partly due to the "years of marketing support and effort and communications" that the commission has put into building avocado demand during the "spring-through-fall time frame."

IRI Fresh Look data on retail sales are "a good indication" of the strong dollar sales potential for avocados during the California season, she said. "It is demonstrated by recent retail activity, as reported by IRI Fresh Look," that the April-to-September period in 2009 "delivered an additional $108 million in retail [sales] to the total avocado category, versus the previous six months." Increases in retail dollar volume for the avocado category as well as increases in retail unit sales for the category were seen "across all regions of the country."

Nor is it just a one-year phenomenon. The IRI Fresh Look data show retail dollar volume for avocados during the April-through-September period outpacing the previous six months for each of the past three years, she said. The 2010 season should provide even greater opportunities for retailers than were seen during the past couple of years, due to the larger volume of fruit available from California during the months when avocado demand is highest.

"I think the fact that we are going to have more volume out of California that will be available during that April-through-September time frame" will increase those opportunities, Ms. DeLyser said. Retailers can cash in on those opportunities "with ripe programs" and also "with secondary displays." Retailers may offer, for example, displays of large fruit with secondary bulk displays or bag displays with smaller sizes.

Late-winter rains kept the harvest a little lighter than anticipated through February, but "the handlers that we have spoken to all indicate that their growers are looking to … begin harvesting in good amounts in March. That will pick up speed [through] March and into April," and then continue with heavy volume into the fall. The recent rainfall was expected to assist with increased sizing on the fruit.

Chile, which had a larger volume of avocados during the winter period than a year ago, was beginning to transition out of the market as of late February. Although some importers still had Chilean fruit arriving, "most of them are winding down very rapidly" and in fact a little more rapidly than had originally been anticipated Ms. DeLyser said. "I think they thought they would be shipping through March in greater volume. So there is good opportunity for California to come in and pick up those numbers … that they were shipping." Already "we've got a number of retailers who have requested California fruit and who have made the switch," she said. "I think you will see that transition taking place in certain markets over the next few weeks."

Quality of the early-season California fruit has been "really exceptional," she said. "It is beautiful fruit externally," and it has shown "nice maturity" and good eating quality since January.