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Avocado market strengthens as Mexican shipments wane and California fruit sizes

The California avocado deal has been hampered by a plethora of small-sized fruit, with Mexican producers providing most of the larger fruit for the past couple of months. But the avocado market is on an uptick as Mexico moves into a typical lag period and California fruit begins to have a more diverse size portfolio.

Rob Wedin, vice president of fresh sales for Calavo Growers Inc. in Santa Paula, CA, told The Produce News that "Mexico is barely importing any small fruit at all, while packers in California are getting better sizing every day."

The result, he said, is a strengthening in the market. He said Mexico's fruit, which has largely ranged from 32-48s, was down in volume the last week in June and should be down for most of July. It will be August, he predicted, before Mexico gets into big volume shipments again as its new crop begins.

At the same time, California is expected to have good size and good volume well into October.

At the beginning of the season, the California crop was estimated at about 515 million pounds, which is a big-volume crop. The smaller fruit during the first third of the season has reduced the estimate a bit, but most observers still expect it to be very close to the 500 million-pound figure.

Illustrating the size issue was Mark Carroll, senior director of purchasing and merchandising for produce and floral for Gelson's Markets, which is a Southern California chain of 16 upscale stores.

Gelson's typically supports the California avocado growers when their crop is in season, but this year it was mid-June before he was able to find enough large fruit for his conventional displays.

He said he was able to switch to organic avocados from California early in the season because he uses a 48 size in his organic displays. But he just wasn't able to find enough of the 40 size and larger fruit for his conventional displays until mid-June.

Wedin said that most of the larger California Hass avocados that have been available are "Lamb Hass," which is a slightly different variety though it does have the "Hass" designation and as the season wears on it is hardly distinguishable from the regular Hass. It does have a slightly smoother skin, especially early in the season.

Bob Lucy, who is a partner and handles sales at Del Rey Avocado Co. in Fallbrook, CA, cautioned that while the fruit is getting larger, it may be several weeks before there are consistent supplies across all sizes.

Lucy said many growers have been size picking for two months, literally taking any fruit with any size at all off the trees. So even though the fruit is now sizing at a much faster clip, he said it is going to take several weeks to completely fill the pipeline of all sizes.

So during the last week of June, the shipment of smaller fruit (60-72) from California actually increased as a percentage of total volume while larger fruit (40 and 48) declined, according to Lucy

Of course this was also caused by a several-dollar jump in the market place, which saw a strong demand for many sizes.

By the last week of June, the U.S. Market News Service reported that larger fruit from California was selling in the $35 to $37 range, while the smaller fruit was in the $28 to $30 range. Some of the smaller fruit was being sold in bags for attractive retail pricing on multiples.