With a 2014 California Hass avocado crop estimated at around 300 million pounds, down from 505 million the prior year, the California Avocado Commission anticipates that the bulk of the crop will be shipped during a more condensed marketing window this year. "We project that we will have volume availability in the mid- to late April timeframe leading into Cinco de Mayo," with the peak harvest period continuing through Labor Day, said Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the commission.
Unlike last year, when the larger crop was shipped over a more extended season and commission promotional programs, geared to move volume early, started with March Madness and Easter, this year the commission will begin its promotional activities with the Cinco de Mayo pull and continue through August.
The commission will engage in "a lot of promotional activity and efforts" for Cinco de Mayo "and then for the American summer holidays -- Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day," DeLyser said.
In addition to the holidays focus, "we have some snacking initiatives that are going to be taking place." Also, the commission will "continue with the breakfast promotion that we started last year," she said.
The goal of the programs is "to create or generate new ideas and usage across all day parts," she said. "With the trends in snacking being so prevalent, it just makes sense to do all we can to get creative usage ideas into the hands and mouths of consumers."
The commission will be doing general market radio advertising throughout the promotional period in the core markets for California avocados -- "basically the Western region," which encompasses the Pacific Northwest markets of Portland, OR, and Seattle, and the California markets of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego, as well as "over into Phoenix," DeLyser said. Also, "we are ... looking at Denver and Salt Lake City" in Utah.
During the summer, "we will do outdoor billboards in those same markets" along with "a lot of in-store radio activity ... so we are on the air waves at point of purchase."
As was the case last year, the commission will be running television advertising in California markets throughout the last week of June and the first week of July in an effort to bolster California avocado sales for the Fourth of July.
New this year is a multi-faceted promotional contest for retailers that the commission is calling a Five Star Performance program, DeLyser said. "Basically it is a contest for retailers who are going to promote California avocados, and it allows them to win prizes based on points," which are awarded for performance in five categories.
The categories are in-store support, feature ad activity, displays, digital media and an open category for miscellaneous activities, "because so many retailers have their own initiatives," such as promotional communications by supermarket registered dieticians, "and we want to support that. We are calling that category 'Etc.,' " she said.
The Five Star Performance competition will run from April 15 through Sept. 1. "At the end of the seasons, we will total points and award prizes," DeLyser said. The grand prize will be valued at $5,000 in cash and prizes. In addition, there will be five tier one prizes at $2,500 and 10 tier two prizes at $1,000.
"We are looking to generate some activity in season with that promotion with participating retailers," she continued. "It is the first time we have done that. We have done display contests and advertising contests, but we thought we'd tie it all together and allow for creativity."
The commission will also be continuing with its supermarket dietitians' outreach, she said. "We have a resource manual that we started last year, and we are adding to it this year" with a new section featuring the snacking initiative. "We will post that online on the website as well as distribute a hard copy" to those who prefer.
As reported previously in The Produce News, the commission recently introduced a consumer blog, called The Scoop, designed to encourage demand and increase awareness of California avocados. "CAC continuously upgrades communication vehicles to be in sync with consumer behavior," said DeLyser in a press release announcing the launch. "The goal of The Scoop blog is to be the hub of compelling content that resonates with California avocados' target audience and brings the heart of the brand to life."
The Scoop content "will center on four content areas: culinary, wellness and nutrition, holidays and eating occasions, news articles about California avocados and consumer stories." It will integrate with the CAC promotional campaign, the release stated. "CAC recipes plus recipes from blogger partners and other credible sources will support key initiatives. The blog will incorporate California avocados into timely food trends, feature artisan chefs and provide cooking tips for home chefs of all experience levels. Contests also will align with commission marketing plans around American summer holidays, with a special emphasis on the Fourth of July."
The commission is engaged as well in what DeLyser called a "behind-the-label sticker initiative," working with avocado handlers on "calling out more prominently" the California origin of the avocados on stickers placed on the fruit and also on bag headers.
"Bagged avocado sales are increasing," she said. The graphics being developed for the bag header "will have a similar look to the 'Hand Grown in California' logo, but will feature the California name."
Two options are being developed for stickers. One is for a second sticker in addition to the packer's existing PLU and bar code sticker. The other, for those who prefer to use just a single sticker, has a design that calls out California "very prominently" on the PLU sticker itself.
"We did some tests on it this year with consumers and with retailers, and it was well received," DeLyser said. In fact, it was "so well received we thought we'd move it forward" from its originally scheduled 2015 launch. It is now scheduled to start hitting the marketplace during the 2014 season.