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California avocados 2015 — more fruit, earlier and bigger

For the 2015 season, the California avocado industry has hit the trifecta in terms of positive attributes. The crop is about a month earlier, there will be about 10 percent more volume in terms of pounds and the fruit itself is larger.

“We are expecting better size distribution than last year,” said Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the Irvine, CA-based California Avocado Commission. “The fruit on the trees is larger.”CalAvos-Crop-webThis season’s crop of California avocados is running early.

She said there was a greater percentage of smaller fruit last season but that doesn’t seem to be an issue this year. In the early going (February and March), only 40- and 48-count fruit is being taken off the trees and sent to market. But unlike last year, there was a lot of that fruit available in that late winter/early spring period, indicating that the fruit is sizing very well and will continue to do so throughout the season

Bob Lucy, co-owner of Del Rey Avocado Co. in Fallbrook, CA, said he had no trouble finding some good early homes for his January fruit. He said several retailers — especially a few upscale ones in the Northern California market — were very excited to get started with California avocados as soon as they could. Several of these retailers used California fruit to take advantage of the lift in sales that typically surrounds the Super Bowl, which was played on Feb. 1 this year. Parties held in conjunction with the Super Bowl are prime guacamole-eating affairs and a great sales opportunity for retailers.

As the season moves forward, DeLyser said, CAC is poised to help retailers with market level promotions and customized merchandising plans. The market-level promotions will take place in key Western markets, including the top cities in California, the Northwest, the Southwest and Rocky Mountain states. The commission and its merchandising staff work closely with California avocado handlers to identify markets, timing and key accounts in both foodservice and retail. “The majority of these accounts are in the key Western markets but not all,” she said. “We have accounts all over the country who realize the value of marketing a domestically grown avocado with attributes cited by consumers such as freshness, taste and reliability.”

The marketing of California avocados has changed tremendously in the past two decades. In the 1990s, California avocados represented about 85 percent of all avocados sold in the United States with limited production from Chile representing most of the rest. In those years, U.S. consumption would have been around 500 million pounds on average, depending almost exclusively on the size of the California crop. Today, California still produces 300 million pounds to 400 million pounds on average. But this year, with more than 2 billion pounds expected to be consumed, California’s production may represent only about 16 percent of total consumption. Mexico is the largest contributor to total volume, followed by California and then Peru. Chile still sends some fruit to the United States, but it has found other outlets for its volume, including markets closer to home.

California no longer has sufficient volume to fill U.S. demand. This year, handlers of California avocados expect to market the vast majority of that fruit from March to August, and as mentioned, the majority of those sales will be in the Western half of the United States.

DeLyser said many accounts find great value in promoting the point of origin of the fruit. For those geographically close to the growing areas, the “locally grown” label works very well. For those a bit farther away — even on the East Coast — the “Hand Grown from California” tagline of the California Avocado Commission seems to resonate. Much research has shown that while local is great what consumers are really after is knowing where their fruits and vegetables come from, and having some kind of connection with the grower. CAC has been capitalizing on this notion for the last several years by highlighting individual growers through various avenues, including its extensive use of social media.

DeLyser said the California point of origin ensures that the fruit is the freshest avocado on the shelf with a superior shelf life at retail. Several marketers agreed that California has been successful in carving out a premium niche for its avocados.

CAC supports its target accounts in a variety of ways. In the Western markets, the commission offers consumer demand, building market-level support featuring media buys, in-store radio and social media promotions. For the accounts within those markets, as well as others across the country, CAC offers individual, customized merchandising programs.

The commission will target some of its promotional efforts around summer consumption events such as Cinco de Mayo, Memorial Day Weekend and Fourth of July CAC. Fourth of July in 2014 was the largest avocado consumption event ever as it was estimated that almost 110 million pounds were consumed in that marketing period. That record was surpassed earlier this year with about 122 million pounds of avocados being consumed during the weekend that included the Super Bowl.

Though the majority of California fruit will be consumed prior to Labor Day, there is expected to be some volume available for that holiday as well as through September and even into October from the state’s most northern growing districts.