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CAC targets devoted retailers with late supplies

It has been a challenging year for California avocado growers who have seen a freeze, high winds, devastating fires and a scorching heat wave exact a toll on its production. Still, California is expected to produce about 300 million pounds this year, which is 100 million pounds less than once thought but also 100 million pounds more than the previous year.

“It has been a particularly challenging year for our growers,” said California Avocado Commission Vice President Jan DeLyser. “What stands out is the resiliency of the growers.”

summer Despite the fact that expectations have not been met, California has had a solid season with premium pricing throughout and a long list of devoted fans and retailers that continue to support the California brand.

“While the majority of our fruit is sold in California, we have a list of ‘Tier 1’ accounts that includes retailers in many regions, including South Africa, Japan, New York and Texas,” she said. “These are customers devoted to California avocados when available.”

The increased volume over last year during the middle of the season allowed shippers to expand sales to a larger group of customers, but DeLyser said as the season winds down it is the Tier 1 accounts that will be carrying the California fruit as long as possible.

For summer sales, CAC has developed an online promotion with Pandora, the online music provider. The promotion features a special California playlist — California Avocado Summer — as well as an opportunity for listeners to download a recipe booklet developed by Chef Phillip Frankland Lee of Top Chef fame. The recipes, of course, feature California avocados in many different uses and is called the California Avocado Summer Soundtrack Cookbook.

As the season has progressed, CAC has been involved in various promotions to spread the word about California avocados. In July, it took part in several California festivals giving away California avocado-flavored popsicles.

“They are really good,” DeLyser said.

As CAC’s longtime marketing vice president nears her 20th year with the commission, she mentioned that the produce industry mantra that no two seasons are alike definitely rings true with avocados. But there are similarities. With this season winding down, CAC’s board, which is made up of growers from throughout the state, is starting to analyze the year and discover lessons learned.

“Our sweet spot continues to be in the March-through-September timeframe,” said DeLyser. “However, there are opportunities for retailers who want to get out ahead and start with California fruit earlier than that.”

That definitely was the case this year as several California retailers began carrying and promoting the state’s avocados prior to the Super Bowl in early February. But DeLyser said the majority of California avocado-centric retailers favor sticking with that point of origin once they make the switch. For that group, the March start date is optimal, with total volume determining just how late in the year California avocados will be available.

It is expected that sometime in September preliminary discussions about the size of the 2019 crop will begin. The avocado is typically an alternate-bearing fruit tree, meaning that big years are usually followed by smaller crop years. This year was a heavier-than-usual year at the outset, so early expectations were that 2019 would produce less volume. And the summer heat wave did result in some 2019 fruit “drop.”

But DeLyser said it is clearly too soon to tell how big that crop will be. There are many weather factors — both good and bad — that will have a lot to say about the crop size over the next six months … and beyond.