The good news about the avocado market in the United States is that consumer demand is "going through the roof," according to Ross Wileman, vice president of sales and marketing at Mission Produce Inc. in Oxnard, CA. The current challenge is that for the next few months, there will not be enough supplies available to meet that demand.
"As I try to explain it to people, last year we [as an industry] moved on average 23 to 30 million pounds a week in the United States," he said. "This year, the summer months could be 16 to 19 million pounds, so it is at least 30 percent off, and you have an emerging global market that is wanting fruit as well."
Japan, Soouth Korea and Europe are all growing markets for avocados that might otherwise be sold in the United States, and "Canada is increasing in their volume all the time," Mr. Wileman said. "So that puts undue pressure on the market."
As a result, "we are in trouble," purely for want of supplies, he said. "We have just come out of a season where Chile, because of a freeze, had much less fruit than they normally would." Moreover, Chile had "a very good European market, so they elected to send whatever they had mostly to Europe, as opposed to the United States."
California's 2011 avocado crop will be about half the size it was in 2010, he said. "Mexico has tried to fill the void," but because of the resulting increase in shipments "is starting to slow down on their volume."
The main Mexico season typically comes to an end about the middle of May, "and then they would go into what they call the flora loca season, which is their off-bloom fruit," he said. But this year, the flora loca "appears to be very light," so California growers are anticipating "that markets should be extremely good in June, July and August this year." Because of that, "they have no desire to pick early," and those growers who are picking "are probably doing it for cash flow or cultural reasons."
Because of tightening supplies, "we have seen in about a two-week period the market go up about $20, from $30 to $50," Mr. Wileman said March 7. "And that is not the peak, from what I anticipate."
On the positive side, "quality will be excellent," and sizing should be above normal just because of the light crop, he said. And from a supply situation, "there is light at the end of the tunnel." Beginning in September, Chile will come in with what is projected to be a larger crop. Also, "Mexico will have a larger crop" that will be coming into the market around the same time. And the 2012 California crop is expected to return to normal.
For the current California crop, the northern districts appear to be "a little better off" than the southern districts, Mr. Wileman observed. Among other things, growers in the south "have their own problems with the water issues," which has caused some growers to take out some avocado acreage. By contrast, "there are plantings going in" in the northern districts, although "it will take some time" to bring them into production," he concluded.