Originally printed in the September 2019 issue of Produce Business.
Following last year’s record Mexican crop, growers hope to keep building on sales momentum.
A generation ago, avocados were highly seasonal, domestically grown and available for just a few summer months. With global produce supply and massive expansion in Mexico, avocados can meet consumer expectations year-round. The popularity of avocados is the envy of the industry as a produce item that nearly promotes itself. The fall avocado season differs somewhat from the spring and summer, necessitating a rethink of retail marketing strategies.
Rely On Supply
“Mexico is the big player in the fall,” says Colin Fain, founder and chief executive of Agronometrics in Geneva, Switzerland, which helps the industry make data driven-commercial decisions and identify market opportunities. “The question this year pertains to the size of the crop from Mexico. Mexico is coming off its biggest year ever in 2018–2019, and reports differ on whether this year’s crop will be smaller or larger. So early fall prices could be lower, depending on the volume of late summer/early fall crops from California and Peru.”
Jennifer Anazawa, category manager, Mission Produce, Oxnard, CA, says, “We’re anticipating a normal size curve heading into fall with excellent quality, flavor and texture. As volume ramps up in Mexico, we should see prices come down and provide some relief from the high prices we saw over the summer.”
Chile also supplies a modest volume of avocados. “During 2018–2019, Chile exported roughly 65 million pounds of avocados to the United States, which is similar to what we expect this year,” says Karen Brux, director of marketing for the Chilean Avocado Importers Association, Washington, DC. “Dry matter is taking longer to develop this season but weather conditions have been good, with no freezes or very cold weather.” Chilean avocados are available mainly in Western U.S. markets.
Although the season for California avocados usually does not extend into the fall, this year’s crop may be available through September because of its late start.
Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the California Avocado Commission, Irvine, CA, explains that harvest timing varies every year based on crop size, weather and market conditions. “The Hass avocado makes up about 96% of the California crop, and quality has been exceptional this year,” she says.
The supply of green-skin avocados from Florida and the Dominican Republic is expected to be normal this fall. Peter Leifermann, vice president of sales and marketing for Brooks Tropicals, Homestead, FL, notes that as the volume of Florida fruit begins to recede in September, fruit from the Dominican Republic becomes more available by late October. Fruit size varies throughout the fall.
According to Liefermann, “Florida fruit size in September is generally even larger than it is during the summer months. Dominican fruit begins with small-to-medium avocados.” Brooks markets approximately 20 total and 10 main varieties over the course of the year, including its best-known SlimCado.
The SlimCado has up to half the fat of and a third fewer calories than the Hass avocado. “The most significant way consumers identify SlimCados, besides the label, is by their huge size — they average more than a pound and a half per piece,” says Liefermann. “The two main varieties change color from green to reddish and black as they ripen.” He suggests the sheer size of SlimCados lends itself to larger displays.
Optimal handling at retail helps retain avocado quality in any season. Mission Produce recently partnered with Hazel Technologies, Salinas, CA, to include Avolast, a 1-MCP technology that conditions the storage atmosphere to reduce respiration rate and increase resistance to ethylene in its avocado shipments. “As the season progresses, avocado dry matter will increase, and days of shelf life will decrease because fruit ripens faster,” explains Anazawa. “So Avolast is especially beneficial in extending shelf-life and maintaining internal quality.”
Through The Uprights
“Although demand for avocados is growing steadily year by year, it levels off in the fall after the Cinco de Mayo, Memorial Day, and Fourth of July trio of summer holidays,” says Doug Meyer, senior vice president of sales and marketing for West Pak Avocado, Murrieta, CA. “Halloween offers an added bump in sales while tailgating provides steady guac-fueled transactions throughout the fall. We’re also finding more retailers are including avocados in their pumpkin patch-themed produce offerings for Halloween and as part of the cornucopia of fall goodness for Thanksgiving,” he says.
“The fall is an ideal time to market avocados,” says Stephanie Bazan, vice president of market development for Avocados from Mexico (AFM), Irving, TX. “Football is the No. 1 sport in the country, so it is a natural fit for Avocados From Mexico, the number one brand of avocados, to align its marketing program with the sport that is an American tradition. Guacamole plays a key role in the fall, given all of the key celebrations and occasions that occur from September to early December.
“Whether tailgating or even ‘homegating,’ avocados have a place on the plate. This time period is recognized by most major CPG brands in the grocery aisle as they leverage the football thematic on their packaging and/or promotional offers that tie in to popular football sports teams, ” she says.
Retailers agree. Patrick Mills, director of produce and floral for Lucky’s Market, a 39-store national retail chain based in Niwot, CO, notes that, “Football themes are popular in the fall, as are related party themes and occasions for guacamole. We encourage our stores to work together to create a fall destination for avocados. We love contests and we encourage stores to build a “theater” in their stores for contests among employees. It makes work and life more fun.”
Lucky’s Market also ties into college games and runs weekly ads that partner avocados with tomatoes, onions, garlic and/or cilantro. Mills notes consumers want value, so avocado price is a factor in the fall.
“Avocado is our MVP during football season,” says Rob Ybarra, director of produce and floral for Coborn’s, a retail chain of 26 stores based in St. Cloud, MN. “Our biggest challenge is meeting demand, as we are outselling the supply source for the Midwest.”
Partnering For Ideas
Trade associations are natural partners for retailers.
“When it comes to avocados, consumers need to be educated on how to purchase, prepare and serve them,” says Bazan. “Avocados From Mexico recently performed in-depth research and found ripening and preserving of avocados are key areas of concern to consumers. Our new AFM Education Playbook has guidelines that give retailers insights for positioning and strategy around Avocados From Mexico.” AFM is gearing up for Savor Your Heritage (September) and Tastiest Tailgate (October) campaigns this fall.
Avocados from Mexico also tailor distinct marketing campaigns to Hispanic consumers. One past Hispanic marketing program, “Toast to your Heritage,” served to remind Hispanic consumers of the connection between avocado consumption and their heritage. Avocados from Mexico has specifically targeted Hispanic Millennial women between the ages of 25 and 44 through a broad array of traditional and social media.
Promotions from the Chilean Avocado Importers Association kick off in September and will run into early 2020.
“This includes direct retail support, social media, influencer and media dietitian partnerships, event marketing and both TV/digital advertising,” says Brux.
“We work one-on-one with retailers to develop customized programs, and for those retailers wanting merchandising materials, we have POS cards available on our website,” she says. “Additionally, we will be engaging in a trade-marketing program to build awareness of Chile as a trusted source of supply for premium avocados. This will include both advertising and a new trade e-newsletter program. We also offer recipe images and videos that showcase creative fall/winter usages for Avocados from Chile, for example, an avocado ceviche that’s perfect for game day, Halloween-themed deviled eggs and the ever-popular avocado toast.”
The Chilean Avocado Importers Association also sponsors events. “For the second year, we’ll be sponsoring the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival, and offering some delicious, innovative avocado-inspired dishes at their Grand Tasting event on Nov. 16 of this year,” Brux says. “We’ll also be joining the Fit Foodie Run in San Diego on Oct. 12. Both of these events take place during the heart of Chilean avocado season and offer us the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the great taste, versatility and health benefits of avocados,” says Brux.
“California avocados have a very loyal fan base,” says DeLyser. “The California Avocado Commission maintains contact with our fans during non-peak months through email newsletters, The Scoop blog and our social channels. We shift our messaging during non-peak months, and then prior to the start of the season, we let them know the California avocado crop is coming, building anticipation for the season and fruit availability.”
Fixings for guacamole make natural partners in the produce department. “Guacamole has become such a popular snack to have at football tailgates and parties,” says Samantha McCaul, marketing manager for Concord Foods LLC, Brockton, MA. “We offer our Concord Fresh Success brand guacamole mixes in five varieties — Mild, Extra Spicy, Authentic, Classic Mild and Classic Extra Spicy. Packaged in single-use pouches, consumers simply add two ripe avocados to the mix to make two cups of guacamole dip. Placement of guacamole mixes in the produce department will boost sales of avocados.” Concord Foods offers a themed shipper display for football season that brings interest and variety to the produce department and convenience to customers.
Research conducted by Avocados from Mexico concludes that “avocados’ rich, creamy texture and satisfying taste stretches shoppers’ perception beyond produce into more hedonic items like meats and cheeses.”
Strategic placements of avocados in different departments can strengthen shoppers’ associations with different consumption occasions – AFM notes that 74% of shoppers report they would buy more avocados if they saw more “displays around the store” to remind them.
Diversifying On Size
Distributors and retailers agree that produce departments should carry more than one size of avocado. West Pak offers a popular bagged avocado with year-round retail options, both conventional and organic versions of its I Love Avocados brand, and Lil’ Cads. “Lil’ Cads sales are growing quickly because more avocado lovers are opting for single-serving, no-waste sizes of their favorite green fruit,” says Meyer. “Also, retailers like carrying at least two sizes of avocados,” he says.
Mission Produce offers a usage guide for various sizes of avocados.
“It is always a good idea to carry a comprehensive assortment of avocados with two bulk sizes, bagged fruit and an organic offering,” says Mission Produce’s Anazawa. “We’ve found consumers really gravitate toward a particular size based on their usage needs. Small fruit is excellent for single-serve sandwiches, salads and toast, while larger sizes are perfect for family meals and party size dips. No matter the size, you can expect the same creamy, delicious flavor,” she says.
Ybarra of Coborn’s likes to promote multiple purchasing — for example, five avocados for $5. “We also get great feedback from customers on our six smaller, snack-size 84s in a bag. The pit is smaller so they get a higher proportion of flesh.”
“Sizing is key,” says Mills, of Lucky’s. “We offer two sizes, a smaller and a larger, because not everyone feeds the same number of people at the dinner table. Smaller is good for two people because they can finish the whole thing without having to wrap and store extra. The larger avocado offers value in price and can feed more people.”
Market On Health
Gone are the days of banishing healthy foods that happen to be high in fat. Avocados are nutrient-dense and abundant in vitamins and minerals. Avocados from Mexico aligns key messaging with health benefits, focusing on cardiovascular health, weight management, healthy living and Type 2 diabetes, and promotes avocados as a first food for infants and a food to build healthy eating habits among children.
“As the awareness of the health benefits of avocados continues to soar, more consumers are open to ways of substituting avocados in place of rich or high-fat foods traditionally served during fall events and holidays,” says West Pak’s Meyer. “Providing recipes to consumers and grouping the makings for fall and holiday dishes will help generate both sales and health awareness.”