With consumption high, retailers can capitalize during the fall season.
Twenty-plus years ago, purchasing an avocado at the supermarket to put on a leftover Thanksgiving turkey sandwich was just about impossible. That’s because domestic supplies out of California weren’t in season and phytosanitary restrictions prevented imports from Mexico. Today, thanks to imports from the U.S.’s southern neighbor as well as Chile — and soon Colombia — Thanksgiving ranks among America’s Top 13 holidays throughout the year for avocado sales, according to the Mission Viejo, CA-headquartered Hass Avocado Board’s (HAB) Autumn Holiday and Events 2016 report. What this means is autumn is an excellent time for imaginative merchandising and plentiful promotions of avocados.
“Fall doesn’t have the big events like the Super Bowl, although for us avocados are one of our Top 5 categories year-round,” says Jeff Fairchild, produce buyer for New Seasons Market, a 20-store chain based in Portland, OR. “What we are looking forward to this fall is supply increasing as we get into Mexico’s main season and prices dropping. Expect big promotions from us.”
Supply & Availability
Hass avocados, the major variety sold in the United States, are supplied nationwide and year-round from four main areas: California, Peru, Mexico and Chile.
“The past 12 months have been frustrating for the trade with shortages and skyrocketing prices due to a strike in Mexico last fall, hot dry weather in California that made for a short season and being an off-year for some producing areas; avocados are an alternate bearing crop,” says Andy Hamilton, chief executive of Eco Farms in Fallbrook, CA. “The second half of 2017 and all of 2018 should see much more stability in supply and pricing.”
This year, California wrapped up its avocado season in August.
“Peru shipped 125 to 135 million pounds of fruit, double last year, during a tight 16-week season that ran from mid-May to mid-August, with some fruit remaining in the market through September,” says Xavier Equihua, chief executive and president of the Washington, D.C.-headquartered Peruvian Avocado Commission (PAC).
Mexico dominates the supply of avocados into the United States during the fall, starting with the country’s new crop coming into full production by September. Supplies are forecast to average 40 million pounds per week during this time of year, according to data supplied by Irving, TX-based marketing group Avocados from Mexico (AFM).
“Supplies are best in October; but they are also good in November and early December,” says Rob Wedin, vice president of fresh sales and marketing for Calavo Growers Inc. in Santa Paula, CA.
According to Karen Brux, director of marketing for the Chilean Avocados Importers Association, San Carlos, CA, arrivals of fruit from Chile are expected to start in September and continue into March 2018. “Chile’s avocado volume increased from roughly 180,000 tons in 2015-16 to more than 210,000 tons in 2016-17. The United States received about 14 percent (nearly 30,000 tons), with Europe continuing to serve as Chile’s largest export market. Consumption in Chile continues to be very strong, so 30 percent of the crop was sold domestically. As of July, we expect volume to the United States in 2017-18 to be similar to last year, although with more rains sizing should be somewhat larger.”
In the fall, as well as all seasons, the biggest challenge is generating the supply for the demand, says Robb Bertels, vice president of marketing for Mission Produce, Oxnard, CA. “That’s why we source product from multiple countries of origin throughout the year.”
In July, Mission signed an agreement to market and distribute avocados grown by Cartama, the largest producer of Hass avocados in Colombia, in Europe. Colombia produces avocados year-round; however peak harvest periods span from May to August and September to April.
On August 13, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced an agreement to allow export of Colombian avocados to the United States going forward.
The demand for organically grown avocados, like its conventional counterpart, is extremely high, says Bertels. “Organic fruit is available from all origins, but it is still a very small, but growing, part of the business. During the fall, production from Mexico will ramp up, and should help to fill a large portion of the demand.”
In addition to the Hass variety, greenskin avocados, a favorite of customers with Caribbean heritage, are grown in South Florida and imported from the Dominican Republic from June to February by Brooks Tropicals in Homestead, FL. “Last year was a really light volume year for greenskin avocados, but we except volumes to be up 20 percent this year and sizing for fall fruit trending toward 18-, 20- and 24-count,” says Mary Ostlund, marketing director. “Greenskin avocados are almost always less expensive than Hass — and this is part of their appeal.”
The consumer mindset is not as strongly geared toward high consumption of avocados in the fall and winter as it is in the spring and summer, according to grower-shippers. This may be due to historic reasons as domestic supplies wrap up at this time of year and Mexican imports were not allowed into all 50 U.S. states two decades ago. Yet, this seasonal challenge continues today. In fact, results of HAB’s Avocado Shopper Segmentation Action Guide 2017 reveal 3 percent of Super Heavy user households and 7 percent of Heavy user households drop out of the avocado category altogether in the fourth quarter. Finding ways to keep these influential shoppers interested in avocados during this time of year offers a huge sales opportunity.
Here are ways retailers and produce executives can promote and push avocado sales during the fall season.
1. The Ripe Stuff
“What is most important to assuring strong avocado sales is offering ripe fruit,” says Marc Goldman, produce director for Morton Williams Supermarket, a 13-store chain based in the Bronx, NY.
Mission Produce’s Bertels agrees. “Ripe fruit generally sells at three to four times the rate of merchandising only hard, green fruit. If a retailer is interested in rolling out a ripe program, we can help train its distribution center staff on proper handling techniques, and can also work with store-level personnel on best practices for building displays and merchandising at retail.”
2. Size Matters
Some consumers may want a large-size piece of fruit (32- and 36-count) for a specific recipe or application, while others may want smaller fruit (60- and 70-count), says Bertels. “Giving the consumer choices leads to higher sales. This also gives the supply side, as well as the retailer, options to utilize what is coming off the tree at any given time of the year.”
In August and September, the crop out of Mexico will skew toward smaller-sized fruit,” says Giovanni Cavaletto, vice president of sourcing for Index Fresh, Bloomington, CA. “By October and November, we’ll see more normal sizes like 40- and 48-count.”
Few retailers across the country offer only a single size, according to Maggie Bezart-Hall, the AFM’s vice president of trade and promotion. “This is especially true in the Heavy and Super Heavy user areas such as the West, Southwest, Northeast and pockets of the Southeast.”
A two-size program, according to Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the Irvine, CA-based California Avocado Commission (CAC), is a proven performer when it comes to appealing to varying shopper interests such as size or price.
“Many of our retailers accomplish a two-size program using Hass avocados for their small sized avocados and greenskin avocados for their large-sized avocados. An example would be a 60-count (7-ounce) Hass and 20-count (21-ounce) greenskin,” says Brooks Tropicals’ Ostlund. “
3. By the Pound Versus Each
Avocados are generally sold individually rather than by the pound, according to Gary Caloroso, regional business development director for the Giumarra Companies, headquartered in Los Angeles.
There are many reasons for the predominance of individual pricing, says Mission Produce’s Bertels. “However, what this stems from mainly has to do with what the tree produces. For example, the demand for different sizes fluctuates, as well as the sizing that is available from the tree at different times of the year. Generally, this leads to individual pricing for assorted sizes of fruit — leading to the per-each pricing.”
As for greenskin avocados Brooks Tropicals’ Ostlund says their large size lends to pricing by the piece.
4. Pack It In
Traditionally, about 85 percent of avocados are sold bulk or loose, with 15 percent in bags, according to Dan Acevedo, director of business development for Green Fruit Avocados in Newport Beach, CA.
However, according to HAB’s 2015-published report, Shopper Purchase Decisions and Influences Driving Hass Avocado Sales at Retail, Heavy buyers are more than three times more likely than Lighter buyers to purchase bagged avocados.
“Bag sales are growing rapidly across all retail segments. Increased merchandising flexibility, convenience, on-package messaging and value are the main drivers,” says Doug Meyer, senior vice president of sales and marketing for West Pak Avocado in Murrieta, CA.
In terms of value, many retailers use multi-count bags as an option for consumers and merchandise these along with bulk fruit in larger sizes, according to Bertels. This fall, Mission Produce will introduce its new Mini’s bag program. An on-pack strap with a recipe and graphic presentation delivers the usage idea that these small fruits are just the right size for a single-serve sandwich or salad.
Index Fresh has already had success with selling small-sized bagged fruit. “A few years ago, we were having a hard time selling 96-count fruit. So, we put it in a 2-lb. bag and it flew off retailer’s shelves,” says Cavaletto.
The standard bag for avocados in North America continues to be a mesh bag, with various permutations of a graphic strap or header. Wal-Mart, however, has introduced a unique breathable gusseted film bag that allows for more consumer education; handling, ripening and nutrition information, according to information from AFM.
“Europe has much more packaging — clamshells, punnets, flow packs — but it really hasn’t taken off here,” says Bertels.
5. Front, Center & Beyond
Fall ushers in deep oranges and reds to the produce aisle, says Brooks Tropicals’ Ostlund. “Avocados can certainly enrich the color scheme with Hass’ dark and Florida’s bright greens. The pumpkins and apples that are domestically grown make a great display that can be augmented by Florida avocados.”
Basics trump trendy when it comes to avocado displays, according to the CAC’s DeLyser. “Displays should be neat, well stocked and include ripe avocados.”
Secondary displays can increase sales, says Giumarra’s Caloroso. “Cross-merchandise avocados in the snack aisle with chips for guacamole, in dairy with eggs for omelettes and in the bakery for avocado toast.”
Meyer suggests merchandising organic avocados with other organic produce items to make an organic guacamole.
6. Go Beyond Guac
Think beyond guacamole.
“Avocado lovers are exploring this fruit’s versatility beyond its role as a party dip. Autumn’s a great time to leverage get-togethers and outings that are uniquely fall, such as tailgating and family holidays like Thanksgiving. Beyond this, avocado toast is now the Millennials choice for breakfast and snacks. No recipe needed… just avocado, bread and a little salt. A “Hold the mayo, mash the avocado” display will grab the Millennial eye while sparking interest in other age groups. Suggesting variations while the display holds their interest will help add-on sales of tomatoes, peppers and onions,” says Brooks Tropicals’ Ostlund.
Giving consumers usage ideas is very important, agrees Mission Produce’s Bertels. “Avocados have entered the public consciousness as a fruit that can complement any eating opportunity — breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks. And with the recent Heart Healthy designation from the USDA, communicating the healthful message and versatility of the fruit will generate more sales.”
This season, Chilean Avocado Importers Association offers consumers and retailers new usage ideas, images and short how-to cooking videos. The videos have become the most popular in the organization’s marketing toolbox, especially favored by retailers to in turn post on their social media platforms. “We like to take the traditional into a new place, and look at the latest food trends and see how avocados from Chile can join the conversation. Sometimes, as is the case with our Frankentoast idea for Halloween, we just want to have some fun,” says Brux.
The Frankentoast recipe features mashed avocados on toast topped with dried seaweed for hair, olives as eyes, a slice of tomato for the mouth, pretzel nose and pretzel sticks with cheese cubes placed at one end to resemble bolts coming out of the neck.
7. Holidays & Promotions
With a forecast for a robust supply of avocados this fall, it’s a good time for promotions.
“Prices will be much lower in the fall than they have been, so that in itself will be an opportunity, and there will be great interest from the public for avocados at a reasonable price,” says Paul Weismann, president of Healthy Avocado Inc., Berkeley, CA. “But, the question is what price retailers will need to offer consumers in order to move the greatly increased fall volumes.”
Sports are an excellent promotional platform, suggests Andy Hamilton, chief executive of Eco Farms in Fallbrook, CA. “Fall is football and tailgating season.”
AFM will offer its Tastiest Tailgate promotion during October. “Avocados From Mexico and Dos Equis will launch Game Day Over Everything and inspire fans to raise the bar during their tailgating festivities. Tailgaters will be encouraged to feed the masses with their own customized Guac Bar, allowing game day attendees to treat themselves to their very own tastiest tailgate,” says AFM’s Bezart-Hall.
Avocados and the holidays also go hand-in-hand. More specifically, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas collectively represented 6.3 percent of annual avocado volume and 6.9 percent of dollar sales, according to HAB’s Holidays & Events 2016 report.
Start with promoting avocados on burgers for the last barbecue of the season for Labor Day or for back-to-school sandwiches in place of mayonnaise. Soups and salads made with avocados, not just guacamole, are excellent for Halloween parties.
“One retailer suggested carving avocados and integrated some carved fruit into its displays. Turkey sandwiches with slices of avocado are a great tip retailers can offer customers for Thanksgiving leftovers. There are a lot of opportunities to promote avocados in the fall,” says Index Fresh’s Cavaletto.