Fresh packaged guacamole and seasoning mixes coax consumers to eat more guacamole and drive related sales.
Originally printed in the May 2021 issue of Produce Business.
Retailers can coax more guacamole purchases from shoppers by balancing merchandising of avocados with a growing array of fresh packaged guacamole, particularly in the produce department.
For Bargain Grocery in Utica, NY, shoppers tend to shop avocados for scratch guacamole, but spokesperson Rachel Daughtry says consumers have choice. The store offers Wholly Guacamole products — including regular and spicy varieties as well as a dip variation combining guacamole and roasted corn — on a rotating basis.
The grocery store operation was developed as a charitable endeavor and generally focuses on bringing in bargain items for lower income consumers in what had been a food ghetto. Daughtry, director of agency relations, says many of its customers continue making guacamole from scratch.
Scott Wiggans, produce director, Lazy Acres Natural Market, Santa Barbara, CA, says that guacamole is a strong draw at his stores, where it is merchandised in a variety of ways, lifting the profile and meeting diverse preferences.
“The guacamole program at Lazy Acres has always been one of our strongest performers in produce,” he says. The market sells fresh made-in-house from the produce chop shop case, carrying four flavors and two sizes. Branded guacamole is not sold in the produce section at Lazy, but grocery has four offerings of branded guac in a refrigerated case by the meat department, and the sales for the branded go to grocery, Wiggans adds.
Approaches to guacamole sales vary, as online sales give consumers more choice and food retailers more opportunity to encourage sales and consumption across the range of shopping options, including takeout and curbside pickup.
At Walmart Stores Inc., Bentonville, AR, guacamole is merchandised various ways in stores and online, including as branded and private label fresh packaged product, plus mixes.
“The assortment is essentially the same online and in store, but there can be some exceptions,” a Walmart spokesperson explains. “Also, online availability is contingent on a store’s in-stock that the item is picked from. Customers can find refrigerated guacamole in a few departments: fresh deli, produce and dairy.”
Placement in the produce departments is important to get consumers thinking about all the possibilities guacamole offers, including those that might not suggest scratch preparation.
“Guacamole remains on trend with great taste and the nutritional highlights from the avocado,” says Damon Manak, brand manager at MegaMex Foods, Orange, CA, maker of Wholly Guacamole. “Usage has expanded from the typical guacamole with chips and tacos to now using guacamole as an ingredient or even as a substitute for mayo or ranch. Being in or near the produce department helps shoppers easily make these connections for pairing and highlights our ingredients.”
SOCIAL MEDIA TAPS THE TREND
Merchandising in the produce section, and especially sampling, is important to drive sales of fresh packaged guacamole. However, retailers should consider a variety of ways to support packaged guacamole beyond the sales floor.
“I believe 100% that social media is a valuable tool overall, but I also feel more importantly that Fourth of July, Cinco de Mayo and Super Bowl have to be part of that promotional plan,” says Ron Araiza, vice president, Calavo Foods Division, Santa Paula, CA. “Social media, and the emphasis on freshness and how it’s exciting, have to be part of every budget or a retailer is going to be left behind.”
Kirk Marquardt, vice president, avocado sales, at Coral Gables, FL-based Fresh Del Monte, says, when it comes to marketing, Fresh Del Monte uses a variety of techniques to tackle product promotion. “Fresh Del Monte works closely with a handful of retailers to create programs consisting of coupons, recipes and digital adverts. We also find it imperative to have a heavy presence on social media. Most consumers always have their phones in-hand and check regularly, so we find it’s a great way to directly reach them.”
He adds that, overall, avocado and avocado products such as guacamole, are on a roll, so retailers should jump on the bandwagon.
“The avocado category has experienced substantial growth over the past four years, largely as a result of new shoppers entering the category, and shoppers making additional trips to their local stores instead of frequently dining out,” he says. “We believe that this trend will continue for years to come, even after the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The pandemic, with consumers cooking more at home, created sales opportunities, but retailers have to be ready to shift gears as consumers once again adjust their lifestyles to changing circumstances, says Calavo’s Araiza. Folks who have been making fresh guacamole in their kitchens while their favorite restaurants were shuttered are still going to want it, but just how they want it will change. After all, busy Americans tend to weigh quality, freshness and convenience as key factors in purchase decisions, and are likely to consider premade fresh product as an easy way to eat more guacamole.
“As the nation comes out of COVID, people will get busy again, with less time to cook,” Araiza says, and he points out that the proliferation of sizes, snack packs in particular, demonstrates that consumers want guacamole available for more eating occasions.
“We’ve had a big uptick in two-ounce sizes,” he says. “We started out maybe three or four years ago and growth has been dramatic.”
With consumers eating more guacamole, variety becomes an issue to attract additional trial.
High pressure processing (HPP) methods allow suppliers to provide a quality product that can stand in for fresh guacamole, says MegaMex Foods’ Manak.
“There is a universal truth of avocados, and that is they can be tricky to deal with,” he says. “Our brand has pioneered the use of HPP in the guacamole and avocado space because it allows us to provide this convenience without compromising taste or having to add other preservatives to the product. The result is a great tasting product with a very clean ingredient statement that consumers love.”
Manak notes that the expansion of interest and items that satisfy consumer preferences has built sales momentum over time across the product sector, with a compound annual growth rate of 14.6% over the past five years, according to IRI Total US Multi-unit Outlets, ending December 27, 2020.
“The current increases are not outside the norm,” Manak says. “The recent pandemic has greatly increased in-home snacks and meals, and overall, snacking consumers are starting to move from calorie counting to more mindful nourishment and purposeful snacking.”
Jay Alley, vice president, Fresh Innovations, Rhome, TX, says his company first sought out HPP technology to bring a foodservice product to consumer kitchens.
“The team I currently work with is the same team that brought HPP guacamole to the produce department,” he says. “Our founder, a restaurateur, wanted to sell his restaurant-style guacamole to retail consumers, so he worked with a few European companies that used HPP, and created an entire category of natural, ready-to-eat, delicious and preservative-free guacamole. Since then, other avocado and guacamole companies joined the category. But we were the ones that brought it to market about 20 years ago.”
The popularity of avocados and, lately, smaller sizes, are critical factors in driving refrigerated, packaged guacamole sales, he adds, as guacamole also is a fresh take on wellness.
“When it comes to consumers changing taste, we find that, whether post-pandemic or before, consumers are always looking for ‘better for you’ options when it comes to their food,” says Alley. “Our ¡Yo Quiero! guacamole and avocado products are made with 100% Hass avocados, in small, hand-scooped batches, and with all-natural ingredients. Our labels are clean, and the HPP process allows the products to be preservative-free.”
The allure of different styles and heat profiles beyond the once-typical mild creamy product makes fresh packaged product even more attractive.
“Chunky” is the style now, Araiza says. “Today, there are flavor profiles that have become trendy during part of the year, such as chipotle. Hatch Chile is also very popular during certain times of year.”
Manak said fresh packaged guacamole gives consumers the ability to purchase it for particular uses and occasions, and portion to purpose. “Having a size for every occasion allows us to be a part of people’s everyday activities,” he says. “Whether it’s a 15-ounce bowl for a gathering, 7.5-ounce for a family taco night or a 2-ounce mini to add to your salad at lunch or an after-school snack, we have options for every event.”
Overall avocado sales demonstrate the interest consumers of all backgrounds have in the fruit and, by extension, products made from it, especially pre-made guacamole.
“Both the number of Hispanic and non-Hispanic avocado buying households increased over the period from 2016 through 2019,” says Marquardt of Del Monte. “Market penetration remains an opportunity for growth in the avocado category, as only 64% of households purchase the fruit. A lot of our buyers are also millennials, who have made additional trips to retailers to solely purchase avocados.”
Despite the gains, he points out, the market still has plenty of potential, for both impulse and everyday purchases.
PROVIDING CHOICE THROUGH INNOVATION
With consumers eating more guacamole, variety becomes an issue to attract additional trial. “Our flavor and format offerings give consumers a variety of ways to enjoy our products,” Manak says. “From ready-to-go Classic and Spicy guacamoles and our layered dips to our 100% Hass Avocado diced and smashed avocado, consumers can decide if they want to dip a chip and start enjoying, or create their own personalized dips or spreads with an avocado that’s ripe and ready to use.”
Calavo’s Araiza sees a cornucopia of opportunity with guacamole and related foods that leverage health benefits and potentially create new product segments.
“Our best seller is mild, but we can do ghost pepper, pineapple. We have a fruit line of avocado-based product we really haven’t launched yet. It’s more like mousse: strawberry, chocolate. We have about five flavors. It’s fresh, it maintains the same health benefits, and they don’t have to worry about ripening,” Araiza says.
Manak says new innovations at MegaMex Foods are 100% avocado, including “diced products and smashed minis, which expand our offerings from the dip category to a new segment, the avocado lover. Offering a single ingredient product in various portions and textures allows for new opportunity and segments.”
Manak says Wholly Guacamole is not typically an impulse buy and enjoys a strong baseline business with strong repeat purchases. “We do see a lift during key holidays and events and are seeing general growth in the overall Mexican foods categories,” he says.
Recently, Fresh Del Monte revamped its Del Monte Homestyle guacamole, Marquardt says, “which pays homage to authentic Mexican guacamole.” It is a non-GMO product, made with 100% fresh Hass avocados and includes four flavors: jalapeño and tomato; classic lime and garlic; mango and lime; and black bean and corn. It comes equipped with resealable lids to increase shelf life and flavor.
When it comes to flavors and sizes, Fresh Innovations has a variety of flavors from Original, Spicy, Chunky (restaurant-style) and 100% Mashed Avocado. “Also, we strategically created 3 sizes to cover any meal occasion: 2 oz mini cup for snacking, 8 oz cup for a couple or small family to enjoy during mealtime and a 15 oz cup for large gatherings or parties,” says Alley, who references a study done by Rabo Research that per capita consumption of avocadoes will exceed 11 pounds by 2026.
“¡Yo Quiero! guacamole is staged and ready to ride this avocado wave by providing quick, convenient, always ripe, and always ready products to consumers looking for just the right avocado and guacamole at the right time,” he says.