Originally printed in the September 2018 issue of Produce Business.
All systems are go for volumes and sales of this popular, healthful fruit.
When Labor Day rolls around, barbecues give way to tailgating, school lunch bags replace beach bags, and friends and family move from picnic tables to festive dining room tables. While the sun’s rays may grow softer, the avocado shines bright in the shift from summer to the season of football, costume parties and family feasts.
As fall 2018 kicks into high gear, consumer demand is being met with strong supplies of the Mexican and Chilean avocados that traditionally fill supermarket bins, bags and displays each autumn.
“From September through December, Mexico will probably represent about 90 percent of the volume,” says Emiliano Escobedo, executive director of the Hass Avocado Board (HAB) in Mission Viejo, CA. “And the remaining will come from Chile. … Compared to 2017, the total volume September-December is going to be higher. In terms of how much higher … probably an increase for the period of 15 percent compared to 2017.”
Maggie Bezart-Hall, vice president of trade and promotion for Avocados From Mexico (AFM), based in Irving, TX, says, “Volume will be good this fall. The new crop will start around Sept. 15 with higher levels than last year. Volume will start in the smaller size ranges.”
Chile shipped 66 million pounds of avocados to the United States in 2017-18, according to Karen Brux, managing director for the Chilean Avocado Importers Association (CAIA) in Washington, D.C. “It’s too early to have a detailed estimate, but as of July 2018, we’re expecting a small increase in volume shipped to the United States in 2018-19, as well as a longer season. The total volume harvested in Chile will be greater than last year, so that will have a positive impact on what the United States receives,” she says.
This year, because of a later-than-usual season, Peruvian fruit is expected to be a presence throughout September. “Peru is expecting to ship 160 million pounds this year in a very condensed window. The season was very late this year, so we will see very strong promotable volumes through the month of September and maybe into October,” says Xavier Equihua, president and chief executive of the Peruvian Avocado Commission (PAC).
California’s season winds down this month, closing the books on a harvest projected to beat 2017’s 215 million pounds by 39 percent. “This year’s California avocado crop is significantly larger than last year,” says Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the Irvine, CA-based California Avocado Commission (CAC), which is celebrating its 40th anniversary. “We have experienced a number of exceptional events — wind and heat, in addition to the fires earlier this year — that have had some impact on the original projected volume. It’s likely the California actual volume will come in at just more than 300 million pounds.”
Retailers can score a touchdown with this fall bounty by kicking off the season with football promotions.
“I almost think of fall as the start of the avocado year,” says Jeff Cady, director of produce and floral for Tops Friendly Markets based in Williamsville, NY. “It coincides with when Mexico starts to hit its stride in the new season and just goes right on through football season – parties, fall, tailgating.”
Avocados From Mexico is going all in on football, reprising Tastiest Tailgate, its promotional pairing with Bud Light malt beverage Lime-A-Rita that launches on National Guacamole Day (Sept. 16), and runs through Dec. 31.
“According to the 2018 InfoScout Shopper Insights, basket rings increased more than 57 percent when flavored malt beverages and avocados are purchased together versus alone,” says Bezart-Hall. “By reinforcing the connection between guacamole, beer and customers’ game day rituals, the Tastiest Tailgate program will increase basket ring, as it has in the past, and give consumers more incentive to purchase complementary products like Avocados From Mexico with Lime-A-Rita.”
GreenFruit Avocados, headquartered in Newport Beach, CA, is one of the Tastiest Tailgate partners. “We work with a lot of the boards and associations, such as Avocados From Mexico,” says Dan Acevedo, GreenFruit’s director of business development. “In the fall they have two key promotions going on, one being the Tastiest Tailgates and one for the Hispanic market, ‘A Toast to Your Heritage.’ Both drive a lot of incremental recipe ideas.”
AFM’s tie-in to Hispanic Heritage Month, which is Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, features a blend of brands: Avocados From Mexico, Tabasco sauce and Bimbo bread.
“AFM and these partner brands combined, create a high-value offer that connects with today’s Nueva Latina mom and the role of food as a cultural connection is most relevant,” says Bezart-Hall. “This integrated shopper marketing program will promote delicious and much-appreciated meal solutions like avo toast with flavors inspired by countries from Latin America. Moms will be encouraged to savor every moment as they gather family and friends together to celebrate their rich cultural heritage. The Hispanic Heritage Program runs Sept. 3 to Oct. 14 and is supporting retailers through co-branded merchandising and consumer savings. … The program includes an in-store coupon, a recipe tearpad and a digital/social media activation.”
MULTIPLE FALL PLAYS
In October, promotional opportunities lock onto Halloween, “one of the biggest dipping holidays of the year, and avocados are a big piece of that,” says Tops Friendly Markets’ Cady.
“While we definitely have football-focused entertaining ideas and images/posts for social media, we often have strong volumes available around the Halloween time frame. We have some fun usage ideas and Tasty-style videos that we share on both our social media platforms, as well as retailers’. Also holiday entertaining ideas,” says CAIA’s Brux.
When it comes to Thanksgiving, industry experts say it’s been more of a challenge to tie avocados to this superstar of fall holidays, but they’re reporting good success.
“The fall holidays are typically not avocado-promoting holidays. It’s not commonly thought of to serve avocado with Thanksgiving dinner,” says Brent Scattini, vice president of sales and marketing for Mission Produce, based in Oxnard, CA.
“That being said, we’ve done work to develop recipes that might match up well for Thanksgiving dinner-type meals. And we’ve started identifying different time periods where promotional activity will be more successful. … We did experimental promotions with some chain stores the week after Thanksgiving and had tremendous results. Right after major holidays, get avocado on promotion … and on merchandising and cross-merchandising opportunities that will showcase avocado.”
DEMOS AND RECIPE INSPIRATION
The Peruvian Avocado Commission’s Equihua says demos are the preferred marketing vehicle for superstore clients like Walmart, Costco and Sam’s Club. “Last year we did an unprecedented 6,500 demos in two months,” he says. “This year we were chosen by Walmart to be part of a Wellness Day. We partnered with California Walnuts to do a superfoods salad composed of avocados, walnuts and peaches.”
Although grateful for guacamole and avocado toast, avocado suppliers and retailers are keen to create and promote innovative uses that will increase consumption.
“We also offer an entire e-cookbook online, which is extremely popular. Retailers put them on their websites,” says Equihua.
“We’re starting to see the avocado itself being incorporated into every type of cuisine out there — Greek, Chinese, sushi,” says Aaron Acosta, corporate relationship manager for Villita Avocados in Pharr, TX. “Chefs are infusing the avocado into the different cuisines out there, and it’s really making an impact — fried avocado and new types of tapas. We’re really seeing the culinary establishment embrace the avocado, continually finding new ways of presenting it to consumers.”
At Costco in Paris, a salad demo featuring avocado, watermelon and walnuts on a bed of arugula was a smash hit. “No one had thought about doing that and people went crazy. … They were so happy to find something new,” says Equihua.
WHAT’S IN THE BAG?
The avocado industry promotes the fruit as a first food for wee ones — no cooking required, just mash and serve — and as a lunch item for the school set. “Mini bags are great for back to school,” says Scattini. “It’s the perfect single-serving snack to put in lunches. That’s another vehicle to promote the category during the fall season.”
TO YOUR HEALTH
The healthful properties of avocados offer other fall promotional opportunities.
“We have a year-round marketing program that emphasizes the health benefits of avocados, and in the fall in particular,” says the Hass Avocado Board’s Escobedo. “September is Diabetes Awareness Month. Our target audience, and focus, is health professionals, the practitioners that are meeting with patients, looking at their diets and so on, and making recommendations based on nutrition. We focus a lot of resources on reaching out to those individuals. We also have some public relations outreach about the role avocados can play when managing Type 2 diabetes. It’s a very meaningful opportunity for us to get that message out.”
In a 2016 Avocados From Mexico Shopper Mindset study, 74 percent of shoppers said they would buy more avocados if they saw “displays around the store.” Retailers are tapping into that potential to grow incremental business.
“We’ve utilized some of the display vehicles that some of the commissions have given us and used them in the deli department to tie avocados together with sandwiches,” says Cady, of Tops Friendly Markets. “We get a lot of play there, and in the meat department they do very well. They go great on burgers.”
Merchandising avocados with guacamole mixes and fixings is a traditional and winning formula, says Keith Cox, produce category manager for the Abingdon, VA-based KVAT Foods, parent company of the Food City stores. “We carry two lines of guacamole mix. We have a Concord powder mix and a Frontera liquid mix. We’ll tie in either one or the other, or both of the mixes. It helps the consumer. If they want a quick, fresh guacamole, we make it simple for them. You just need an avocado and can put it together in five minutes or less. If they want to add some tomatoes or onions they can do that, too,” he says.
“Cross-merchandising seasonal produce, like California avocados, with other seasonal produce makes sense and reinforces the consumer mindset,” says DeLyser of the California Avocado Commission. “This is especially strong when locally grown can be tied into in-store signage. In the fall, there are opportunities to tie-in with existing events and recipes incorporating avocados … e.g. guacamole served in a hollowed-out pumpkin for Halloween parties? It takes a lot of avocados and other produce ingredients to fill up a gourd. Cooking schools and demos can expand usage by suggesting avocados to add to soups, stews and chilis as the weather gets cooler.”
SKY’S THE LIMIT
As consumers find new ways to enjoy avocados, their appetite for the fruit shows no sign of abating. “We’ve moved away from the peaks and valleys,” says GreenFruit’s Acevedo. “Avocados are part of the shopping list today. They’re no longer just for a special occasion.”
Escobedo is projecting 2018 volume will be 2.45 billion pounds, a 378 million-pound increase — +18 percent — over 2017’s 2.07 billion pounds. “Demand in the United States has been at an all-time high,” says the Hass Avocado Board’s executive director. “The volume in the U.S. market in 2018, for the first six months, was higher by 200 million pounds compared to the prior year. We don’t expect demand to go away.”
“We think there’s tremendous opportunity in the avocado market,” says Index Fresh’s Thomas. “If you look at household penetration, around 55-60 percent of households eat avocados. A lot of produce items are at 90-95 percent. … Some of that household penetration is just people buying avocados a couple times of year … we see a huge opportunity in turning it into a weekly purchase for people. We want it to get to the point where — just like most people don’t leave the store without a bunch of bananas — people leave the store with a bag of avocados every week. They’ve got wonderful health benefits, and more importantly, are a way to really spice up a meal.”
At the Food City stores, “Avocado sales have not slowed down one bit,” says Cox. “We have seen a double-digit increase, especially since we moved to offering more than one size, or one option for the consumer to purchase.”
Mission Produce’s Scattini says he expects “stable and firm” prices this fall given the “ample crop coming out of Mexico and Chile.”
Although the industry hopes to avoid price extremes, cost has generally not been a determining factor for the majority of avocado buyers. According to a 2016 Hass Avocado Board study, only 13 percent of consumers surveyed said price was a barrier to purchase.
“People aren’t that price-sensitive. And even when avocados are higher-priced, they’re still not that expensive,” says Cady. “We always retail in multiples and do multiple pricing, two for $4, for example. Our data shows very few people are buying one avocado. They’re like bananas. No one typically buys one banana.”
“Consumer demand in the United States continues to grow, and as long as the consumer gets great product quality and the industry keeps promoting and developing creative usage ideas, the future should be bright,” says DeLyser.
The fall avocado story includes a starring role for the SlimCado, the pear-shaped Florida fruit leading grower Brooks Tropicals calls “a different branch on the avocado family tree.”
“Summer’s heat kicks off our peak, but fall is now good for volumes, also,” says Mary Ostlund, marketing director for the Homestead, FL-based company. “Hurricane Irma did damage that we’re recovering from, so this year’s peak won’t be over the top. But Dominican fruit are helping to beautifully fill the gaps.”
Ostlund says autumn SlimCado marketing tie-ins include fan-favorite football — “stadium parking lot cookouts, sporting event house parties” — and friends-and-family gatherings, “cookouts that start small then get big.”
SlimCado’s size is one of its unique selling propositions, particularly for consumers planning on hosting fall parties. The fruit gets its name from the fact this variety has up to half the fat and a third fewer calories than traditional avocados, which is another selling point.
“It’s not easy to cook ahead with avocados, any avocado,” says Ostlund. “Many first-time SlimCado avocado devotees start out by reaching for this much larger fruit, keeping in mind the fewer the avocados they’ll need, the fewer they’re required to open to make the crowd their guacamole, top their salads or to add to the grill.”
To catch shoppers’ eyes and increase sales volume, Ostlund suggests retailers take inspiration from the apple. “You don’t eat just one kind of apple; why limit yourself to just one kind of avocado?” Demos are effective sales prompts.
Jeff Cady, director of produce and floral for Tops Friendly Markets based in Williamsville, NY, says in some Tops locations the SlimCado outsells the Hass 10-1. “There are a few of our stores that do much better with the green skin avocado. The Hispanic market does really well with that. Shoppers call it the ‘real’ one.”
To help maximize sales, the avocado industry provides retailers with an extensive variety of merchandising, marketing and promotional materials. They also share the benefit of their experience, as sampled here:
Karen Brux, managing director, Chilean Avocado Importers Association, Washington, D.C.: “Engage shoppers by telling the story of avocados. Where and how are they grown? What are the main nutrition attributes? What are interesting and new ways of eating avocados? Promote new usage ideas that are in line with current trends (avocado bowls, for example). Move beyond guacamole and avocado toast to ideas that incorporate avocados into all meal occasions, whether breakfast, lunch or dessert. Take traditional recipes and show how the taste, texture and nutrition of avocados can elevate them to the next level.”
Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing, California Avocado Commission, Irvine, CA.: “Step 1 is to maintain best practices for in-store merchandising, including having clean, well-stocked displays of ripe avocados and offering multiple sizes to appeal to different consumer preferences. Step 2 is to take advantage of the many promotion opportunities during the fall when consumers can entertain with avocados. Tailgating, baseball championship games, Halloween and Thanksgiving are all perfect for themed avocado promotions.”
Dana L. Thomas, president and chief executive of Index Fresh, Inc., Riverside, CA: “We see demos as having a huge impact. When we’ve run coupons, we’ve seen a nice lift on that. Probably the most important thing we see is having good supplies in large displays really moves the product. A store that has loose fruit in size 48, loose fruit in a 32 or 36, a bag in a smaller size (70, 60, 84), and then an organic display — I think that really works. To do that consistently over the course of the year really moves product.”
Rob Wedin, vice president fresh sales and marketing, Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, CA: “Ripe displays and more consumer bags, both with steady, small-size promotions.”
Aaron Acosta, corporate relationship manager for Villita Avocados, Pharr, TX: “We are working now more on the educational side with retailers, to make sure they understand the product they want … And tailoring how we ship depending on the region and intended purpose so consumers can go to their favorite store and be sure to pick quality off the shelf.”