Seasonal imports are crucial to North America’s booming avocado market, as the ceiling for maximum demand remains untouched.
Originally printed in the August 2021 issue of Produce Business.
By 2025, Hass avocados will be America’s most popular and desired fresh fruit, according to the Hass Avocado Board (HAB). Mexico remains the largest supplier by far, accounting for nearly 80% of avocado sales in the U.S. Nonetheless, North American produce retail executives will need to continue complementing Mexican supply with seasonal imports from other countries to satisfy consumer demand.
In 2020, the total volume of avocados sold in the U.S. rose by 6.1% to 2.64 billion pounds, according to the HAB. Mexico supplied 2.13 billion pounds, followed by California, 341 million pounds; Peru, 161 million pounds; and Chile, 4 million pounds. Arrivals from emerging exporters Colombia and the Dominican Republic totaled 9 million pounds.
“Imports have led the U.S. supply growth and will continue to do so in the future,” says Emiliano Escobedo, executive director of HAB, in Mission Viejo, CA. “The year-round availability of fresh Hass avocados allows retailers to supply their stores for 52 weeks with promotable volume.”
Demand Continues Upwards
Every year, avocados are becoming increasingly more relevant to shoppers, says Ryan Ellison, produce category manager for K-Va-T Food Stores, which operates in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.
“It’s gone from an impulse buy to an item that is on the shopping list,” Ellison explains, adding that K-Va-T prefers to source from Mexico year around. “The quality is top notch, oil content is very consistent, and the marketing campaign is second to none,” he adds.
North America has not even come close to capturing the possibility of maximum avocado demand, according to William Watson, managing director of the Colombia Avocado Board (CAB), Orlando, FL.
“There are so many consumers who haven’t experienced avocados outside of traditional usage, and there are heavy users that can easily be converted to super heavy users to truly drive sales,” he anticipates. “Today’s consumers are creative and healthy, and they surprise us over and over again with the ways they find to use avocados. It’s why we know that the market is ripe for expansion and growing volume to prepare for the next wave in consumption.”
Over the past decade, demand in the U.S. has grown by 8%, with the average American eating 8 pounds of avocados a year, says Angela Tallant, director of sales and marketing at Westfalia Marketing USA, Oxnard, CA, which forms part of the Westfalia Fruit Group.
“To satisfy the home market, particularly when the domestic production window has closed, good-quality imports from globally accredited growers in Colombia and Peru may become a larger percentage of the overall volume consumed in the USA and Canada,” she predicts.
“Avocado trees typically take five years to reach maturity and full yield, so investment now will meet the demand for the future. National account managers should take notice of emerging production areas, such as Peru and Colombia, to satisfy the ongoing accelerated demand for avocados.”
Mexico and California will not be able to satisfy U.S. demand alone, especially as avocado consumption grows globally, points out Andrew Bruno, president of Naturipe Avocado Farms, Salinas, CA, which sources from Mexico, Peru, Chile and Colombia.
“Avocado demand within the USA marketplace is significant, and it is important to ensure there is available supply to continually fuel the growth and promotion of this category,” he explains.
Naturipe expects the category to continue growing since avocados offer significant health benefits and year-round availability. “To maintain a supply and demand balance within North America, multiple origins will be needed in both short- and long-term,” Bruno states. “Additionally, the global growth in avocado demand is providing windows of opportunity for Mexico and California to supply other worldwide marketplaces, which thereby reduces available supply for the USA.”
For retailers, the main benefit of having diverse global sources is to deliver a consistent supply of high-quality fruit for 52 weeks of the year, particularly in the fall when California’s harvest has finished.
“The point of difference in each country is that the avocados are grown at the best time of year in that country, so, in effect, your sourcing calendar is following the sun to produce avocados with the best eating experience,” explains Westfalia’s Tallant.
Westfalia imports avocados into the U.S. and Canada from Peru, Colombia, Chile and Mexico. The group works closely with its South American operations, where it has nurseries that supply seedlings to local orchards, and in the past few years it has increased its Peruvian, Colombian and Chilean volume. “We can source from any two areas in any given week, guaranteeing our customers a consistent, high-quality supply of avocados,” comments Tallant.
Although a relatively new supplier for North America, Colombia has been growing avocados for years. The game changer came in 2000 when the Hass variety was introduced for commercial production. Since then, Colombia has become an important exporter to Europe and Asia.
“There are more than 3,000 certified growers exporting the fruit around the world, but only a very small number have completed their work plans for U.S. exports,” explains Watson at CAB. “As this number grows, we expect to be an important supplier to the U.S. very soon.”
Watson believes Colombia has the capacity to become a billion-pound supplier to the U.S. Last season, Colombia supplied around 5 million pounds to the U.S., and CAB anticipates bringing in three times that volume by July 2022.
“Colombia provides a strong complement to the existing avocado category by coming to the market during the October to April window, and again from May to August,” Watson points out. “Colombia can help to supplement the current production schedule of all of our competitors.”
CAB says Colombia’s GlobalGAP certifications meet some of the highest standards in the world. Colombia also has ports on both its Caribbean and Pacific coastlines, enabling shipments to arrive in the U.S. within three to seven days. “We feel we offer a unique selling proposition for some of the freshest avocados that will give receivers the quality they need to continue to fuel consumer demand,” Watson claims.
Naturipe considers Colombia to be an important source, thanks to growing conditions that make it one of the few countries that can produce avocados for nine to 10 months of the year. “The origin is attractive due to a longer supply window and advantageous transit times to both coasts, enabling Colombia to quickly contribute and replenish supply to meet marketplace demands,” notes Naturipe’s Bruno.
Peru continues to be a powerful player within the summer sourcing months, ranking as the second-largest supplier from June through September, according to the Peruvian Avocado Commission (PAC), Washington DC.
Importantly, Peru provides retailers a window of supply when traditionally Mexico’s availability is low. “This gives retailers the confidence they can continue to promote the avocado category without running into possible supply constraints,” explains Bruno.
The Hass variety is grown along the length of Peru where production thrives under a mild coastal climate, and results in a smaller pit that allows the fruit more ‘meat.’
Chile is a world-leading avocado producer of the Hass, Fuerte, Negra de la Cruz and Nabal varieties. According to the Chilean Avocado Importers Association (CAIA), San Carlos, CA, the biggest Hass-growing areas are located on the hillsides of two fertile valleys, which benefit from a frost-free climate and three rivers.
Chilean Hass avocados arrive in North America from September through March, offering a complementary source during fall and winter. “Chile provides an opportunity for another origin in the marketplace when the Peruvian import season is winding down, and also as the industry transitions crops within Mexico,” says Naturipe’s Bruno.
South Africa is another important Southern Hemisphere producer and exporter of Hass and Fuerte avocados, especially for Europe. The crop is produced from March to September, depending on the production area and the cultivar, which can extend the season from February to November.
Westfalia, which Tallant says is the largest handler of avocados in South Africa, anticipates that the U.S. will open up to South African avocados in the not-too-distant future. “We are well placed to fulfill potential demand from the USA,” she adds.
Derek Donkin, chief executive of the South African Avocado Growers’ Association (SAAGA), confirms that negotiations between the U.S. and South Africa are continuing to establish a suitable phytosanitary entry protocol. In the meantime, while South Africa is permitted to export avocados to Canada, SAAGA notes that currently there are no regular shipments.
Thanks to its year-round supply and proximity, eight in 10 avocados in the U.S. now come from Mexico since Hass imports have doubled in the past seven years, according to Avocados from Mexico (AFM), Irving, TX.
“Avocados From Mexico is the only brand of avocados available all-year long,” states Stephanie Bazan, vice president of trade and market development at AFM. “This is due to the unique microclimate of the state of Michocán — the only place in the world where avocados grow all year-round.”
With four production cycles, AFM has ample supply for North American retailers, and provides year-long trade and shopper marketing support. “By driving demand, Avocados From Mexico has not only complemented domestic production, but expanded the market,” notes Bazan.
Mexico is the “only origin” that can deliver fresh Hass avocados year-round to Canadian retailers, adds Miguel Barcenas, strategy and international marketing consultant for the Avocado Producer and Exporting Packers Association of Mexico (APEAM) in Canada. As such, APEAM’s marketing slogan in Canada is “Any time is Avotime.”
“Avocados from Mexico are the standard of quality for the industry, with a rich creamy flesh and superior taste,” Barcenas claims. APEAM also works with the USDA and Mexico’s Department of Agriculture on a quality control program.
Mexico accounts for 94% of the avocado volume in Canada, according to APEAM. Between 2014 and 2020, total imports grew by 100%, and in 2020 Mexico exported close to 100,000 tons to Canada.
To help retailers make better decisions as avocado demand continues to rise, HAB advises having robust information about in-season sources, and reviewing their forecast and actual volume on a week-by-week basis.
“At HassAvocadoBoard.com, we post the weekly volume projections and actuals by country of origin, in addition to category data for 50 markets, eight regions and the total U.S.,” Escobedo explains.
Information definitely is the key to success, agrees Keith Slattery, founder and chief executive of Stonehill Produce in Dana Point, CA, which sources from Mexico for its “year-round supply availability and continuity, and consistently high-quality, dependable fruit.”
“Arm yourself with the very best intel on the U.S. avocado category to understand its rhythm and patterns, capitalize on opportunities, and avoid traps,” suggests Slattery.
Although demand remains high, the COVID-19 pandemic led to fewer, but larger, trips to stores for avocado shoppers. To drive purchase frequency, AFM recommends retailers focus on national seasonal programs, bagged fruit, education, e-commerce and cross-merchandising.
Retailers should use thematic displays, supported by offers and digital/social activities, around fall football, the Super Bowl, basketball championships, Cinco de Mayo, Memorial Day and Labor Day. This will capture incremental purchases, too.
In Canada, AFM recommends eye-catching bins, and partnering with AFM on in-store activations or online promotions. “We’re always aiming to bring a little taste of Mexico — fun, bold, colorful — to consumers in order to reinforce the unique connection between Mexico, its culture and avocados,” explains APEAM’s Barcenas.
The popularity of bagged avocados, meanwhile, accelerated significantly during the pandemic due to safety concerns and shopper perception of bags offering value. “Over the past year, this has been fueled by the pandemic, with consumers eating more at home, wanting to buy larger packs and to shop less,” says Westfalia Marketing USA’s Tallant. “Conversely, the demand for individual ripe-and-ready avocados is also growing, maybe due to more single households.”
AFM’s Bazan adds that displaying bags is an important merchandising solution for retailers since it gives shoppers a faster way to pick up avocados as they shop in store.
For further information on purchasing trends, HAB has a new study, Better Together: Bagged and Bulk Avocado Shopper Trends, available online.
Educating consumers about the ripening process and preservation techniques to make avocados last longer also remains important.
“AFM’s education programs include messaging at the display with tips on how to speed up or slow down ripening, tricks to preserve half an avocado, as well as how to pick for now versus later, which is an opportunity for retailers to drive incremental units in the same shopper trip,” explains Bazan.
Fruit quality is critical to successful marketing and maximizing sales, and HAB offers retailers a free-to-download, bilingual Avocado Quality Manual. The guide includes handling protocols for the fruit origin, maturity level, destination and intended sales format to help retailers correctly manage avocados.
At the same time, HAB says health, nutritional benefits and taste are the primary drivers of avocado purchases, meaning in-store signage promoting a combination of health and taste will yield the best sales results.
“Combining health and nutrition messages (heart healthy, nutrient-rich, naturally good fats and a good fiber source) with promotable prices, multiple sales offers (e.g., 5 for 5) and taste messages, such as: ‘ripe and ready’, ‘creamy’, and ‘delicious’, will help to drive sales,” says Escobedo at HAB. “A mixed product assortment that includes two bulk sizes of different PLU codes and bags will drive sales, too.”
Stonehill Produce has a simple approach to merchandising: “Display avocados on a ‘dry’ table, and preferably a ‘waterfall’ end cap display, close to vine-ripened tomatoes, onions and garlic,” says Slattery.
CAIA advises displaying different stages of ripeness, and says retailers should identify ripe avocados with ‘ripe’ or ‘ready to eat’ point-of-sale materials; as well as rotate displays by placing ripe avocados on top and removing any that are overripe.
Retailers should also offer the correct ripening level for their shopper type. K-Va-T, whose stores are located primarily in Appalachia, retails Stage 2 avocados, which are hard and usually green in color.
“A barely triggered piece of fruit does fairly well for us,” explains Ellison. “This fruit is hard enough for someone needing it to last a few days, but for those needing a riper piece of fruit, there is usually some on display as well. If we sold more per store, we could carry more a triggered piece of fruit.”
K-Va-T successfully promotes multiple sizes of avocados too. Its stores offer loose 40 count and 70 count avocados, as well as a bag of 70 count fruit. “Giving shoppers multiple options has proven to work for us,” reveals Ellison. “If shoppers don’t mind spending a little extra time processing their fruit, the small sizes offer that value. For those who want to cut down on the amount of avocados they have to process, the large are the way to go.”