Originally printed in the April 2018 issue of Produce Business.
Consistency, health halo keep consumers coming back for more.
A restaurant in Austin, TX, known for the clever messages on its roadside signs recently captured the national mood with this one: “It’s Guac O’Clock.” To that, the makers of prepared guacamole products and the retailers who sell them might add just one word: “It’s Guac O’Clock. Everywhere.”
The total guacamole segment grew at a 28 percent dollar-growth rate, according to year-over-year IRI Data ending Jan. 28, 2018, and is showing no signs of slowing, manufacturers and retailers say. “It’s only getting more popular. Shoppers can’t get enough,” says Keith Cox, produce category manager for the Abingdon, VA-based K-VA-T Food Stores, the parent company for the Food City chain.
Although packaged guacamole sales still spike around dip-centric occasions such as New Year, Super Bowl and Cinco de Mayo, Jessica Brown, director of marketing for Cabo Fresh in Los Angeles, says the IRI data indicates “consumers are purchasing packaged guacamole more consistently throughout the year.”
Industry experts trace the start of the prepared guacamole phenomenon to the advent of High Pressure Processing (HPP), the pasteurizing procedure through which packaged avocado products are subjected to ultra-high pressure rather than heat. HPP allows the fresh guacamole to retain its flavor and nutritional value, while eliminating the need for preservatives.
“I think the technology of the high-pressure system, which is really the cold pasteurization of our product, has really boosted consumption and is the reason for the tremendous growth,” says Ron Araiza, vice president of sales and production for the Calavo Growers foods division. The Santa Paula, CA-based company, which got its start in 1924, markets a range of guacamole and avocado-based products that is experiencing “double-digit growth in our category,” says Araiza. “Freshness sells.”
The number and variety of packaged products in the refrigerated cases of supermarket produce sections checks a lot of boxes for shoppers. They’re a convenient path to a quality-consistent dip or spread that has many healthful properties. Araiza cites price variability and difficulty in assessing the ripeness of avocados as other factors that tilt guacamole lovers toward the prepared blends.
“All those things are not the same on the processed guacamole side,” he says. “You get the same degree of quality year-round. The shelf life for my product is close to 100 days, which helps, and my cost is much less variable to retailers. There’s no need for retailers to manage the ripening process, and seasonality is no longer an issue. All those things contribute to the popularity. Plus the great taste. And we all know the health benefits.”
Trade groups such as Avocados from Mexico and the California Avocado Commission have changed the narrative of the fruit — once misunderstood because of its fat content — by broadly promoting its multifaceted nutritional benefits. “Avocados contribute unsaturated ‘good’ fats, and good fats can help the body absorb fat-soluble nutrients Vitamins A, D, K and E,” Avocados from Mexico says on its consumer-facing website. They are also fiber-rich. According to the California Avocado Commission (CAO), “One-third of a medium California avocado (50 g) provides 11 percent of the recommended daily value for fiber.”
“We believe guacamole is so popular because of the plethora of health benefits that avocados have,” says Will Burger, marketing director for Hope Foods based in Louisville, CO. Hope’s guacamole line, which is organic, includes Green Chile and Spicy Green Chile flavors. “Avocados are celebrated as the ultimate healthy fat due to being loaded with monounsaturated fatty acids. While some consumers don’t want to eat a plain avocado, they are happy to enjoy it in a delicious, ready-made dip.”
“We introduced the Guac line to coincide with the rising popularity in two categories: refrigerated dips, and avocado (and avocado-based) products due to health benefits,” says Dionysios Christou, vice president of marketing for Del Monte Fresh Produce in Coral Gables, FL. Del Monte’s Guac line includes Classic, Pico De Gallo and Spicy. “The growth of avocado consumption over the past few years has been fueling the rapid expansion of prepared guacamole in the produce and deli departments. We’ve also noticed a large increase in healthy snack item consumption, and prepared guacamole is ideally positioned to address today’s consumer needs. Avocados are becoming a staple for many consumers’ diets, especially as they become aware of their many health benefits.”
Tortilla chips are guacamole’s time-honored companions, but the experts also spot opportunities to boost the healthy snack’s appeal by displaying it with other produce items. Araiza says he would like to see the Calavo products “paired in produce with carrots or celery as a value-added package.”
“Cross-promoting Del Monte Fresh Guac with chips, salads, sushi and vegetables such as celery, carrots and broccoli are great ways to increase sales and gain consumer acknowledgment,” says Christou. “Signage should always inform consumers about the different usage options and occasions for the product, and recipe cards can be placed directly next to the product in order to drive sales.”
Burger also says “there are definitely opportunities to partner with a like-minded, better-for-you chip or snack brand that could be placed in the refrigerated space alongside Hope Foods guacamole.”
Guac For All
The commodity’s appeal to diverse segments of the shopping public is another factor fueling sales.
“We believe this growth can also be attributed to an increasing Hispanic and Latin American influence, as U.S. consumer tastes continue to expand to include more ethnic foods, but even more because of the health factors and overall taste profile of avocado,” says Christou. “We find young Hispanic adults between 35-44 years old with children are the biggest buyers of guacamole.”
“We’re noticing that our customers are primarily females between the ages of 24-45 who are dedicated to a healthy lifestyle, both by staying active and eating healthy,” says Burger.
“Every demographic is buying it, from Millennials to senior citizens and the whole group in between. People from all walks of life have really gotten on board with guacamole and avocados, and see them as healthy snacks.”
– Keith Cox, K-VA-T Food Stores
From his vantage point as produce category manager at Food City, Cox sees that “every demographic is buying it, from Millennials to senior citizens and the whole group in between. People from all walks of life have really gotten on board with guacamole and avocados, and see them as healthy snacks. It’s a trend that’s been growing for several years and continues to grow. Anything to do with avocados keeps growing.”
The flavor profiles of the packaged guacamoles differ from company to company, though many offer an “authentic” variety. This is guacamole’s acoustic version, where avocados take center stage. At Calavo, authentic guacamole includes just seven ingredients: Hass avocado, tomatillo, onion, jalapeno pepper, salt, cilantro and garlic. This is the top seller at Food City, says Cox.
“We find our more popular flavor is Green Chile, as consumers prefer some chile flavor with a hint of spice. We’re seeing a lot of spicier varieties in the space that use an assortment of chiles primarily,” says Hope Foods’ Burger.
“Our best-selling guac product is our Classic Del Monte Fresh Guac in 2 oz. cups and 8 oz. trays,” says Del Monte’s Christou. “The 2 oz. cups have proven to be exceptionally popular for their convenience factor.”
“Cabo Fresh currently has four different flavors with the new one being Fiesta Guacamole,” says Brown says. “Consumers are loving our new flavor, however, our staples, Authentic Guacamole and Organic Guacamole, are still the brand’s leaders. All our guacamole comes in a 12-ounce tub. We choose 12 ounce because it gives the consumer the option to serve it at a party or, purchase a tub for the week that can be added to a tasty omelet in the morning, to a sandwich at lunch or to a simple dinner for flavor.”
Brown thinks guacamole has secured its place on the grocery list. “Based on the rate of growth, guacamole is becoming less of an impulse purchase and more of a staple on families’ weekly shopping lists,” she says. “Guacamole single-serves are driving the weekly purchases as single-serve items are consumed throughout the week by both adults and children as lunch or midday snacks.”
While enjoying the year-round sales lift, packaged guacamole makers and sellers continue to rigorously promote the snack during the important mini sales seasons. In the run-up to the Super Bowl, Food City advertised a buy-one-get-one-free offer for guacamole and salsa. “At least two to four times a year we will do some type of promotion based on what holiday is going on,” says Cox. “We’ll probably do it again for Cinco de Mayo.”
<4>“Based on the rate of growth, guacamole is becoming less of an impulse purchase and more of a staple on families’ weekly shopping lists.”
– Jessica Brown, Cabo Fresh
During those ad weeks, and especially for the Super Bowl, Cox says, stores will get creative and do secondary displays — filling ice bins with guacamole, for example — “which really drives sales big time,” he says. “We may do cross tie-ins from other grocery departments. Bring in chips to give the consumer a one-stop shop.”
And we’ll throw it in an ad, maybe in August, just to raise the awareness back to the item again, to say, ‘Hey, don’t forget about me. I know it’s August, but I’m still here,’ ” says Cox.
The guacamole playbook continues to expand, with at least two key players announcing they have new items in the works.
“2018 is the year of innovation for Cabo Fresh,” says Brown. “We have a lot of new products in our pipeline. All the new guacamole/avocado concepts stem from the consumer research we did in 2017. The goal is to meet consumers’ needs and make people’s lives easier.”
Something’s cooking at Hope Foods, too, says Burger. “We have some exciting innovations in the works further down the pipeline, but no info to share just yet.”
“We’re in a great commodity,” says Calavo Growers’ Araiza, “I don’t see this thing slowing down.”
Watch this space.