Aggressive marketing can move the product from a niche specialty to a major success story.
United States consumption of avocados doubled in the past 10 years and is now nearly four times higher than in the mid-1990s, according to the USDA Economic Research Service, March 2016 Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook report. The report further credits the growth in per-capita availability to imports, primarily from Mexico.
In 2013, the Mexican avocado industry formed the promotion board Avocados From Mexico (AFM) with the purpose of coordinating marketing activities for the Mexican Hass Avocados Importers Association (MHAIA) and The Association of Growers and Packers of Avocados From Mexico (APEAM). Avocados From Mexico now produces more than 2 billion pounds of avocados per year for the U.S., and represents nearly 68 percent of the total U.S. foodservice market.
“If you look at the past five years, the AFM market share increased significantly — growing from 52 percent to 81 percent,” says Stephanie Bazan, market development director for Avocados From Mexico in Irving, TX. “This is growing the category. Last year alone, the category grew 20 percent in pounds.”
Marketers report success in both retail and foodservice promotions with the aggressive AFM campaigns over the years. “They have been very successful at increasing sales and consumption,” says Gary Caloroso, director of marketing (avocados and asparagus) for The Giumarra Companies in Ventura, CA. “We have greater consumer demand as a result of the marketing work conducted by the various avocado commodity boards, including AFM.”
Dan Acevedo, director of business development with GreenFruit Avocados in Newport Beach, CA, notes one cannot turn on a cooking channel or read a health magazine without seeing avocados. “As the category continues to grow, retailers expand avocado display space. In well-developed markets, there are multiple conventional programs and an expanded organic section along with an avocado bag program,” he says.
One of the major advances credited to AFM is the expansion of usage occasions for avocados. “They helped bring more attention to the avocado,” says Rich Dachman, vice president produce with Sysco Corporation in Houston. “Avocado is not just promoted around Cinco de Mayo anymore. Now there are more conversations at other times of the year.”
“One of the most effective things Avocados From Mexico has done is drive consumption on a year-round basis by touting the multiple usage occasions,” agrees Dave Lessard, vice president produce and floral for Ahold USA in Carlisle, PA. “It’s not just for game-day guacamole. Consumer education is gaining more exposure with recent marketing around how to store and how to serve.”
“To maximize the sales impact, align retail promotions with the marketing promotions and take advantage of the various display units available.”
— Dave Lessard, Ahold USA
AFM states its goal is to build excitement and sales of avocados year-round. “We provide fresh, innovative meal solutions, strategic partnerships and exciting promotions 365 days a year,” says Bazan. “We offer nine promotional programs annually.”
Some of the most prominent and successful marketing promotions for foodservice incorporate availability of new recipes for operators, according to Sysco’s Dachman.
“These include: Avocado Toast, Avocado/Egg Bake and Avocado Smoothies,” he says. “It’s been important to have marketing fliers and recipes on new ways to use an avocado.”
The Ahold stores take advantage of the multiple marketing and promotional themes throughout the year. “We’ve seen the largest incremental increases around the non-holiday/non-football promos,” reports Lessard. “These include summer sandwiches, salads and back-to-school.”
Increasing incorporation of avocado in foodservice can yield favorable results for operators. Giumarra’s Caloroso says foodservice outlets continue to find more ways to incorporate avocados on menus to drive profits.
“Restaurants featuring avocados in a variety of dishes have done very well — particularly when paired with a promotion.” AFM recently commissioned a study on consumer willingness to pay more for fresh avocados at restaurants. “The study, which included more than 3,000 consumers, found an avocado add-on provided a boost of up to $2 in sales prices across all restaurant segments,” reports Mark Garcia, director of foodservice marketing for AFM.
“Not only are customers willing to pay more for the addition of fresh avocado on sandwiches, salads, and other entrées, but two-thirds of consumers (67 percent) report restaurants offering an avocado add-on would improve their menu item quality perceptions — attributing this to the trademark taste and health characteristics of avocados,” he says.
Garcia says there have been some exciting promotions and limited-time-offers (LTOs) with restaurants that involved Chipotle, On The Border, Johnny Rockets and Pappasito’s Cantina. “These included limited-time specials ranging from tableside guacamole to avocado add-ons,” he says. “Each of these operators reported amazing results with increased guest counts, improved sales and off-the-chart digital engagements. These promotions help drive consumption of fresh avocados year-round and engage consumers in fun new ways.”
AFM foodservice programs strive to create unique, custom tailored programs for restaurant operators. “We’re continually working with existing and new restaurant partners on new menu items and offerings,” says Garcia. “Not only do we execute in-restaurant promotions featuring Avocados From Mexico, but we also use these LTOs to extend the reach of both partners to a broader audience online. For example, in March we executed a promotion with Chipotle called “Guac Hunter” — an online photo hunt game where players had to spot the differences between two similar photos within a given time frame. The players who completed the survey won a free order of chips and guac at any Chipotle in the U.S. or Canada.”
POS Is Key
In-store materials and support is a fundamental element for increased avocado sales. “Display and POS have been key in educating consumers and driving large incremental increases year over year for the past four years,” says Ahold’s Lessard. “To maximize the sales impact, align retail promotions with the marketing promotions and take advantage of the various display units available.”
AFM continues to work on innovative ways to create in-store merchandising and promote avocados outside of the produce section. “We believe education at POS plays an important role in consumer purchase and consumption,” says Bazan. “By educating consumers on how to pick, store, ripen and cut avocados, our educational POS signage helps overcome barriers to purchase.”
The assortment of displays includes solutions for bulk and bagged product. “For bulk, AFM offerings include eco-rack displays and farmers market bins made of 100 percent recyclable material and easy-to-move wire racks with space for cross-merchandising of complementary items,” says Bazan. “For bagged avocados, AFM has an offering of displays for the deli area or counters and full-stand vehicles.”
However, creative promotions can only be as successful as product availability allows and marketers emphasize the need for close cooperation with suppliers.
“Every day, our company coordinates our sales and marketing support initiatives with our retail and foodservice customers,” says Giumarra Companies’ Caloroso. “We have constant communication with AFM and other avocado commodity boards regarding the timing of promotions and what we can do as a company to help support these joint marketing efforts.”
Into The Future
AFM looks to raise the bar in 2017, moving into a new meal category and emphasizing health and nutrition even more. Its new retail program, set to roll out in the spring, focuses on breakfast. “Total breakfast occasions, in- and away-from-home, are forecast to grow by 5 percent through 2019,” explains AFM’s Bazan.
On the foodservice front, AFM kicked off a major college campus tour this past October. “We promoted nutritious eating habits and breakfast with a food truck and exclusive Avocado Toast recipes,” says Garcia. “We also facilitated a competition among college students to create their own Avocado Toast recipe for the chance to win cash prizes.”
Caloroso expects continued increased sales for both retail and foodservice customers as promotional efforts continue, but warns of a potential pitfall.
“The bigger underlying phenomenon is how consumer demand is rising higher than the availability of supply,” he explains. “That’s great news for the future of avocados but it does offer short-term supply challenges during the year.”