Summer Is Ripe For Peruvian Avocados

Originally printed in the June 2018 issue of Produce Business.

With consumers craving the fruit year-round, Peru fills gap in supply during summer.

Touted as the avocados that saved the U.S summer market for this fruit last year, Peru is proving to be a potent source of supply during its season. The South American country’s role shouldn’t be as dramatic this year. After all, California’s crop is nearly double from 2017, and Mexico, while between seasons, is still a potent provider.

However, Americans can’t seem to get enough avocados. Per-capita use of this tropical fruit in the United States has tripled since the beginning of the 2000s and now totals more than seven pounds per person annually, according to the Washington, DC-headquartered USDA’s Economic Research Service Fruit and Tree Nut Outlook, released March 2018. With no dampening in demand forecast for the foreseeable future, it’s the addition of Peruvian fruit that offers retailers another source to satisfy consumers.

“We typically work to enable our retailers to schedule promotions, but we help guide when those promotions should take place based on peak volumes. Based on anticipated volume for this year, most of the summer months will be excellent timing for promotions.”

– Kevin Leap, Robinson Fresh, Eden Prairie, MN

“Shoppers want avocados year-round, just like they do bananas,” says Marc Goldman, produce director for Morton Williams, a 13-store supermarket chain based in the Bronx, NY. “Peru gives us yet another option of supply, which is good when other growing seasons are short. It also gives us the volume and sizes in order to carry both bulk and bags in the summer and to put the fruit on ad.”

A Palette Of Promotions

Peruvian avocados are especially ripe for promotion.

In fact, the country’s growers have a proven track-record of accomplishment that offers advantages for retailers in the U.S. market, says Fernando Ascenzo, commercial manager for Grupo Rocio, in Trujillo, Peru. “To offer a parallel, Peru has for many years been the chief source of imported avocados into Europe. As such, we have grown consumption in this market by working hand-in-hand with our importer, wholesaler, retailer and foodservice clients, ensuring quality and volume consistency year after year. This is the same thing that we offer in the United States.”

Reliability of supply, stable prices and promotional assistance are three major benefits Peruvian avocados bring to market.

First, Peru is a very reliable source of avocados for the United States, according to Kevin Leap, avocado category manager for Robinson Fresh, headquartered in Eden Prairie, MN. “Promotional plans and volume commitments have been arranged for a majority of the volume before fruit is on the water from Peru. Then, in addition to merchandising and selecting the right offerings, we recommend running steady promotions throughout the summer. We typically work to enable our retailers to schedule promotions, but we help guide when those promotions should take place based on peak volumes. Based on anticipated volume for this year, most of the summer months will be excellent timing for promotions.”

Secondly, Jose Antonio Gomez-Bazan, chief executive for Fort Lauderdale, FL-based Camposol Trading, one of the largest exporters of Peruvian avocados, says, “We don’t play with prices. Retailers like fixed prices, contract prices. We can offer this because we know the volume and we own the fruit since we distribute what we grow. Thirdly, we as grocers pay an assessment that funds retail promotions by the Peruvian Avocado Commission [PAC].”

“We recommend retailers merchandise avocados in a prominent location that will drive sales in stores, he says. “To maximize store sales, we recommend building displays that offer customers a choice of sizes. We have found that retailers we work with have positive feedback on their sales results when they offer their customers a jumbo-size avocado and a smaller, value-size avocado. And with all the fantastic exposure that avocados have been receiving through social media and current diet trends, many retailers have decided to include a bagged avocado offering to their shelves for even greater sales.”

The Peurivan Avocado Commission offers a toolbox of marketing tactics to its retail customers, who can then pick and choose from these strategies to create a customized promotion, according to Xavier Equihua, president and chief executive. These tactics include traditional media such as radio and TV ads with retailer tags and consumer magazine advertising, as well as on-trend publicity via digital and social media platforms. Specifically, for in-store, the PAC offers bin display units, stickers for mesh bags and boxes that tell how shoppers can download a free Avocados from Peru e-cookbook and ads for weekly circulars that offer redeemable coupons.

New for the 2018 promotional season, which runs from Memorial Day in May through Labor Day in early September, are three PAC-led programs: ‘buy three avocados and get one free’, free reusable grocery bags with the purchase of five Peruvian avocados, and the offering of ripening/multi-use environmentally correct bags with educational messages at point-of-sale. To celebrate World Avocado Month in June, the PAC is giving away the first electric avocado car in a sweepstakes with retailer co-branding.

“We use an approach that emphasizes the healthfulness of avocados,” Equihua says. “Our tagline is ‘the U.S.’s favorite superfood.’ Last year, Peruvian avocados were granted permission from the American Heart Association to use its Heart-Check mark for marketing promotions and campaigns.”

This nutrition slant is built into the PAC’s Building a Better Superfood demos, which purposely demonstrate other ways to enjoy avocados than just guacamole. Last year, the PAC conducted 6,000 demos at major retail outlets such as Costco, Sam’s Club and Walmart. In fact, Avocados from Peru was featured as part of Walmart’s Wellness Day, which is held every June in more than 4,500 stores. The three featured recipes were Avocados and Peach Crostini, Avocado and Blueberry Superfood Salad and Avocado Blueberry Smoothie. Fresh peaches, blueberries, bananas and spinach were additional produce ingredients included in these recipes.

“Our stores offer free screenings as part of Wellness Day, and avocados from Peru, especially with their American Heart Association certification, fit perfectly with this theme,” explains Guillermo Aguirre, senior produce buyer for the Bentonville, AR-based Walmart chain with 5,000-plus locations in the United States. “Nutrition information, recipes and health benefits were all part of the education that customers received at the taste demos.”

Promotions pay off, according to Robb Bertels, vice president of marketing for Oxnard, CA-based Mission Produce. “Peruvian avocados are still in the growth stage in terms of the penetration in North America. Although Peruvian fruit is a Hass variety, it handles and appears slightly different from other origins. It may be larger, maintain its green skin color longer during ripening and have a more pebbly-textured skin. These differences can create questions for consumers. By demoing or sampling fruit and running summertime call-outs, this gives the consumer a taste of what the fruit is like and creates confidence in the reliability of Peruvian fruit.”

Float All Boats

The PAC is the latest among the highly capable commissions designed to market Hass avocados in the United States from multiple growing areas. The question for retailers arises: Is it best to promote avocados by country of origin or focus on the fruit itself?

“By law, you need to provide country-of-origin labeling. Beyond this, where the fruit is sourced from varies by location and season. For example, West Coast retailers prefer California-grown fruit when available. The Midwest primarily sources out of Mexico, and much of the Peruvian shipments go to the East Coast,” says Giovanni Cavaletto, vice president of sourcing for Index Fresh, in Riverside, CA.

Additionally, many consumers are interested to know where their food comes from, says Camposol’s Gomez-Bazan. “We’ve created The Berry that Cares program as part of our blueberry production, and this focuses on our social and environmental responsibility efforts. We plan to do the same for our avocados. Getting this word out is seen as a real value proposition by our retailers who want to share this information with their customers.”

On the other hand, says Bertels, “I am a fan of just promoting all avocados, all the time. Mission handles many countries of origin, and we understand the need to promote the various origins when the fruit is in season. Overall, the country-of-origin promotions and communication add up to more awareness, understanding and consumption of avocados — regardless of origin.”

Peru: Country Snapshot

Peru, one of the world’s top avocado exporters, gained entry to the U.S. market in 2011. Since then, imports to the United States have grown to a record 145 million pounds last year, according to the Washington, DC-based Peruvian Avocado Commission (PAC), which markets the country’s fruit under the Avocados from Peru brand.

“We estimate Peru arrivals to the United States will be up more than 20 percent as compared to 2017,” says Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and fresh marketing for Calavo Growers, in Santa Paula, CA.

This means Peru will export from 150 to 170 million pounds of avocados to the United States this season, or about a quarter of its total crop, according to Stephen Fink, avocado category manager for LGS Specialty Sales, in New Rochelle, NY. “The 20 million difference will either go to Europe, which is Peru’s primary export market, or to Asia, which is a growing market, based on price.”

The quality of this year’s crop is good, growers say, with sizes averaging on 40s and 48s.

“The size of the fruit depends on the production area, as it is well known the North and Andes Highlands are more focused on small sizes, while the Peruvian Coast, especially south of Lima, is known for larger sizes,” says Daniela Suarez Castrat, commercial executive at the Consortium of Fruit Producers of Peru, in Lima.

Peru isn’t the only country of origin for avocados in the United States in the summer. Rather, its role is principally complementary.

“We expect the largest volume to arrive in June and July, averaging 10 to 12 million pounds per week,” says Robb Bertels, vice president of marketing for Oxnard, CA-based Mission Produce. Additionally, “we expect weekly volume from California to remain in the 15-million-pounds-per-week range during the summer months and expect Mexico to produce around 30 million pounds per week during the period, even though they are in transition as the crop cycle winds down before starting Flor Loca and new crop.”

Three countries in the market at the same time means more choice for retailers, according to Giovanni Cavaletto, vice president of sourcing for Index Fresh, in Riverside, CA. “For example, in June, if you want cosmetics and shelf life, then you go for Peruvian fruit. Or, in August, when Mexico is starting its new crop and you want fruit with a higher oil content, the preference at this time is also for Peru.”