More points of origin mean steady supply for U.S. shoppers.
Originally printed in the November 2022 issue of Produce Business.
With a smaller flow of fruit from Mexico earlier this year, as well as the market reaction to a one-week ban on sales in February, avocado supply took a dip even as demand in the United States has been strong, boosting prices.
However, as global supply increases, the hope is that supply will start to catch up to demand.
Hector Soltero, senior director of sales planning at Mission Produce, Oxnard, CA, says demand has been a driving factor in avocado prospects.
“Despite the high pricing due to inflation and supply challenges throughout the last several months, demand for avocados remains strong,” he says. “Retail prices of avocados are up by about 30% compared to a year ago, but volume is down by only 15%, demonstrating the resilience of the category.”
He says that multiple cultivation sites have been supporting supply, even if it has been a bit short earlier in the year. As such, he observes, avocado supply has been stablizing, “with a good mix of origins.”
Still, he says, the global supply is struggling to keep up with worldwide demand year over year.
For that reason, Soltero says Mission Produce sources high-quality fruit from multiple premium growing regions around the globe to take advantage of the varying seasons. “Our diversified sourcing strategy, coupled with our vertical integration, provides us greater control over our volume and promotes a reliable year-round supply for our customers.”
Allan Acosta, vice president, Global Tropical Sourcing at Robinson Fresh, Eden Prairie, MN, says the current supply line of avocados continues to be fluid, but many retailers are using alternative solutions to support the increasing demand. “For example, some have made changes to their preferred fruit size, while others have made changes to their supply strategy in regards to country of origin.”
Acosta says retailers are also incorporating new packaging solutions into their offerings. “This latter component is extremely important to Robinson Fresh, as we are continuously looking to introduce innovative packaging based on trends in the produce industry, sustainability efforts and buying habits of frequent avocado shoppers.”
He emphasizes the importance of formal approval for the State of Jalisco to export avocados to the U.S. “Initial reports suggest that growers in Jalisco are prepared to ship between 3,000 to 5,000 tons of Hass avocados to the U.S. market per week, which will help meet the increasing demand.”
The first shipment from Jalisco crossed into the U.S. Aug. 1. “Our expansion into the Jalisco region will strengthen our grower base and allow us to increase our import numbers, enhancing our mission of providing consumers with the freshest avocados year-round,” says Ron Campbell, executive director at the Mexican Hass Avocado Importers Association.
Keith Slattery, founder and chief executive of Stonehill Produce, Dana, CA, says as Mexico, the largest supplier to the U.S. market, transitions from one crop to another during the summer, a supply dip is always expected, but the lull has been bigger news this year because of 2022 crop difficulties and more market participation from other points of origin.
“That has all hands on deck dealing with this transition that has seen diminished volume from Mexico at the end of its 2021-2022 season, June 30, multiple origins coming forward to fill that gap and maintain supply, and Mexico’s new crop finding its normal footing that makes it capable of handling demand solo.”
Alfonso Delgado, associate director of trade marketing at Avocados From Mexico, Irving, TX, said whatever temporary problems occurred earlier this year, the cross border avocado trade remains strong, and fresh avocados can be delivered farm to table in three to five days.
“Mexico remains committed to meet the quality and capacity needs of the U.S., as demand remains on the upswing. Through every step of the supply chain, rigorous guidelines are enforced. These standards start at the orchards, where avocados are harvested with a specially designed pole that allows avocados to be picked directly from the tree. Avocados that have touched the ground are not approved for export.”
In the past seven years, U.S. consumption of Avocados From Mexico, the top-selling avocado brand in the United States, has doubled. During 2021, the United States imported $3 billion of avocados, with $2.8 billion coming from Mexico.
“That’s 1.2 million metric tons of avocados coming from Mexico just last year,” Delgados says.
Michoacán state remains the center of Mexico’s avocado trade, with more than 2 billion pounds of Haas avocados harvested, packaged and exported to the United States each year to meet demand, Delgado says.
SOURCES BEYOND MEXICO
Peru has been building its avocado exports for more than a decade, says Xavier Equihua, president and chief executive, Peruvian Avocado Commission, Washington DC, and, although a significant proportion goes to Europe, bigger crops and growing demand mean more product is moving to the United States.
“Right now, we’re estimating at least 300 million, but more like 350 million, pounds coming to the U.S.” he says. “About 30% to 35% of Peru’s exports will go to the U.S. In the next year, that could be half a billion pounds to help the U.S. reach the 3 billion pound consumption mark.”
Equihua says, with more points of origin, the distribution of avocados is changing, as U.S.-produced fruit is seeing particular popularity in the West, Mexico being ubiquitous and sources like Peru gaining attention. Peru has launched a campaign with different retailers on a market basis — Lidl on the East Coast and Meijer in the Midwest — offering a Tesla automobile in an Avocados from Peru sweepstakes. A sweepstakes for an ebike and involving mass transit, including bus and bus stop advertising, was also held, with Giant as a partner in the middle of the Eastern Seaboard. The promotion joins origin-specific major initiatives from California, Colombia and, of course, Mexico to sustain and build momentum for avocados across the United States.
In Colombia, the fourth largest global exporter, avocado cultivation also continues to grow, with continued certification of more grower acreage, says William Watson, managing director of the Colombia Avocado Board, Orlando, FL. Currently, more than 300 certified orchards in Colombia have met the USDA phytosanitary certifications to ship to the U.S., which can be a three- to six-month process.
“The growing demand in the U.S. market has created more interest in becoming certified, and you will continue to see more growers continue to certify acreage and available U.S. volumes from importers increasing,” Watson says.
“Buyers are regularly contacting us and asking us about Colombian avocados, and how they can get some,” he says. “Supply has certainly been a limiting factor as we ramp up certified acres for the U.S. market.”
But, Watson adds, Colombian production is more than doubling year over year, and he expects the same for 2022-2023 season and beyond. “The growing consumer demand is proof that there is a place in the market for everyone and buyers are eager for multiple supply sources.”
The way the market functions today, Stonehill Produce’s Slattery says, Peru and Colombia are significant in that they have filled in the market where it may have gone short. However, it’s less about seasonality, as avocados already are incoming the full year around. Rather, he says, the additional volume of fruit from Peru and Colombia have kept consumption growing by helping meet the increase in constant demand.
“Volume continuity equals demand momentum equals value generation,” he says. “The scarcity skid Mexico hit this past season was a very rare event. In fact, Mexico is increasing acreage and production in Michoacan, and the state of Jalisco has been cleared for exports to the U.S. Other states will likely follow over time.”
‘IT’S A HASS WORLD’
In the Golden State, it’s been a good year for avocados.
“California avocado harvesting started early this year and has been very strong from April through June,” says Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing, California Avocado Commission (CAC), Irvine, CA.
DeLyser adds that the harvest certainly had demand to welcome it. “For the 52 weeks ending May 15, 2022, the retail avocado category is around $2.6 billion in sales and ranks as No. 6 in total dollar sales among fruit categories,” she says.
In California, traditions continue with some adaptation, with the Hass avocado, a California native, making up most plantings and volume, DeLyser says. The total California production estimate for the year is 270 million pounds, with the Hass variety totaling 256 million pounds.
Of course, the shortfall in Mexican avocado exports is among the factors that have affected the prospect of the California crop. So, even though the supply of California avocados is larger this year than last year, “supply of imported avocados and thus avocados overall is less than the prior year. A variety of issues have contributed to supply being less than market and consumer demand.”
Colombia is also a Hass producer, and Watson says it’s a quality producer at that. “The mountain elevations of the Andes tropical rain forests are home to rich sources of biodiversity and perfect growing conditions of temperature, sunlight and rainfall that allow us to produce a rich, creamy fruit year-round. There are nine distinct growing regions, and we always have fruit in bloom and ready for shipping from several ports at the top of South America.”
In Peru, says Equihua, conditions are good and the crop is growing, with more product that is heading to the United States. He says that although the GEM and Maluma varieties grow in Peru, they don’t have the mass appeal in the United States, which is pretty much the same from coast to coast except for some markets in the East and especially Florida where smooth green-skin varieties such as Choquette have a following.
“It’s a Hass world,” Equihua says, “with room for GEMs and Malumas in the future.” Peru is considering amending its export program to allow GEM and Malumas to move to the U.S. market, he adds.
ROOM TO GROW DEMAND
Alejandro Gavito, senior business insights and data service manager at the Hass Avocado Board (HAB), Mission Viejo, CA, says the latest evidence suggests avocados still have a lot of opportunity to win sales in the United States. The HAB Segmentation Study, conducted in 2020 and published last year, demonstrated much of the growth in avocado consumption was within two enthusiastic consumer groups.
“In 2020, Ultra and Mega household segments individually made up 8% of avocado-purchasing households,” Gavito says. “These households accounted for a disproportionately strong share of avocado purchases, 35% and 18%, respectively. These two groups represent only 16% of shoppers, but they buy 53% of avocados sold at retail. The incremental sales would be massive if we, as an industry, move the remaining 84% of shoppers up the consumption ladder by even a few percentage points.”
Gavito says a basic path to boosting avocado sales already exists, and can be leveraged to drive consumer use across meal occasions.
“Perceptions of being healthy, containing good fat remain as top purchase drivers, followed by taste and texture, which indicates that nutrition is still key,” he says. “While dinner is still the most common meal occasion in which avocados are consumed, there is an increase in using them as snacks driven by the heavy and super heavy users.”
Consumption remains strong, although not easy to nail down exactly, CAC’s DeLyser says.
“Avocado consumption trends in the U.S. are going to be difficult to track in the short term, because when supply declines, consumption can’t possibly increase. But what would consumption have been if supply had not been lower this year than last year? Based on the fact that consumers are continuing to purchase avocados at higher prices this year, we believe that had there been ‘normal’ supply in 2022, there would have been continued avocado consumption growth,” she says.
Stonehill Produce’s Slattery feels that avocados have growth momentum behind them. “It’s hard to believe that’s not the case when you consider the ubiquity of avocados in the American diet and online as a pop-culture icon,” he says. “But there is plenty of growth potential ahead for the U.S. avocado category, with both non-users and light-to-moderate users. Moving the latter group to a higher consumption level is the quickest and easiest way to fuel growth.”
Jennifer Anazawa, senior category manager for Mission Produce, says avocados can gain more traction because of their nutritional characteristics.
“Consumers continue to prioritize healthier eating habits,” she says. “Avocados are a USDA-approved superfood and have 20 essential vitamins and nutrients. However, only 65% of consumers associate avocados with healthy fats and only 63% associate avocados as nutritious, so it’s important to promote avocado health benefits and lean into consumer trends for mindful eating.”
As the pandemic becomes a lesser market dynamic, Anazawa points out that consumer shopping behaviors are evolving due to inflation, “Shoppers are becoming savvier, selecting to purchase particular sizes according to their usage plans and taking advantage of bagged avocados. They’re also looking for coupons, buying fewer items and visiting more stores in search of the best price.”
Today, avocados need to be promoted not only for special occasions, Anazawa says, but on a consistent basis to keep consumers purchasing. “It’s important to keep avocados top-of-mind for shoppers by implementing effective merchandising. Thirty-six percent of avocado shoppers say they ‘often buy’ avocados on impulse, so displaying avocados in multiple visible locations throughout the store can be an effective strategy,” she says.
Displays outside the produce department should be part of any effective avocado merchandising strategy, she adds.
“Promote increased sales by placing avocados near the front of the store or next to complementary products, such as onions, limes, tomatoes, chips or dips. Including educational signage with nutritional information or storage and ripening tips can inspire avocado sales at retail,” Anazawa says.
“It’s all about velocity today,” Slattery says. “Position the display prominently and price the fruit right to keep it moving quickly through check-out. Since avocados have joined the ranks of essentials in a large part of America, we are seeing fewer ‘gimmicks’ in avocado features at retail and more movement-centric promotions, week in and week out for the entire year.”
Avocados from Mexico offers extensive promotional and merchandising support for U.S. food retailers, focusing on key avocado occasions with many marketing elements, including merchandising solutions, consumer offers and consumer sweepstakes, Delgado says.
Additionally, AFM partners with retailers across all formats, regions and national footprints “with innovative solutions that drive incremental sales for the category.”