Avocados continue to excel as a top fruit drawing customers into produce departments coast to coast. And although the California crop was greatly reduced this season due to extreme heat and wildfires, the industry remains optimistic that there will be plenty available to spread on toast and liven up parties in guacamole dishes.

In 2018, 2.56 billion pounds of Hass conventional and organic avocados were consumed in the United States, says Emiliano Escobedo, executive director of the Hass Avocado Board, Mission Viejo, California.

Hass volume this year is up 9.7% versus the same period last year. And the Hass Avocado Board estimates that 2019 volume for conventional fresh Hass avocados will be 2.575 billion pounds.

Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission, says the California avocado crop volume is forecast to be just 175 million pounds the season, which is about half the size of last season's offering.

"Multiple factors contributed to this, including a period of extreme heat last July, which caused some fruit drop," she says. "Peak California avocado availability is expected now through the Fourth of July holiday with some lighter volume expected to continue into August. We are expecting most of the California avocado crop distribution this year to focus on California and the West. This allows participating retailers enough volume to merchandise California avocados throughout the season."

Gary Caloroso, regional business development director for The Giumarra Companies, Los Angeles, adds that the diminished California avocado crop was due not only to extreme heat, but also to wildfires that engulfed many growing areas in the state.

"Next year, California should have an increase of avocado volume as long as there are no weather events that affect the crop," he says. "This year, we expect great quality and higher pricing."

As for how the Florida avocado crop looks, Mary Ostlund, marketing director for Brooks Tropicals, Homestead, Florida, says one word describes the company's groves: resplendent.

"This will be a good year for our Florida avocados," she says. "Our Dominican avocados just past their peak, so no signs showing yet on their upcoming season."

The company markets SlimCado avocados, which Ostlund describes as tropical avocados. "They love the heat and the humidity that the tropics provide," she says. "We grow them in the Caribbean, southern Florida and the Dominican Republic."


Younger consumers promise bright future

The avocado category is benefiting from multiple trends, says DeLyser of the California Avocado Commission. "Demographically, avocados appeal to all ages, with millennials showing particular affinity for the fruit," she says. "This bodes well for the future."

Health and nutrition news about avocados coupled with consumer interest in "good fats" and fiber are category wins, she adds.

Ostlund of Brooks Tropicals says avocado popularity sees no end in sight. "Beyond guacamole, avocados have pushed butter and mayo to the side for toasts and sandwiches," she says. "Avocados can also take the heat, so shoppers can use them when firing up their grills."

Brooks Tropicals' SlimCados can be prepared as a creamy salad option or entrée.

"This avocado doesn't oxidize as fast as a Hass, so you can eat that creamy salad with a bit of SlimCado with every spoonful," Ostlund says. "Or wake up, turn on the oven and crack an egg in the SlimCado's half; that's worth getting up for."

Caloroso of The Giumarra Companies recommends retailers offer a variety of options to avocado shoppers.

"First, we encourage retailers to offer preconditioned/ripe avocados as well as green/hard avocados to consumers," he says. "Second, we recommend that supermarket chains offer both bulk and bagged avocados. Third, we have also seen retailers experience success by offering a variety of sizes to their shoppers."

Many successful avocado promotions have focused on celebratory events such as the Super Bowl, Cinco de Mayo, Fourth of July and other large events that bring people together, Caloroso says.

"Consumer demand continues to increase — it's not even close to its peak of popularity yet, and some regions of the United States are still becoming more familiar with avocados and all of their uses," he adds.

Next, Escobedo of the Hass Avocado Board says it's critical for retailers to know who their avocado shoppers are and bank on catering to them.

 The Hass Avocado Board funds a shopper and category research and insight program that provides this information for free to retailers on its website, https://hassavocadoboard.com/research-insights/, using retail scan and household panel data.


Cross-merchandising opportunities

Within the produce department, cross-merchandising with complementary items with contrasting colors, such as lemons and tomatoes, can make stunning displays and encourage higher basket rings, says DeLyser of the California Avocado Commission.

Other perimeter supermarket sections would be great for avocado cross-promotions, especially in spring and summer during California avocado season, she adds.

"Think burgers, sandwich makings and more," DeLyser says. "Some retailers are bringing avocados into the service deli and others have established in-store fresh guacamole programs."

Themed displays that promote holidays and events work great for promoting avocados as well, she says. The American summer holidays from Memorial Day through Labor Day have multiple opportunities to pair California avocados with patriotic holidays.

"We have seen some fabulous displays that include flags, banners and red, white and blue balloons," DeLyser says. "Summer-themed displays also can draw a lot of attention to the produce department and California avocados."

Vince Mastromauro Jr., director of produce and procurement for Sunset Foods, Highland Park, Illinois, says avocados in his stores continue be a hot commodity trending upward.

"Customers want a conditioned avocado, ready to eat for slicing and putting on a salad or to make guacamole," he says.

Between green or preconditioned avocados, Mastromauro says the conditioned fruit always sells better, adding that bulk, 48-count larger-size fruit sells better than bagged product in his stores.

As for pricing, he says avocados usually are set at $1.99 apiece. When promoting on-ad, the fruit are priced at 99 cents per avocado and sell about twice as much as at regular price. The lowest he's priced avocados is 79 cents.

"If I can promote avocados for a month straight, I go for it," Mastromauro says. "If I can get a good return, I'm going to do it."

When on sale, Sunset Foods will sample avocados in mini cups with chunked guacamole and tortilla chips.

Mastromauro says he promotes avocados at peak periods including Cinco de Mayo and the Super Bowl and will tie in cross-promotion items such as plum tomatoes, lemons and limes.

"When you promote avocados in the tomato section with lemons, limes and bagged salads, it's always a home run hit!"