KANSAS CITY - Americans’ seemingly endless appetite for avocados continues to grow, and producers in California and Mexico are confident there will be plenty of product to meet that demand as spring yields to summer. 

California avocado growers are expected to ship about 292 million pounds of avocados in the 2020-21 season, in the “average” range but 8% below a preliminary forecast, said Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission (CAC).

“Compared to many parts of the country California has had a very mild fall and winter, but there were some weather events, including wind, that impacted the very early season harvest,” DeLyser said. “That shortfall seems to be behind us, and we’re expecting promotable volume starting in late April, with a range of sizes and excellent quality for the rest of the season.” 

Peak volumes should span a 15-week period beginning in late April and lasting through August, DeLyser said. Growers expect the promotable quantities and good sizing and quality to be met with strong demand.

For 2021 the commission is adding some new twists to its “the best avocados have California in them” campaign, introduced for the 2019-20 season. CAC worked with a variety of artists on the ad designs and will acknowledge them in the ads themselves and via social media, DeLyser said.

The commission will target markets in western states through a variety of media and social media channels, including digital advertising, streaming video and audio. 

In addition, CAC will roll out what DeLyser describes as “unique out-of-home advertising” in its local California markets. And the commission will continue its work with brand advocates, including registered dietitians, chefs and other influencers, to better communicate with consumers. 

Retailers can also look forward to new creative public relations activities planned to encourage consumers to seek out California avocados in season, including virtual events and activities to reach influencers and consumers in a pandemic environment, DeLyser said. CAC is also upping the ante on customized programs for retailers and foodservice operators.

“We understand that their needs vary, and our team is nimble not just with planning but with executing these programs.”

CAC enters the 2021 peak season with a full head of steam and a lot of confidence, given the success of its marketing efforts last season.

“The 2020 California Avocado Tracking Study and other consumer research showed that our advertising campaign did a great job last year,” DeLyser said. “The commission took the learning from consumer ad testing and applied that to our 2021 campaign, and we are very excited about the results.”  

Destination: Cinco

Demand for Mexican avocados is expected to be strong leading up to Cinco de Mayo, one of the top avocado promotion periods of the year, said Stephanie Bazan, vice president of trade and market development for Dallas-based Avocados From Mexico (AFM).  In the three weeks leading up to Cinco, weekly exports from Mexico to the United States should be in the 50 to 60 million pounds range.

Avocados from Mexico will be ready, with a shopper marketing campaign “Thank Guac It’s Cinco,” that features a partnership with tomato shipper NatureSweet and Bud Light.

“Co-purchase between avocados, tomatoes and beer is already high and NatureSweet and Bud Light are a perfect partnership to celebrate Cinco,” Bazan said. “POS will include eye-catching displays perfect to inspire guacamole, joint savings offers and social media support.”

Looking ahead to summer, AFM will roll out its first all-produce national shopper marketing program featuring NatureSweet and Shuman Farms.  The campaign will highlight signature regional recipes that use produce ingredients for salad creations as a starting point, including avocados.  POS will include merchandising solutions, consumer savings offers, and social and digital support. 

“Through will elevate engagement and increase basket ring with regional salad recipes featuring avocados, tomatoes and Vidalia onions as shopper prepare to enjoy their summer,” Bazan said.

Demand continues strong 

Avocado demand has been on the rise in the United States seemingly forever, but the industry shows no signs of slowing down. Total U.S. household penetration reached 64% in 2019, according to the Hass Avocado Board IRI Consumer Network 2020.

That’s great, of course, DeLyser said — but there’s still work to be done.

“There are big opportunities for growth in increasing the number of times consumers include avocados in their shopping trips and in how many avocados they buy on each occasion.”

Sales for bagged avocados have increased during the pandemic as consumers are looking for packaged items to help reduce their time in stores and may have been touched less by other shoppers, DeLyser said. 

Bagged avocados were already on the rise pre-pandemic, and in 2020, bagged avocados made up 22% of volume and 19% of dollar sales, according to IRI/Freshlook data.

Bazan said Mexican shippers and marketers are also seeing surging demand for bagged product. 

“Bagged sales have gained huge momentum and have become a COVID-19 category growth hero,” she said. “There has been a shift toward using bags due to better value, safety and the fact that they are faster to pick. “

According to Nielsen data cited by AFM, bags now represent about 13% of volume share with 36% growth in volume sales through the end of January, compared to the same period a year ago.  And the bagged growth has not come at the expense of cannibalizing bulk sales, Bazan said.

“We see tremendous growth of bags across all regions. There is a great opportunity for retailers to create an avocado bag destination or display with solutions that showcase the value of the bag to their shoppers,” she said. “AFM has reinforced merchandising solutions for bags this year and are available to retailers at no cost.”

COVID-19 continues to have an impact this year, particularly in in-person dining in the foodservice sector, including retail foodservice. But CAC is seeing strong interest in foodservice programs with QSRs and chains with takeout and delivery. 

“Consumer programs this year were built from the get-go with pandemic realities in mind,” DeLyser said.

Despite the pandemic, the United States imported a record 277 million pounds of Mexican avocados in the first four weeks of the year leading up to the Super Bowl, the most important guacamole consumption event of the year, Bazan said. That’s up 19% increase vs the same period in 2020. And the Mexican industry also set a single-week record in that period, with 78 million pounds of product coming in one week in the runup to the game.

Education holds the key 

As much as avocado consumption has risen in recent years, there’s still plenty of room for growth — and education might be the key, according to a new study conducted by AFM.

The study found that 73% of shoppers would be more likely to buy avocados if they had more knowledge about them. During COVID, there was a shift towards needing to make avocados last longer, with a focus on ripening and preservation knowledge, Bazan said.

AFM continues to focus on building confidence with shoppers at the point of sale through its Fresher Longer campaign. The group deployed an in-store effort with approximately 15,000 points of interruption in the produce area and on-cart signage across various retailers.  Messaging on the signage was focused on how to slow down the ripening of an avocado.

Through a partnership with Glad, featuring the company’s Press N Seal wrap, AFM is also educating shoppers on how to preserve the other half of the avocado on in-store POS. All signage includes a QR code that takes shoppers to a digital experience featuring additional tips and techniques to help build confidence.

For big growth, look to “super” consumers

Avocado consumption continues to grow at rates most other produce commodities can only dream about, and a new study uncovers one reason why: the rise of “super” avocado shoppers.

The study, by the Mission Viejo, Calif.-based Hass Avocado Board, charts the huge growth in sales from 2016 through 2019. It found that “super” avocado-purchasing households spend at least $26 or more annually on avocados and accounted for 94% of the increase in avocado purchases during those four years.

In 2019, these households made up 70% of all avocado purchases. This household segment is growing faster than the other three segments analyzed in the study and made up 28% of all US households in 2019, up from 25% in 2016.

“As avocado shoppers move to higher purchase levels, they will find themselves as a member of the super household segment,” said Emiliano Escobedo, executive director of the Hass Avocado Board. “Understanding and engaging with this shopper group is key to the future growth of the avocado category.”

The study also suggests key actions and opportunities to drive avocado sales as the industry looks to the future. Two key recommendations presented in the study include:

  • Continue to develop marketing activities that bring new shoppers into the category and drive more trips to the retailer
  • Engage and focus marketing activities with the Super avocado-purchasing household group