CAC expects strong demand for California avocados
With the California avocado crop for 2023 expected to reach only 257 million pounds, which places it at about 10 percent below the four year volume average, the California Avocado Commission’s is expecting very strong demand throughout its truncated season.
But CAC President Jeff Oberman said there will still be plenty of opportunities to promote the crop at retail and foodservice outlets, largely because the marketing window has shifted. “By early March in 2022, California growers had already shipped a significant portion of their volume because of excellent marketing conditions,” he said. “This year growers have been holding off picking their fruit. We are not expecting big volumes until late March/early April.”
In 2022, California growers began picking their fruit in early January, sending a robust 3 million pounds to market during their third full week of January. For the week ending June 30, 2022, sent almost 5.2 million pounds to market. By mid-March, after 10 weeks of the year, total California avocado shipments were near 50 million pounds, representing almost 20 percent of the crop. This year, during the first nine weeks of the calendar year, only two weeks even topped 500,000 pounds. Total shipments during those nine weeks accounted for only about 1 percent of the state’s expected 2023 volume.
In essence, as the California avocado shippers begin selling the crop in March, they will have more California fruit to sell at this point compared to last year and a longer window in which to sell it. In 2022, the avocado market remained very strong throughout the spring and well into the summer. By mid-July, daily shipments were declining quickly. During the month of August, only about 9 million pounds were sent to market with September checking in with less than 3 million pounds.
As CAC kicks off its promotional support and marketing campaign in early to mid-April, the state’s growers should have more fruit to sell than they did last year from mid-April on. Moist handlers said they would have solid supplies into September and even in some fruit to sell in October.
Though April, May and June are still expected to be the months in which the majority of the California fruit will be sold, Oberman said there is a good deal of focus on extending the season into September with late fruit from the most northern avocado producing districts. He added that there are a couple of late maturing varieties, Reeds and Lamb Hass, that tend to mature later in the season and are attracting more interest this year. The GEM variety is also estimated to make an impact with about 6 million cartons, with picking of some of that fruit also adding to the late season volume.
Oberman said the marketing campaign is utilizing the same well-received theme of the past couple of years as it emphasizes “the best avocados have California in them. That’s been a very successful campaign and we are continuing with it this season.”
While retail and foodservice outlets based in the Western states are the strongest supporters of California avocados and help give it a premium price, CAC’s new president said buyer across the country are expressing interest in promoting the fruit. “We will work with anybody who can effectively market California avocados,” he said. “I have met with many retailers over the last few weeks and there are a lot of retailers all over the country that want our fruit when it is available.”
It is this demand that gives California avocados the premium price that Oberman said is the goal of the marketing campaign. Speaking to The Produce News shortly after he returned from the Southeast Produce Council trade show in Orlando in early March, Oberman said the interest was high. “Just this week I talked to a couple of retailers in the Midwest and Southeast that are ready to market California fruit as a differentiator from their competition,” he said. “Throughout the Midwest, we have retailers that have a solid history of marketing our fruit and we want to encourage that. The key is to get the premium price. We are very willing to work with both longtime retail partners and new partners who are interested in marketing California fruit.”
Like Napa Valley wine among its competitors, Oberman said California avocados are the best option during their time in the market and they deserve a premium.
While the 2023 crop is on the light side, Oberman said growers are excited about how the rain that has visited California this winter, effectively putting an end to its years-long drought, will impact both the 2023 and 2024 avocado crop. “Because of all the rain, there is still opportunity for this year’s crop to increase a bit in size,” he said., noting that rain is great for sizing the fruit. It is also known that trees picked later in the season will produce larger fruit.
“The rain is also setting us up for a good crop next year,” Oberman said, adding that the rain is helping set a strong bloom this spring which generally means a larger crop next spring.
Oberman was also excited to announce the hiring of Terry Splane as the new vice president of marketing, replacing CAC’s longtime marketing vice president Jan DeLyser, who retired in February after a 25-year career with the organization. “Jan is impossible to truly replace,” he said, “but Terry was an excellent choice and stood out among the many candidates that were interviewed by staff and the board.”
Splane has more than 30 years of marketing experience in the food industry, including stops at the spice firm McCormick & Co., and Southern California’s own Ventura Foods, which market some brands that are Fresh Produce & Floral Council members, including Marie’s dressings and dips. Most recently, Splane led the marketing team at Impossible Foods, the company that burst on to the plant-based food scene a handful of years ago and is now the leading brand in that space. He began his tenure at CAC on March 13.