Big volume and small fruit expected from Californian avocados
The good news for growers comes after a peak year in 2012, which brought 460 million pounds of output.
Jan DeLyser of the California Avocado Commission attributed a second year of outstanding production in large part to grower practices and the fortune of good climatic conditions.
"We’ve had good cultural practices by the growers. The tradition of avocados is to have an alternate bearing and it’s nice this year that we’ve got back-to-back, good volume crops. It’s really nice for the market because we can set our sights on the markets and the timing and be very aggressive with promotions and marketing activities we want to run," DeLyser, the vice president of marketing, said.
Mission Produce director of sales Ron Araiza explained, however, that high output comes with a trade off.
"What a larger crop does produce is a smaller sized fruit. That’s exactly what we’re seeing this year. With more fruit on the trees, it creates more stress for the trees. The fruit takes longer to size and the outcome is usually smaller size," he said.
"Traditionally this time of year, growers are eager and harvesting quite a bit of fruit. We’re a little behind and it’s due to the lack of size and possibly the current market conditions."
Araiza estimates that the current season is about three to four week later than last year.
Small fruit and a slight harvest delay, however, won't deal a blow to the category, Araiza explained. Avocados continue to shine worldwide.
"We tend to be very, very optimistic. We believe that we will continue to see demand rise for avocados. On a worldwide basis, we see demand increasing 10 to 12% with production only able to increase 3% or so. We believe this is long term," he said.
DeLyser echoed the same confidence in the fruit that is expected to reach 1.6 billion pounds of consumption in the U.S. this year.
"We see a lot of room for growth. In the mature and developed markets, we’re still seeing consumption increase. We’ve got a lot of territory to continue to build on that’s still being introduced to avocados," DeLyser said.
"There are a number of reasons that we feel really positive about future increases in consumption. The dedicated ripe programs have made it possible to have a quality eating experience at a moment’s notice. A consumer can walk into a store and get an avocado that’s ready to eat that day."
DeLyser added that there is a notable preference in the U.S. for California avocados, the fruit that consumers were first exposed to.
A love for local, however, does not mean an aversion to imports. With local production only reaching a third of consumption, foreign markets serve a real need.
"If look back 10 to 12 years ago, the volume available was around 500 million pounds and most of that would have been out of California. Without the increased volume availability of imports, we wouldn’t see the category growth that we’ve been able to realize in the U.S.," she said.
Araiza elaborated that foreign markets also alleviate the fact that overall production out of California cannot keep up with demand.
"We have water issues down in the south. North of Los Angeles, production seems to be increasing but in the south it’s decreasing. So overall, California production is flat," Araiza said.
"It could create a supply issue. Other countries are hoping to fill that gap. Mexico is, of course, that huge monster and they continue to add acreage. But Peru is adding a lot of acreage and they’re production comes at the same time as California."
Although Peru currently plays a small role on the U.S. West Coast, Araiza guessed that in coming years, the Andean nation could step in as a bigger market player.
Regardless of where the avocado comes from, he added, what matters is that the supply can satisfy consumer needs.
"The fact that we're able to keep the public supplied with avocados is a good thing. It keeps values up. It enables people and restaurants and retail to maintain avocados on the shelf," he said.