California avocado harvests slow following March demand spike

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California avocado harvests slow following March demand spike

The California avocado season is running far ahead of last year following "very strong pull" pull from retailers in early and mid-March amid the coronavirus pandemic, the California Avocado Commission said on Monday.

However, the harvests have now slowed down in line with retail demand, it said.

The CAC also detailed how it has had to reevaluate its media and marketing activities for this season in light of the situation.

On the retail front, the CAC said there was "very strong pull" from shoppers for early and mid-March. Despite retail pull being offset somewhat by the huge drop in foodservice demand, California avocado growers harvested nearly 46.7 million pounds this season through March 22.

This compares to 5.1 million pounds for the same time last year. Some of this increase is due to a larger crop in 2020, but much is due to strong early-season demand, the CAC said.

"With consumers stocking up and panic-buying in March, there have been some expectations of softer retail traffic late in the month and into early April, leading many growers to temporarily slow down on harvesting," it said.

"Unlike some produce items, mature avocados can remain safely on their trees, providing some harvesting flexibility."

Meanwhile, welcome rains have continued in California avocado growing areas, which bodes well for sizing and quality leading into late spring and summer, the CAC said.

California Avocado Commission extensively reevaluating activities

CAC president Tom Bellamore also spoke about how the association has had to adapt to the pandemic by rapidly changing its marketing, communications and office operations.

“The Commission has been extensively reevaluating each CAC activity in light of societal shifts and sensitivities and adjusting our activities as we strive to move forward in support of this year’s California avocado crop with the right messages, tone and method of delivery,” said president Tom Bellamore in the statement. 

The constraints related to the current circumstances make it so that the commission must be particularly careful with its planning of how it allocates resources to support customers.

With safety as the top priority during these times, CAC's team has been tele-working since Mar. 17. It says that it has multiple ways of communicating with the industry's supply chain workers and growers as well as stakeholders while it works remotely.

For now, it continues with the proper safety guidelines that it followed prior to the Covid-19 outbreak to ensure the safe growing, harvesting and packing procedures for its avocados.

The biggest changes for the CAC have come in how the organization is thinking about reaching its consumers as many stay in their houses.

“Major changes, such as “safer at home” orders have caused CAC to critically examine where and how consumers are spending their time, how they are feeling about things and what resources we might provide as a brand,” explained Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing. 

For instance, an immediate decision the commission made was to transition its outdoor advertisement efforts to streaming video and digital communication.

Several consumer and trade events that CAC had planned as part of their strategy have been canceled because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Influential bloggers and online chef programs have therefore become a larger part of the commission's marketing platform.

To encourage consumers to buy its avocados, CAC is sticking with its well-known advertising call - "the best avocados have California in them".

Photos: California Avocado Commission

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