HAB: Avocado oversupply to challenge industry
Despite the growth of the avocado industry and the exponential increase in the availability of the fruit over recent years, its price has remained relatively stable in the U.S., shifting the demand curve outwards.
Maintaining the value of avocados has been a combined effort by members of the industry to communicate and show consumers that it is a product that is worth more for its health benefits.
“We have invested around $30 million dollars in the last ten years - more than any other fruit or vegetable product - in investigations regarding the nutritional values of avocados, showing that it is high in vitamins, nutrients and even good for cardiovascular health,” Emiliano Escobedo, Executive Director of the Hass Avocado Board told FreshFruitPortal.
In the 80’s the so-called “low-fat crusades” advertised avocados as an unhealthy product, very high in fats and damaging to health, undoubtedly causing a dent in consumption.
Since its foundation in 2002, the Hass Avocado Board has worked on changing this perception and leading people to understand that, in fact, it is a healthy product that should be a part of everyone's diet.
HAB's promotion fee for avocados is 2.5 cents per pound, and it has already invested almost $700 million over the last decade.
“Additionally, other organizations like the California Avocado Commission (CAC) also invest in the promotion of the fruit. CAC adds $8 million per year, as well as the Association of Producers and Packers Exporters of Avocado of Mexico (APEAM) with additional investments for Avocados from Mexico campaigns which adds around $15 million dollars more,” said Escobedo.
“Therefore, every year there is around $100 million being invested in programs mainly focused on the promotion and marketing of avocados in the U.S.,” he added.
Household penetration of avocados in the U.S. is at around 60%, meaning there is still huge potential to keep increasing consumption.
There are specific regions, like the Northeast that still have low per capita consumption levels.
Seasonality is also an important variable to look at, because consumption is the highest in Q2, from April to June. Escobedo said that one of the things they are working on is taking advantage of holidays and special events throughout the year to increase consumption.
“All sports events, like the Super Bowl or March Madness, generate a lot of demand because people gather at home and eat a lot of guacamole and chips; these events occur mostly in Q1,” said Escobedo.
However, in Q2, holidays including Easter, Cinco de Mayo, and Memorial Day generate even more demand for avocados.
In Q3 and Q4 demand goes down compared to the first half of the year.
Segmentation of consumers
One of the methods that HAB has found most effective in analyzing consumer trends in the U.S. is segmenting all consumers into four different categories based on their level of consumption: light users, medium, heavy, and super heavy.
They found that heavy and super heavy alone accounted for 89% of the total volume sold, meaning that half of all U.S. avocado consumers are only consuming 11% of the total volume.
“This showed us that amongst the 60% of Americans that consume avocados, there is a tremendous growth potential because their consumption volume is still low,” said Escobedo.
The volume was so high for the super heavy category that they decided to divide that category into three sub-categories: supers, megas, and ultras, with each segment representing 8.5% of all consumers.
Main challenge for the industry
“The main challenge for the avocado industry at a global level is overproduction. We are producing more avocados than are being consumed,” said Escobedo.
The executive director warned that the only country with the appropriate mechanisms to generate the amount of demand required to balance out supply and demand is the United States.
“There is no other country in the world that has a mandatory promotion law and that is raising the amount of money that we are here in the U.S.," said Escobedo.
The median age of trees in production is going down and there are a lot of new plantations meaning that there will be an overproduction in the next couple of years.
“How are we going to grow demand, and turn light consumers into mediums, mediums into heavy, and heavies to super heavy, that is the challenge for the industry,” indicated Escobedo.
Focused marketing is a priority for HAB, and this year they have budgeted $75 million dollars in assessments, including investigation and promotion to incentivize consumption.
HAB was present at the World Avocado Congress in April and spoke to other producers about the importance of investing in ways to increase demand. Local consumption, says Escobedo, is key to the survival of the industry in each producing country.
Request for new producers
Avocado consumers are demanding in terms of quality, especially considering its price, they expect the product to be in optimal condition.
Escobedo thinks it’s important to remind producers, especially those that are entering the market like Jalisco and Colombia, that they must maintain the quality standard that the fruit enjoys in the U.S.
“People already know the product, so they won't buy low-quality fruit,” he said.
The entire chain has to work well and efficiently, this includes farmers, labor, exporters, ripening rooms, transportation, and distribution.