Avocados wind up on the staple listLast week I mentioned that because of end-of-the-year scheduling weirdness, I was doomed to write the first two Crops & Markets columns of the New Year.

I proposed a two-part Super Column on the theme of “How I tried to escape the produce industry while on vacation but wasn’t allowed to.”

Last week’s column focused on my sons’ and nephews’ compulsive consumption of Cuties at my in-laws’. Part Deux takes us to my mother’s house, where we also stayed over the break, and where the focus shifted to apples and avocados.

My mom is a Depression and Dust Bowl baby, and some of the habits she learned from her parents die hard.

She is the type of shopper who knows exactly how much yogurt, bread, orange juice and a hundred other things cost at Store A and Store B, and she will patronize both (and maybe an occasional Store C) accordingly.

When it comes to produce, she sticks mainly with the staples. Not too many Italian kiwifruit or organic microgreens.

It thus came as a bit of a shock when I noticed that every salad she served had avocado in it, and the fruit plates arrived at the table apple-free.

Because of cost, a monumental flip-flop had taken place in her brain. Avocados — for December in Lincoln, Neb., anyway — were a staple, and apples had joined the specialty/luxury/I won’t be able to leave my grandkids anything if I splurge on them category.

Think of how strange this scenario would have been five, maybe even two, years ago.

Ups and downs

The 2012-13 apple market has been a tough one to get a handle on. Severe crop losses because of frost last spring in Michigan and New York raised the prospect of shippers hustling to fill orders, particularly in spring and summer 2013.

Then Washington growers got into their orchards and discovered they had a much bigger crop than they first thought — a record-breaker, in fact.

Apple marketers I’ve talked to in the New Year have focused on different things. Some in Washington, with huge volumes to move, are anxiously waiting for demand to return to pre-holiday levels. Running out of product is the last thing on their minds.

Others, however, mention how strong markets have been, and how happy retailers are about the dollar sales apple sales are generating in produce departments.

Throughout the season, shippers of other commodities have told me how their products are gaining more ad space than usual because of apple shortages in certain markets.

And clearly, there are some consumers, like the one I mentioned in Nebraska, who are shifting their produce dollars elsewhere at times, waiting for apple prices to come down a bit.

As for avocados, has there every been a better time in the history of the commodity to be a consumer?

Thanks to an enormous crop of high-quality fruit out of Mexico, some shippers aren’t even sourcing from Chile this season. A large California crop will begin shipping in March.

Shippers aren’t complaining. They’re confident demand will keep pace with supplies, as it has for the last decade.

One shipper I talked to recently, Phil Henry, president of Escondido, Calif.-based Henry Avocado Corp., marveled at the latest industry trend he and other shippers have noticed: avocados for breakfast.

Growers are happy, shippers are happy and I know that a certain Depression baby who’s buying them by the bag is happy.


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