There seems to be no denying the U.S. remains in an economic funk, with a national unemployment rate that persists above 8%, but consumers are still buying avocados, according to marketing agents, including Adolfo Ochagavia, president of the Chilean Hass Avocado Association.
He admits to being an optimist, and he says the numbers support his sunny outlook.
“We have seen a growing demand, and the U.S. is not the exception,” he said.
He pointed to a recent 10-week period in which 31 million pounds of product moved through the U.S. each week.
“That’s something that was unthinkable a few years ago,” he said.
Ochagavia noted that prices have not been as high as they were going into last year’s fall marketing season.
The market has been rosy since the recession began in 2008, which came as a surprise to some marketing agents in the industry, but there are indications of some rough times ahead this fall, said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing for Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc.
“We felt like we went through the recession quite well, even though there was concern about organic,” he said.
Consumer confidence has deteriorated, which is cause for potential alarm, Wedin noted.
“Consumer confidence was doing good through February, but these last few months have felt like they’re challenging us a little bit,” he said.
That confidence level has been wavering — even decreasing — over the last couple of months, Wedin said.
“That’s the area we try to zero in on,” he said. “That’s what tells the story — consumer confidence,” he said.
Others take comfort in harder statistical data.
“Avocados are in high demand,” said Eduardo Serena, marketing director for the Avocado Producers and Exporting Packers Association of Michoacán (APEAM).
He pointed to numbers from the Nielsen Perishables Group that indicate a year-on-year sales increase of 8% in the avocado category.
“Avocados now rule as the fourth-fastest-growing fruit in the produce department,” Serena said.
Serena added that avocado sales have consistently increased more than $40 million per year over the past two years.
Josh Leichter, general manager of Reedley, Calif.-based Pacific Trellis Fruit LLC, said economic pressures are not affecting the avocado category.
“We see demand for avocados continue to grow regardless of any macroeconomic factors here in the U.S.,” he said.