Avocados, asparagus abound

08/10/2012 09:00:00 AM
Andy Nelson

Andy Nelson, Markets EditorAndy Nelson, Markets EditorI thought last summer was the Summer of the Avocado, until 2012 came along.

This year California, the leading summer supplier, has a much bigger crop to market than it did in 2011.

Growers expect to ship about 400 million pounds, 100 million pounds more than last year.

Maybe that’s why Subway, Sonic and others are cranking up the volume on their avo promotions.

This summer also has brought the first full season of avocado imports from Peru.

Last year was the first year the U.S. Department of Agriculture allowed shipments in, but volume didn’t begin peaking until later in the season.

Peru shipped about 21 million pounds to the U.S. last year. Through Aug. 4 of this year, 24.8 million pounds of Peruvian fruit had already been shipped, and shipments will likely continue through September.

This year, Peruvian fruit began arriving in June, much earlier than last year.

Based on the number of press releases showing up in my e-mail box proclaiming that fact, U.S. importers are pretty happy about it.

It’s been an interesting first half of the summer, one in which my produce industry and Joe Consumer experiences have neatly dovetailed.

At night on TV I see yet another new ad featuring avocados. Then I come to work the next morning and there’s news that another importer is promoting Peruvian avocados.

I go to the dentist’s office later in the afternoon and, what do you know, a full-page avo ad in a magazine.

Importers of other commodities have also confirmed the surge in the Peruvian deal, now that the U.S. has given the green light.

A Peruvian asparagus importer I was talking to recently said that volumes could be down this year because more acreage was being devoted to avocados.

It’s working out fine for him this year — new asparagus plantings in Mexico are starting to come into production now, and volumes are up, so a later start to the Peruvian deal is preferable, anyway.

Should someone ask U.S. asparagus growers, long squeezed by surging Peruvian volumes, if they’re getting any satisfaction from that turn of events?

(Satisfaction or not, one Michigan asparagus official did tell me he wouldn’t be surprised to see a bump in his state’s production in the near future, after years of cuts.)

But back to avocados. Peru, Subway, Sonic, big California crop — everything seems hunky-dory, right?

Well, not quite.

I’m sure most shippers would tell you they still lead a charmed life, given the success of their product over the past few years. From 2001-11, U.S. per capita consumption rose about 11% every year, according to the Irvine, Calif.-based Hass Avocado Board. But sluggish markets and unexpectedly big supplies have some grumbling this summer.

Mexican exports to the U.S. in 2011-12 broke the previous volume record by 15%. About 782 million pounds were shipped. That’s a lot, but some marketers would tell you demand is rising by close to that amount.

The bigger problem this season was timing. Had Mexico shipped more in March and April, before California got up to full speed, the sluggish early summer markets may not have been quite as sluggish.

Prices were still way below 2011 levels in early August. On Aug. 7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $27.25-28.25 for two-layer cartons of avocados 48s from California, down from $51.25-52.25 last year at the same time.

Some importers reported seeing double the weekly summer volumes from Mexico they expected. Instead of getting the 5 million or 6 million pounds they expected, they got closer to 12 million pounds.

Add an earlier Peruvian deal to the mix, combined with California’s big crop, and even the huge and ever-growing demand for avocados in the U.S. hasn’t been enough at times to match the even huger volumes.

But I have little doubt they’ll figure it out by next season. The marketers are too good and the product too red-hot for the industry not to.

anelson@thepacker.com

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