California avocados sizing small heading into peakGrower-shippers still expect to ship a lot of California avocados this season, but larger fruit could be in short supply.

California fruit should be abundant for Fourth of July, but it will be on the small side, said Ron Araiza, sales director for Oxnard, Calif.-based Mission Produce Inc.

“California has a very good crop, an estimated 505 million pounds — the only downside is the small fruit size,” Araiza said.

About 61% of fruit this season is size 60 and smaller, with very few 48s and larger in the market, he said.

Mission is encouraging retailers to sell avocados in bags or other multiple formats, Araiza said.

Mexico will kick off its 2013-14 season on July 1, said Eduardo Serena, marketing director of APEAM, the organization representing avocado exporters from Michoacan, Mexico.

The 2012-13 season ended with more than 1 billion pounds of avocados shipped from Mexico to the U.S., a record, Serena said.

“We anticipate another strong season this year to support the growing demand in both the retail and foodservice sectors,” he said. “Retailers and foodservice operators are continuing to actively promote the fruit to meet consumer demand and drive growth.”

Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc. is encouraging retailers to promote 70s and bagged fruit, but already by early June, the company was packing more 48s, said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and fresh marketing.

“There’s more small fruit than we’re used to, but it’s beginning to change,” he said.

Bob Lucy, partner in Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc., Fallbrook, Calif., said that while fruit would get bigger as the season progressed, it wouldn’t be a huge change.

“I don’t see a radical change — I hope I’m wrong,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s been a struggle.”

Marketers are having a hard time convincing retailers to make the switch from 48s to 60s, or from 60s to 70s, Lucy said. Even with a $10-per-box savings, it’s a tough sell. Some buyers are choosing No. 2 48s over No. 1 60s.

Phil Henry, president of Escondido, Calif.-based Henry Avocado Corp., said that despite the smaller sizes, California is on track to meet its crop estimate, and he reported brisk movement through early June.

“Retailers have been very good about adjusting sizes,” he said. “Fruit has been moving out of the packing house at the same rate it’s been coming in.”

On June 4, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $38.25 for two-layer cartons of hass 48s from California, up from $34.25-35.25 last year at the same time.

Cartons of 60s were $25.25-26.25, down from $29.25 last year.

Del Rey is asking growers with fruit with healthy stems to wait as long as they can before picking, Lucy said.

California volumes would likely begin peaking the last week in June, with plenty of volume to take advantage of Fourth of July pull, Wedin said.

Thanks to a late start, Calavo also expects a late finish out of California this year.

“We’ll be strong in August and pretty strong going into September,” Wedin said.

Peruvian avocados were expected to begin shipping in volume in mid-June, and that crop’s larger size profile should help balance out California, Araiza said. Most Peruvian fruit would ship in the Eastern U.S. and Canada, he said.

The 2012-13 Mexican crop was winding down in June, Araiza said.

Araiza expected continued strong demand heading into July.

“With Fourth of July promotions, we expect demand to be excellent,” he said.

Despite some labor shortages in California, Araiza was confident the industry could produce the 34 to 36 million pounds per week necessary to meet peak summer demand.