(March 31) As Cinco de Mayo approaches, avocado shippers aren’t sweating the 45% increase in California production or the 42% increase in season-to-date shipments from Mexico.

Instead, the industry will depend upon an unprecedented barrage of promotions and advertising aimed at spicing up retail sales across the country.

“Cinco de Mayo doesn’t have the magnitude of the Super Bowl, but it’s right up there,” said Ross Wileman, vice president of sales and marketing for Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif. “I think this year, with the market conditions as they are because of the large crop out of California, probably for the first time in a long time we’ll have some active pricing to really promote this period.”

California’s production, boosted by spring rains and a high production cycle, is expected to go from 300 million pounds to more than 541 million pounds. At the same time, exporters of Mexico’s crop have seen an average of 12,000 metric tons enter the U.S. each month since the season began last October, an average of 2,000 extra tons a month.

Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the California Avocado Commission, Irvine, said the California industry estimates it will sell 47 million pounds of avocados in the weeks leading to Cinco de Mayo, which is 2.5 million more pounds than last year.

PRICE IS RIGHT

Heading into April, shippers said excellent fruit quality was helping move the crop, and retailers were obliging with specials on multiples, such as “10 for $10” and “cheaper by the dozen” offerings.

Although sizes 40 and larger are priced about the same as last year, Wileman said the market on the smaller sizes is “getting sloppy,” and growers are leaving more fruit on the trees to gain size. In April, however, some of that smaller fruit will have to be picked as they reach maturity with the season progressing.

On March 28, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported southern California hass avocados in two-layer cartons were $24.25 for 32s, 36s and 40s; $20.25-21.25 for 48s; $18.25-20.25 for 60s; and $17.25-18.25 for 70s. A year ago, prices were $26.25 for 32s, 36s and 40s; $25.25 for 48s; $24.25-25.25 for 60s; and $22.25 for 70s.

From Mexico on March 28, hass f.o.b.s were $23.25-24.25 for 36s and 40s; $22.25-24.25 for 48s; $20.25-21.25 for 60s; and $18.25-20.25 for 70s. A year ago, f.o.b.s from Mexico were $25.25-26.25 for 36s, 40s and 48s; $25.25 for 60s; and $23.25-24.25 for 70s.

MONDO PROMOS

The California Avocado Commission will enlist the help of Laura “Chef LaLa” Diaz, with a satellite media and radio tour, DeLyser said. The commission also signed a co-marketing agreement with Frieda’s Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif., with the specialty company’s crepes and California avocados. That program will kick off April 1, DeLyser said, and signs, recipes and point-of-sale materials are available.

Radio ads will run in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio from the last week of April through the first week of May, and spots in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Portland, Ore., Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Atlanta will be from May 3-23, DeLyser said. The commission also plans to beef up its Web site, www.avocadocentral.com, with 14 new recipes.

Emiliano Escobedo, northeast market representative for APEAM, the Michoacan, Mexico, exporters’ association, said Mexico exported an average of 194 containers a week during January, leading to the Super Bowl, and the country plans to export at least 150 a week in April.

Escobedo said Mexican exporters also are focusing on Texas, with radio ads in Spanish and English, as well as spots in Denver, Chicago and New York.

APEAM is sponsoring a chef May 5 on NBC’s “Today Show,” and throughout April, 400 in-store demos in New York, Denver and Chicago will focus on the Mexican fruit, Escobedo said.

The Preston/Tully Group, Garden City, N.Y., handles advertising campaigns for APEAM and its sister organization, the Mexican Hass Avocado Importers Association. President Chris Tully said in-store demonstrations have been successful.

The importers’ association is running a pre-Cinco de Mayo radio campaign in Philadelphia; Charlotte, NiC.; Baltimore; Washington, D.C.; Atlanta; Boston; Chicago and New York, Tully said.

“We’re doing restaurant promotions, called ‘hass-pitality,’ with leading restaurants in these markets,” he said. “They’ll have guacamole demonstrations in their restaurants and we’ll hold media events there. It’s a way of creating a buzz and it ties in with our radio promotions.”