Avocado marketers say they think they finally have reached the kind of summit all commodities strive for. Their product, they say, finds its way to consumers in good economic times and bad.
There are some peaks and valleys, in certain sectors, but avocado demand continues to rise, marketers say.
“I believe it shifts demand sometimes in which in lower economies we may see a decrease in foodservice demand, but an increase in retail since people tend to eat more at home,” said David Fausset, salesman/category manager with Oxnard, Calif.-based Mission Produce Inc.
But even today, when the U.S. economy still has fits and starts, avocado consumption in restaurants has bounced back, Fausset said.
Even when the global economy slid in 2008 and continued to plunge over the next couple of years, avocado sales stayed relatively strong, said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing with Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc.
“When we look at our numbers, when the economy got into trouble, we didn’t see it having as much negative impact on avocado business like it did on so many others,” Wedin said.
The avocado industry continued to grow, in fact, Wedin said.
“Now, as the economy improves, it’s positive, but it really always was,” he said.
Some commodities and categories — organics, for example — saw sales slow or even decrease during the recession, and they have recovered in the last couple of years, Wedin said.
Not so, with avocados, he said.
“We’re not recovering from a bad situation because our situation never did get bad,” he said.
Not that there wasn’t cause for worry, said Dana Thomas, president of Riverside, Calif.-based avocado grower-shipper Index Fresh Inc.
“When we went into the 2008 recession a long time ago, we were concerned about it, but I think we were actually lucky by benefiting from people who’d go to white-tablecloth restaurants and spend a couple of hundred bucks and were shopping stores and buying avocados,” he said.
The Irvine-based California Avocado Commission has tracked consumption trends close, and there never has been any cause for alarm, even in dire economic times, said Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the commission.
“Avocados have held their own throughout,” she said.”The versatility of avocados as well as being a fruit that is perceived as healthy and somewhat of an indulgence may also be factors in their continued growth.”
Expanding applications of avocados — from guacamole to garnishes, salad ingredients and sandwiches — has provided a bit of insulation for the commodity, said Maggie Bezart-Hall, vice president of retail with Irving, Texas-based Avocados From Mexico.
“Restaurants that specialize in fresh avocados continued to buy avocados,” she said.
And, she said, more restaurants are using avocados in separate meal parts now than in the past.
“Before, it was ‘Let’s use avocados in hamburgers.’ Now, more sandwiches are getting avocados, and you’re seeing avocados as a ‘beauty plate’ for dinner, with a quarter-avocado.”
There are other applications emerging in more restaurants, she said.
Bob Lucy, partner at Fallbrook, Calif.-based Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc., agreed.
“It’s a complement to a hamburger and fish, so more and more people are trying it, and the younger generation are looking online for recipes, and that stuff helps us,” he said.
At retail, sales of avocados have increased unchecked, in spite of economic downturns and higher prices for the item, said retail consultant Dick Spezzano, owner of Spezzano Consulting Service in Monrovia, Calif.
“The U.S. has grown from 500,000 to 1.7 billion as an avocado market,” he said. “We may get to 2 billion pounds in this calendar year. You haven’t seen a collapse in the market price. You’re seeing that $30-35 range for California avocados. It’s good for every grower.”