Courtesy WhataburgerWhataburger has begun offering fresh sliced avocados as a topping to any of the San Antonio-based chain’s menu items. As a featured item to call attention to the company’s embrace of avocados, Whataburger is offering an avocado bacon burger for a limited time that includes creamy pepper sauce, American cheese and Texas toast. Whataburger calls itself the eighth largest U.S. hamburger chain. It operates stores from Florida to Arizona.Tough times slowed avocado sales to foodservice customers somewhat in recent years, but business is picking up again in a traditionally strong sector for the fruit, marketers say.
“Restaurants are not booming, by any means, but indicators are much better than they were a year ago, so that’s good,” said Phil Henry, president of Escondido, Calif.-based Henry Avocado Corp.
Diners are responding to the product’s nutritional cachet and avocado sales to foodservice clients are going up accordingly, Henry said.
“We’re getting very positive response from our message, the health message, of avocados, and of course the taste and versatility,” he said.
Finding new uses
Foodservice customers are promoting avocados in new ways too, Henry said.
“We’re seeing some of them having promotions for breakfast, for slices of avocados on an omelet, for example, so we’re really getting the versatility message out there, and the foodservice operators are doing a great job,” he said.
That is a key to the upsurge in avocado sales in foodservice, said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing for Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc.
“They are finding a lot of new uses for avocados. For us, the volume is increasing,” he said.
Connected to that phenomenon is that the avocado industry is now finding ready customers today who, in a previous era, would pass on the product, Wedin said.
“There are a lot of formats that had no use for avocados before who are using avocados to upgrade their menus, and it’s really working,” he said.
Wedin said it’s something that the industry did not see as recently as five years ago.
“Sandwich companies and pizza companies are using avocados for the first time,” he said. “Avocados are starting to get a better and better percent of food served outside the home.”
Avocados From Mexico, a newly created confluence of the marketing efforts of the Mexican Hass Avocado Importers Association and Avocado Producers and Exporting Packers Association of Michoacán, is working with contacts inside the foodservice business to expand avocado use further, said Tim O’Connor, the Denver-based chief executive officer of Avocados From Mexico.
“We’re conducting leadership programs, where we’re educating chefs and decision makers about the opportunities they have at foodservice,” he said.
The idea is to expand use beyond the traditional burritos, tacos and salads, O’Connor said.
“The avocado is definitely being seen as a healthy, fun, trendy food, and we want restaurants to understand the opportunity by using avocados as an up-charge item,” he said.
Chefs are looking for new uses for avocados because diners are asking for creative ideas, said Mary Ostlund, marketing director for Brooks Tropicals LLC in Homestead, Fla.
“North Americans are obsessed with finding new flavors and tastes,” Ostlund said.
Sometimes the idea is simple, such as putting a slice of avocado on a burger, said Dan Acevedo, business development director with West Pak Inc. in Murietta, Calif.
“They continue to be a component in several dishes, whether it’s a salad or a main entrée,” he said. “Subway has done a great job promoting menu items that feature avocados.”
Any promotion is good for the entire industry, said Ross Wileman, vice president of sales and marketing with Oxnard, Calif.-based Mission Produce Inc.
“I’m not sure we’ll ever reach the white-tablecloth level, though,” he said. “Fast-casual is the category it seems to do well in.”