Only 10 years ago, a crop of 515 million pounds would have been considered huge for the California avocado industry.

But with consumption growing at least 10% annually, this year’s crop of that amount is a “nice” size and should mean promotable volumes from March through early fall, said Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the Irvine, Calif.-based California Avocado Commission.

Dana Thomas, president of Bloomington, Calif.-based Index Fresh, which markets under the AvoTerra label, agreed.

“That (515 million) is not a record by any means,” he said. “When you take it in the overall context of how the market has grown and demand has increased, it’s not what a 515 million crop was 10 years ago. So the bigger crop will provide opportunities, more than anything else.”

Rising consumption

The 2011-12 crop ended up at 460 million pounds, and the record, set in 2005-06, was 600 million pounds.

At the same time, per-capita consumption has continued to rise, hitting 4.6 pounds per person in 2011-12, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economics Research Service. That’s more than double what it was in 2000-01.

Avocados typically are alternate bearing, producing a heavier crop one year followed by a lighter one the next. With last year’s crop also being considered fairly large, DeLyser said it’s a bit surprising that this year’s crop is even larger.

But she pointed to better cultural practices for much of the volume moderation.

Growers, for example, have found if they pick some of the crop by April, it reduces stress on the trees before bloom. The result is better fruit set, which is especially important during a light year.

Growers and packers were picking limited quantities in February, but they expected harvest to pick up in March.

In mid-February, Bruce Dowhan, vice president and general manager of Giumarra Agricom LLC, Escondido, Calif., said the fruit on the trees appears to be a bit smaller than the industry is accustomed to at that time of year. However, he said that’s expected, with the overall size of the crop and the number of fruit per tree.

Scott Bauwens, director of sourcing for Murrieta, Calif.-based West Pak Avocado Inc., said individual fruit size was typical for mid-February, especially considering the cold and relatively dry winter.

But he said he expected fruit size to increase once overnight temperatures began to rise and the Southern California production areas received a bit more rainfall.

Core California markets

The Mexican crop overlaps the California crop and was expected to be in the market until May or June. Imports from the Southern Hemisphere also are in the market during part of the California season.

The avocado commission targets core markets and key accounts, many of them in the West, that prefer California fruit, DeLyser said.

Del Rey Avocado, Fallbrook, Calif., began California avocado promotions with key retail accounts in February and will aggressively add more retailers as harvest picks up, said Bob Lucy, partner.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture, which tests avocado maturity, released size 48s Dec. 12.

“So the fruit two months into the season is excellent,” Lucy said in mid-February. “There are a number of chains that have switched over to California fruit. Some people on the East Coast have made the switch too.”

The commission plans several holiday-themed retail promotions throughout the season, beginning with St. Patrick’s Day and running through Labor Day.

Although many think of Cinco de Mayo or Super Bowl Sunday as the top holiday for avocado consumption, DeLyser said the 2012 July Fourth set a record with 86 million pounds from all sources. That compares to this year’s Super Bowl with 79 million pounds.

“It just shows that consumption is growing exponentially in the U.S., and it’s broadening across occasions,” she said. “Just the entire summer holidays — from Memorial Day, July Fourth and Labor Day, where people are getting together, and they’re conscious of their pride in America — the California avocado fits very well in that.”

Dowhan of Giumarra Agricom agreed, saying the warmer months are ripe for retail California avocado promotions.

“Avocados have become the party produce item,” he said. “It’s the perfect item for any type of holiday or three-day weekend or any reason for a get-together. They’ve become very popular for a whole list of holidays.”