Organic avocados build momentum

03/14/2012 01:07:00 PM
Tom Burfield

Sales in the organic avocado category have been inching upward in recent years, much to the delight of California avocado growers.

Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc., Fallbrook, Calif., commands a significant portion of the state’s organic deal, said partner Bob Lucy.

The organic deal has worked out well on several levels for the company.

Philosophically, it’s a good idea, he said, but it also has provided an outlet for two of the firm’s major growers who converted to organic, and it’s helped Del Ray Avocado gain access to additional retailers.

“It’s been wonderful for us,” Lucy said.

Lucy said he was pleasantly surprised that the company’s organic program remained strong, without a lot of slippage, during the recession.

There were times when the usually premium-priced organic avocados approached the price of conventional product during the recession, said Dana Thomas, president of Index Fresh Inc., Bloomington, Calif. But sales of organic as well as conventional product survived the economic downturn relatively well at Index Fresh, he said.

The company has shipped organic avocados out of California for about five years and recently added a Chilean program.

Demand for organic avocados has grown as traditional retailers, not just specialty stores, add organic sections, said Bruce Dowhan, general manager of Escondido, Calif.-based Giumarra Agricom International LLC.

The company has a small but growing organic program that sources from several organic growers, he said.

Like many suppliers, Dowhan said he thought sales would drop off during tough economic times, but he said demand remained strong and the category performed well.

Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and fresh marketing for Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, Calif., said he was surprised to see the organic category continue to strengthen in recent years rather than drop off.

Avocados were “a little late to jump on board” the organic bandwagon, he said, but sales have been catching up quickly.

Prices tend to vary, with smaller sizes costing about $2-5 per box more than conventional fruit, Wedin said, and larger sizes — 48s and above — costing $6-7 more per box.

The organic program continues to grow at a slow but steady pace for Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif., said Ross Wileman, vice president of sales and marketing.

Organic avocados account for less than 3% of the company’s volume, perhaps in part because many consumers do not perceive avocados, which are grown in trees high off the ground and have a thick, protective skin, to pose as much of a food safety threat as some other commodities, he said.


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