When people talk about California avocados, they’re usually referring to the popular hass variety.

While the hass has rightfully earned its reputations as a tasty, nutritious piece of fruit, many California avocado growers supplement their hass programs with some lesser-known varieties with their own distinct characteristics.

At Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc., Fallbrook, Calif., partner Bob Lucy has been singing the praises of the organic reed variety.

The reed is a green-skin avocado that has a unique, round appearance and “looks like a softball,” he said. It’s larger than the hass — typically a size 24 versus size 48 for the hass.

Some actually prefer the flavor of the reed to the hass, he said.

Growers who produce the reed hold onto them until summer, when they have better maturity and higher oil content than in the spring, he said.

They’re available from July through October, Lucy said.

“It’s been a highly successful avocado,” he said, adding that he expects the variety to experience additional growth.

The company ships some conventional reed avocados in addition to organic and also offers the lamb hass variety.

“We’re not as bullish on (lamb hass) as we are on the reeds,” Lucy said.

Gem is a diamond

At Index Fresh Inc., Bloomington, Calif., president Dana Thomas sees potential for the gem variety, which he describes as an up-and-coming avocado that tastes similar to the hass and consistently produces heavy volume of mid-range sizes — 48s to 60s.

“It’s a really nice piece of fruit that will complement people’s hass programs,” he said.
Introduced in the mid-1990s, the gem still is in its infancy, he said.

Thomas doesn’t think the gem will replace the hass, but he said it will be “a nice complementary variety.”

The company also offers the lamb hass, a more mainstream variety whose biggest advantage is its large size.

It’s popular among buyers who want to do a significant program with large  fruit — size 32 or 28 — which isn’t available in the hass variety, Thomas said.

“There’s not a lot of heirloom varieties in critical mass left,” Thomas said.

The company does offer the fuerte variety, which was the California standard before the hass came along, he said.

The fuerte might go to “specialty marketers or retail people who want multiple displays,” he said.

Index Fresh also ships the bacon variety, and Thomas has seen renewed interest in the reed, which, he said, has “fantastic flavor.”

“It stretches our California season, which is something that is attractive to both customers and growers,” he said.

Heritage varieties

Some people like the concept of a “heritage variety,” said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and fresh marketing for Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, Calif., while others like the lower price of some of the less popular avocados.

Calavo offers some bacon, pinkerton, fuerte, zutano, reed and macarthur varieties, he said, but the company doesn’t sell very many of them.

“When it comes to making money, hass is the chosen variety — or in some cases — lamb hass,” he said.

Varieties other than hass account for less than a half of a percent of the firm’s avocado volume, he said.

They also account for “way less than 1%” at Giumarra, said Bruce Dowhan, vice president of The Giumarra Cos., Los Angeles, and general manager of Giumarra Agricom International LLC, Escondido, Calif.

The company sells a small volume of fuerte, banana and zutano, which growers use as cross-pollinators.

Specialty retailers, farmers markets and those looking for a lower-priced avocado are the main customers for those varieties, Dowhan said.

The lamb hass variety has been of value to retailers looking for large fruit who want to stick with avocados from California, said Gahl Crane, director at Green Earth Produce, Vernon, Calif.

“It’s been a good fit,” he said.