HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Though smaller than their hass competitors in popularity and production, growers of Florida’s avocados believe they have long had an advantage in one important arena: health.

The growers market the health benefits of their avocados, which studies have shown are a little lower in calories and higher in taste, marketers say. The Florida avocados are also rich in vitamin A and potassium and are low in fat.

Brooks Tropicals Inc. during the late 1990s began marketing varieties that contained 30% to 50% less fat and 35% fewer calories than their California competitors.

Green-skinned Fla. avocado growers promote health benefits

In 2001, Brooks introduced its SlimCado line to retail buyers.

Through years of testing, Brooks identified the varieties that meet the Food and Drug Administration’s requirements for using the term lite.

Brooks markets its SlimCados through two nutritional designations — Lite and LessFat. Both have 30% to 50% fewer calories than the leading hass varieties, according to Brooks.

Up to 70% of Florida’s avocados meet the FDA lite requirements, said Bill Brindle, Brooks’ vice president of sales management.

“We have done the testing and know which varieties have the least amount of fat, so those go into our SlimCado program,” he said. “Those that don’t are sold in the other label.”

Less than 50% of Brooks’ production is sold under its SlimCado label, Brindle said.

Brindle helped execute the plan for marketing the SlimCados during the late 1990s with Craig Wheeling, president, who originated the strategy.

Brooks, which has promoted its SlimCados for eight years, continues to see sales success, Brindle said.

“We want to educate people that the Florida green-skinned avocado has different characteristics than the hass avocados,” he said. “A lot of those characteristics are beneficial.”

Brindle said Brooks is seeing increasing interest in healthy produce items.

Internet consumer interaction helps promote the Florida avocados’ benefits, said Eddie Caram, general manager of New Limeco LLC, Princeton.

That’s also helping make the green-skinned varieties become more visible, he said.

“We read on our Web site all the time how consumers happen to be in such a place and were able to eat Florida avocados,” Caram said. “They say they can’t find this great piece of fruit in the stores and ask where they can buy them. As more and more chain store buyers hear the comments we forward to them, they try to get more into including them into their product availability when they’re in season.”

Many buyers prefer Florida-grown avocados over the hass varieties, at least for use as a salad ingredient, Caram said.

The appeal of regionally grown produce should also help spur sales, said Peter Leifermann, salesman for Fresh King Inc.

“Add the fact that this product is grown in the U.S., it becomes a no-brainer for consumers,” he said. “With all the concerns of the health effects of imported produce, especially out of Mexico, I think the feeling of safety the consumer gets when they see something grown in the U.S. is real. It’s something that the Florida avocado offers — the reassurance that it’s grown under the stringent demands of the U.S.”

Leifermann said the true value of Florida avocados is their large physical size.  That size, he said, with its lower caloric and fat counts, provides shoppers with more value.

Take strawberries. Leifermann said shoppers don’t find one size of strawberry and then another 3½ times as big.

Produce rarely gets that opportunity to compare sizes, especially when they’re being sold at retail for the same price, he said.

“You couldn’t ask for a better example of true value,” Leifermann said. “Size does matter in this case. If you go into a grocery store and will spend $1.98 on an avocado, will you get less than a half a pound of an avocado, or will you get a 1½ pound avocado?
“On top of that, the Florida avocado doesn’t have the calorie count typical of the hass. We in the industry are all proud of that. We at Fresh King, Brooks, New Limeco, etc. are proud of our avocados’ properties. We think the consumer is looking for this kind of value, especially in today’s economy.”

Avocados have also benefited from increasing consumer awareness of health benefits.

“It’s been a great year for avocados as health professionals continue their recognition of avocados as having monosaturated fat, which is considered good fat,” said Mary Ostlund, Brooks’ director of marketing. “With doctors recommending that fat, even good fat, should be eaten in moderation —  up to 70 calories a day — avocado lovers double their health-conscious servings by eating SlimCados.”

Though the season hadn’t started yet, Ostlund said consumers in May were already asking for SlimCados.  

Going beyond being an essential ingredient in Latin cooking, the SlimCado has provided health-conscious inspiration for mainstream recipes from appetizers to salads to entrees, she said.  

In contacting Brooks, several consumers appeared distressed and asked why the company genetically modifies its fruit to make it more healthful. Brindle said Brooks had to explain that the healthy aspects of the avocados are natural characteristics inherent in the fruit and that no genetic modification is performed.