(Dec. 30) SAN DIEGO — Super Bowl XXXVII is still weeks away, but some hometown players already have been sidelined.
The game, scheduled for Jan. 26, traditionally has been one of the best times for consumption of California avocados, second only to Cinco de Mayo.
That alone leads to excitement in the industry. Even more, this season’s game will take place in San Diego, near much of the state’s avocado production at that time of year.
But for this Super Bowl, a large part of San Diego County’s avocado groves, particularly the Valley Center area, will remain under quarantine after the discovery of Mexican fruit flies after Thanksgiving.
The quarantine covers 117 square miles, said Jan DeLyser, vice president of merchandising for the California Avocado Commission, Santa Ana. Roughly 70 million pounds of avocados in the area could be postponed from harvest until at least April, said Dave Culpeper, import/export director for West Pak Avocado, Temecula.
PLENTY TO PROMOTE
Nonetheless, shippers say the industry will have adequate supplies to cover Super Bowl promotions. Chile’s U.S. export season is expanding, and arrivals won’t begin to taper off until late January, Culpeper said. Besides the quarantine issue, many California shippers also have opted to delay harvest to avoid the market conflict with Chile’s heavier volumes.
Promotable volumes also will come from Mexico, now able to export avocados to 31 U.S. states.
In late December, some Southern California shippers were still on the injury list. Cal Flavor Inc., Escondido, has about 95% of its avocados in the quarantine zone.
“We won’t be shipping anything,” said Lloyd Bittner, assistant manager. Avocados in the zone have to be sprayed with malathion, he said. The company has had to lay off some packinghouse employees until it can resume picking.
That would be April at the soonest, but if more fruit flies are discovered, harvest in the quarantine area could be postponed even further, DeLyser said.
FEELING A BIT CHILE
Because of Chile’s ongoing presence in the market, there could be little effect on Super Bowl markets, Culpeper said.
Still, shippers say avocado f.o.b.s could increase once Chile leaves the deal. Then they could dip once California’s quarantined fruit is able to reenter the market. Also, the avocados delayed from harvest in the quarantine zone will have more time to gain sizing, which should result in a larger crop for California than originally estimated.
From now on, the Chilean avocado industry may use the Super Bowl as its final seasonal push into the U.S. export market, Culpeper said.
“There will be a lot of volume from Chile for the next few years that we’re able to see,” he said. Some Mexican shippers, now able to export to the U.S. until April 15, used Cinco de Mayo the same way last season.
As of Dec. 23, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported total Chilean imports to date this season at 3.8 million 26-pound cartons, up from 2.6 million the same time last season.
Prices on Dec. 23 were lower than the same time in 2001.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported the following Los Angeles f.o.b.s for two-layer cartons of Chilean hass avocados: 32-36s $22.25, 40s $19.25, 48-60s $19.25-21.25, 70s $19.25-20.25.
The same time last season, Chile’s Los Angeles f.o.b.s were: 32-36s $30.25-31.25, 40s $30.25-32.25, 48s $28.25-29.25 and 60s-70s $27.25-29.25.
Mexican f.o.b.s also were lower than the same time last year but only by $3 at the most, according to the USDA.
In late December 2001, the USDA reported the following f.o.b.s for two-layer cartons of Southern California hass: $32.25-32.75, 48s $29.25-30.75, 60s $28.25-29.75 and 70s $28.25-28.75.
On Dec. 23 of this season, the USDA reported that Southern California’s avocado supplies were still insufficient to establish a market.
Cinco de Mayo traditionally marks the heaviest time for California avocado shipments, DeLyser said. But the highest overall U.S. consumption of hass avocados, regardless of the fruit’s origin, comes in the weeks before the Super Bowl, she said.
In the two weeks before the 2002 Super Bowl, 27 million pounds of hass avocados were shipped. That figure mainly reflects product from California but also counted volumes from Mexico and Chile, she said.
This season, the commission is calling for total Super Bowl consumption to reach 34 million pounds of hass, including preconditioned fruit shipped the week of the game.
The commission has organized retail display contests in San Diego, as well as San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.
At Cal Flavor, Bittner said this season’s fruit fly quarantine was the first time anything like it had happened in the Valley Center area. Besides avocados, he said the produce industry also had the following fruits in the quarantine zone: oranges, persimmons, apricots, apples, grapefruit, guava, lemons, limes and kumquats.