Chris KogerEmployees at the San Lorenzo packinghouse in Uruapan, Michoacan, Mexico, pack boxes of Alejandrina brand avocados, destined for the U.S., on April 27.URUAPAN, Michoacan, Mexico — As Mexico’s avocado season winds down, exporters are chalking up yet another record-breaking season for exports to the U.S., confident that demand will take care of the 250,000 pounds left to ship in late April.
The hass export group, APEAM, sponsored a media trip to Uruapan, the heart of the country’s avocado production, April 26-28. A representative from The Packer and half a dozen others representing television food shows, food blogs, magazine freelancers, radio personalities and Spanish-language newspapers were APEAM’s guests on the trip.
Alejandro Gavito, APEAM’s business development manager, said as exports to the U.S. grow, using different media to reach consumers is important. Bringing media to Mexico to tell the avocado industry’s story is a critical part of that mission.
“I think with avocados, even though they are getting very popular, there’s a lot for customers to learn,” Gavito said, referring to expanding the fruit’s use beyond guacamole. “In order to communicate that to the customers, one way is through editors of magazines that specialize in those subjects.”
Gavito said Mexico is on track to ship more than 800 million pounds to the U.S. by late June, when the season ends, eclipsing the 665 million exported during the 2008-09 season. There’s nothing to indicate that won’t happen again in the next season, he said.
Although 85% of the domestic crop stays in Mexico — Gavito said Mexicans eat an average of 20 pounds of avocados a year, five times that of the U.S. — exports to the U.S. have become a key part of the industry, taking 10% to 12% of overall production, he said.
APEAM represents thousands of growers, mostly small acreage operations, and about 3 dozen packinghouses, including four that pack for U.S.-based companies: Calavo Growers Inc., West Pak Avocado Inc., Fresh Directions International and Mission Produce Inc. Del Monte and Chiquita also export to the U.S., through other packinghouses, Gavito said.
The tour included a visit to Huerta Agua Blanca — White Water Orchard — where president Carlos Genel described social improvement programs, including an on-site school, a water reclamation project that sends water to four nearby communities and a forest management initiative.
Agua Blanca grows avocados on 170 acres, mostly on steep hills that provide the area with microclimates, which growers say help them maintain year-round exports.
Chris KogerJorge Ceja Espinoza, manager at the San Lorenzo packinghouse in Uruapan, explains that each box of avocados packed for the U.S. market get tracking numbers immediately before they are palletized.Genel said APEAM has transformed since the U.S. allowed Mexican avocados to cross the border in 1997, after an eight-decade hiatus for phytosanitary concerns. At first, a pre-cursor to the group focused on proving to the U.S. the avocados were safe. Gavito said since 1997, 40 million avocados have been cut, but no Mexfly larva have been found.
“The most important thing (about APEAM) is organization among a community, an industry and the commodity,” Genel said. “We’re thinking about the whole market, not just my part of the market. The growers and packers realize they are part of a huge thing, the avocado industry.”
Despite the U.S. approval of Peruvian avocados in 2011, Gavito said there’s room for the extra volume. As with all shippers of hass avocados in the U.S., the Peruvian industry will support promotions through Hass Avocado Board assessments.
Peru’s exports to the U.S. are minimal so far, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture reporting less than 21 million pounds to date this season entering the U.S., compared to the 38 million pounds Mexico sent during one week in mid-April.