Avocado prices remain very high as shippers await Mexico’s main crop to ramp up, and they could stay high well into fall.
With California more or less finished by the first half of September, and Peru and Chile shipping next to nothing, Mexico is shouldering the load heading into the fall, said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing for Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, Calif.
And with volumes down on the summer crop due to untimely rains, and the main Mexican crop yet to ramp up, that means a continuation of the very high early-summer prices, he said.
Through June, yearly volumes were running well ahead of last year’s pace, with 660 million pounds shipping in the three months of April, May and June alone, up from 549 million pounds in the same period the year before, said Emiliano Escobedo, executive director of the Mission Viejo, Calif.-based Hass Avocado Board.
But in July and August, volumes fell 15%, from 378 million pounds in 2015 to 320 million pounds this year.
“It was sort of a train wreck,” he said.
By November, Highland Park, Ill.-based retailer Sunset Foods Inc. expects volumes to be back close enough to seasonal norms to promote aggressively again, said produce and floral director Vince Mastromauro.
Until then, though, it will likely be more of the same tough sledding.
“We’ve been taking a hit on the retail side for quite awhile now,” he said. “It’s disheartening, but that’s produce. We’re all in the same boat.”
Fortunately, avocados are more versatile than other fruits, allowing retailers to get creative when whole fruit sales suffer, Mastromauro said.
“We still produce our guacamole, and we can sell it prepared or in our salad bar,” he said. “It helps make up for not being able to promote as much.”
As of Sept. 14, the main Mexican crop was running two or three weeks behind last year’s crop, Escobedo said, though volumes were ramping up in the first half of the month. The board projected that about 81.5 million pounds would ship in the first two weeks of September, down just slightly from the same period last year.
The summer crop will likely wind up being just two-thirds the size of the preseason estimates, due to rains starting in mid-June, more than a month later than normal, Wedin said.
“Prices are high and they’re staying high,” he said. “It’s basically hand-to-mouth now. Painful as it’s been, though, shippers have actually done a good job of stretching the summer crop.”
On Sept. 13, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $55.25-57.25 for two-layer boxes of hass 48s from Mexico, up from $23.25-24.25 last year at the same time.
Some growers in Mexico have tried to pick new-crop fruit in early September to help boost supplies, but maturity tests have been inconsistent, Wedin said.
“We thought we’d have some last week, but we didn’t.”
It sill likely be the first week of October before Mexican supplies begin ramping up, with supplies getting into the 40 million to 45 million pound-per-week range necessary to meet demand in the U.S. in mid- to late October Wedin said.
“Markets should be strong through most of October,” he said.