For years, avocado suppliers have been implementing ripening programs and encouraging retailers to offer fruit that shoppers can enjoy right away or within a couple of days.
But as consumers make fewer trips to the supermarket and try to stretch the shelf life of their avocados during the COVID-19 pandemic, it might make sense that they would buy fewer ripe avocados and more hard, green fruit.
Xavier Equihua, president and CEO of the Peruvian Avocado Commission, said he has recently observed more shoppers picking up hard avocados than ripe fruit.
Gary Caloroso, regional business development director for Los Angeles-based The Giumarra Cos., thinks that might be the case.
“Given the current crisis, we have seen customers initially desire more avocados that are green and hard,” he said.
“We will see if this trend continues throughout the summer.”
Whether consumers are buying more hard avocados or not, most suppliers say their ripening programs still are going strong, and they expect that to continue as Peruvian avocados begin to enter the marketplace.
And they point out that even if shoppers do take home more non-ripe avocados, they’ll still need ripe ones for immediate use.
“Ripe fruit sells,” said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing for Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, Calif.
He estimated that Calavo ripens 55%-60% of the avocados it sells.
“Many, many avocado consumers know that ripe fruit stores well in the refrigerator,” he said.
Calavo does most of its ripening of Peruvian fruit at facilities in Florida and New Jersey and some in Texas.
But some major retailers choose to ripen their own, he said.
Lack of foodservice sales caused a drop in requests for ripened fruit for Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif., said Ross Wileman, senior vice president of sales and marketing.
Just about all of the avocados foodservice buys are ripened, he said.
But that downward trend was starting to reverse by early May.
“We’re starting to see foodservice slowly but surely come back,” Wileman said.
Giumarra’s Caloroso said that, while consumers typically enjoy a choice in the level of ripeness for their avocados, the company sees more consumer interest today in extending shelf life at home.
“Consumers are now more interested than ever in learning how to effectively freeze their avocados,” he said.
Giovanni Cavaletto, vice president of sourcing for Index Fresh Inc., Riverside, Calif., is a firm believer in ripening programs.
“The evidence really speaks for itself,” he said. “The most avocado sales that you’ll see at retail are when you have different displays in the produce section.”
Shoppers buy avocados for different reasons, he said.
Some want ripe fruit for using right away, others want breaking fruit for two or three days out, and still others want green, hard fruit for a week from now.
“It’s best to have three different displays with three different levels of ripeness in order to maximize sales velocity at the retail level,” Cavaletto said.
Index Fresh has not seen an immediate change in demand as a result of COVID-19, he added.
Rankin McDaniel, president of McDaniel Fruit Co., Fallbrook, Calif., said he’s not sure if the “ripe-for-tonight” programs will hold through the pandemic with shoppers only going to the store once a week or so.
Ripening programs were “extremely successful,” he said, and have continued to grow.
But he said some consumers now may buy fruit that will sit in a bowl on the kitchen table for several days.
For McDaniel Fruit Co., though, the number of retailers who want ripened fruit has not changed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
But a drop in foodservice business was affecting volume of ripened fruit, McDaniel said in early May.
“Ripe avocado production numbers may be dropping as a lack of demand for foodservice has kicked in over the last six or eight weeks.”
But as partial reopenings start to occur, “We may see foodservice demand begin to creep back up,” he said “Foodservice likes ripe fruit.”