( Photo courtesy Glen Carrie; Source Unsplash )

Exports typically don’t account for much of the volume from California avocado grower-shippers, but most companies have at least a small export program, which they say can be quite lucrative.

Japan and South Korea are the No. 1 and No. 2 export markets respectively for Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc., said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing.

Most of the company’s shipments to Japan have been out of Jalisco, Mexico, over the past three to five years.

Jalisco offers nearly year-round availability and has some lucrative promotion programs in Japan, Wedin said.

Still, he’s hopeful that buyers there will open up to California avocados.

“We’re knocking on the door with our California fruit,” he said.

He believes there is potential to do business there if buyers could be promised a three- or four-month supply of avocados at price and sizes they want.

California fruit has an edge over Mexican product in South Korea because South Korea only pulls from Michoacan in Mexico, which levies a 30% tariff, Wedin said.

However, South Korea has been slow to start this season because of the coronavirus and other issues.

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“That’s been a really good way to kick off the California season the last couple of years,” he said. “But this year that not been effective.”

Calavo was shipping two to three loads per week to China from Michoacan, he said, but that has slowed down because of coronavirus.

California fruit is not yet shipping to China, he said.

Del Rey Avocado Inc., Fallbrook, Calif., hoped to start exporting four or five containers a week to Taiwan, Japan and South Korea in March, but that has been shut down because of coronavirus issues, said Patrick Lucy, vice president of sales.

The company only will ship there by airfreight, since no one knows what might happen as far as quarantines at ports or changes in consumers’ shopping habits, he said.

“To put something on the water and not know what’s going to happen in three or four weeks is pretty risky,” Lucy said. 

“So most people are staying away from that.”

Some shippers were excited because approval finally has been given to allow shipments to China, he said.

“There’s an opportunity for exponential growth on avocados.”

Some packinghouses were going to be certified in early spring.

“Now that’s probably put on hold,” he said.

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Del Rey Avocado exports about 20% of what the company packs, Lucy said.

Exports usually start in March, April and May, then they slow in summer and pick up in August with green fruit from the state’s northern growing area.

“Export countries like very green fruit,” he said.

Export buyers usually prefer single-layer flats rather than boxes, he said. And they prefer sizes 48, 60 and 70.

Fallbrook-based McDaniel Fruit Co. Inc. does not do much exporting, said Rankin McDaniel, owner and president.

“Because our domestic demand is so strong, we don’t have a lot of extra product to divert to overseas markets,” he said.

The company exports primarily to South Korea and ships some to Canada.

But his is a global company, he said, “and when the right opportunities come along, we explore them.”

China is potentially a large market for avocados from everywhere around the globe, including California, McDaniel said.

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Index Fresh Inc., Riverside, Calif., exports to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan in support of long-term programs directly with retailers, said Dana Thomas, president and CEO.

The company’s export program is growing slowly, he said.

“Since we target retailers, it grows with the growth of their avocado category.”

For the most part, importers request California packaging, he said, like lugs, display boxes or bags.

The Japanese like rounder avocados, and “they like to have a pretty green fruit,” Thomas said.

Export markets, like any markets, have good times and not-so-good times, he said.

“On average, it’s a nice return for growers.”