( Courtesy Calavo Growers Inc. )

With avocados ranking No. 1 on the Environmental Working Group’s Clean Fifteen list of produce items, you might think sales of the organic version of the fruit would be minimal, at least judging from a pesticide residue standpoint.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

“There’s no question, we’re seeing significant growth year over year in organic avocados,” said Patrick Cortes, senior director of business development for Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif.

Cortes theorizes that consumers’ craving for organic produce goes well beyond concerns about how much pesticide residue may or may not be on the fruit.

“It’s the full ecosystem,” he said — the way the fruit is farmed, grown and consumed.

“It’s a way of life,” he added. “The organic shopper wants to buy organic.”

Demand has not yet reached the saturation point, he said. Retailers still talk about their growth plans for organic.

Some chains where 10% of the produce now is organic would like to see that number double, Cortes said.

“A lot of chain stores are very bullish on organic,” agreed Gahl Crane, sales director for Eco Farms, Temecula, Calif.

“If they’re not seeing the growth already, they want to see the growth,” he said, “and they’re definitely relying on organic avocados as one of the leaders within the organic category.”

Organic avocados are a popular item, supplies are good, and prices generally are stable, he added.

Good supplies of Peruvian avocados helped keep up with demand this summer, he said, especially with tight Mexico supplies.

Organic prices were very high at times during the summer but were starting to come down by the end of July, said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing for Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, Calif.

Prices were in the mid-$70s for a 25-pound carton at one point but settled into the mid-$60s by late July and were continuing to head downward.

As summer wound down, Mexico was starting to increase its organic harvest, Wedin said. But he added that Mexico tends to operate on its own cycles.

“It tends to go up a little more slowly, and it tends to come down a little more slowly,” he said.

Less than 10% of the avocados produced in Mexico are grown organically, Wedin added.

Not many Florida avocados are organically grown, said Mary Ostlund, director of marketing for Brooks Tropicals Inc., Homestead, Fla.

There are some organic growers, but they typically only grow two or three months of the year, she said.

But she expects to see more organic Florida avocados in the future.

“It’s an evolving thing,” she said. “Ten years ago, I would have never thought we could ever be organic. Now, I think it’s just a matter of time.”

Paul Weismann, president of Healthy Avocado, Berkeley, Calif., said he likes to have more than one organic supplier so that he can pick and choose the sizes he wants.

Supplies have been good lately, he said.

“We’re developing the outlets to move it.”

About 5% of the company’s avocados are organically grown, he said.

Healthy Avocado has offered organic avocados for three years.

Organic avocados likely always will be more costly at retail than conventional product because they’re more difficult to grow and often have smaller yields than conventional product, Crane said.

But he added that the differences in yields between organic and conventional avocados usually aren’t as dramatic as they are with other commodities.

In fact, he said a good grower sometimes can get yields similar to conventional product.

 
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