Just as demand for conventional avocados continues to climb, so does demand for their organic counterparts.
Most major avocado grower-shippers say they have strong organic programs to help meet that demand.
“We’re very big in organic,” said Gary Caloroso, regional business development director for The Giumarra Cos. in Los Angeles.
“That’s a big program for us,” Caloroso said.
The company is one of largest organic avocado suppliers to large mainstream supermarket chains as well as smaller ones, he said.
Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc., Fallbrook, Calif., is another leading marketer of organic avocados, said Bob Lucy, partner.
“We seem to be getting bigger and hopefully better every year,” he said.
“Organic avocados continues to be a rapidly growing segment,” said Rankin McDaniel, owner and president of Fallbrook-based McDaniel Fruit Co. Inc.
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“At this point, for the industry, it is an undersupplied segment,” he said.
That undersupply prevents the company from seeking new organic customers, McDaniel said.
The firm has adequate production to meet current needs, he said, but until new organic acreage comes on line, it will be difficult to expand its distribution network.
A maximum of 10% of the company’s volume now is organic, but McDaniel said that will increase because the company is putting in its own organic acreage.
The company is in discussions with growers about converting some of their conventional acreage to organic, but that’s a three-year process.
Organic avocados are a big part of the business at Eco Farms, Temecula, Calif., said Gahl Crane, sales director.
Acreage has been steady, he said, but the company might see added volume from existing growers and from newer growers looking for partnerships.
Good news for California growers is that Mexico’s organic volume has been limited lately, which has opened a window for organic fruit from California, Crane said.
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He expects that situation to continue in the coming months.
Tighter supplies out of Mexico could provide an opportunity for California growers to supply organic avocados to markets beyond the West Coast, he said.
The organic program at Index Fresh Inc., Riverside, Calif., is growing at about the same pace as its conventional program, said Dana Thomas, president and CEO.
“It’s a good product, it gives a good return to the grower, and it provides another display for the retailer, and that is important for the category,” Thomas said.
Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, Calif., has some “really good groves” of organic avocados in California, said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing.
When there is a big conventional crop in a season, it’s normal to have big organic crop, he said.
But the company may not see a 75% boost in organic avocados this year like it will for conventional due in part to significant fire damage to one of its major organic groves in a previous season.
Henry Avocado Corp., Escondido, Calif., has a “fairly good presence in organic,” said president Phil Henry.
The company has sold organic avocados for about 10 years, he said, and sales are “pretty strong” and demand continues to be very good.
Good news at Henry Avocado is that organic yields are getting close to those of conventional yields, Henry said.
Growing organically is not cheap, since the process calls for special inputs and different growing methods than conventional fruit.
“It definitely takes a different approach,” Thomas said, since special fertilizers must be used and different growing practices must employed, such as manual weed control.
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Costs for those inputs are higher, especially for fertilizer, Henry said.
Fertilizers and insecticides, if insecticides are used at all, must be certified for organics.
“We hope there continues to be a premium because of the extra costs for the organic grower,” Caloroso said.
Organic avocados can help retailers make higher margins because of the premium prices, Crane added.
“You see that reflected in f.o.b. pricing and in retail data,” he said.
Retailers who get creative with size, packing and pricing can “make a nice margin on sales,” Crane said.
High prices for organic avocados don’t seem to be a significant deterrent to organic purchases, McDaniel said.
“People who want organic will pay for organic,” he said.
“We’ve seen big price differences at retail level between what a conventional avocado would cost the consumer versus an organic avocado in the same store, and organic demand continues,” he said.
Thomas of Index Fresh also believes that consumers may be impervious to price when it comes to organics.
“Organic is a choice that, when people make it, they make it across produce categories,” he said.
“People who are looking for organic have a comfort level with organic, whether that be a strawberry or an avocado, it’s that comfort level they’re looking for.”
Even at a 30% premium — when organic avocados sell for $1.99 at retail compared with $1.99 for conventional — sales remain strong, Wedin said.
“People can’t get enough.”
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