Avocados aren’t just for guacamole anymore; foodservice operators are using them on everything from burgers to smoothies to poke bowls, says Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the California Avocado Commission.
( Courtesy Helena Lopes on Unsplash )

Probably no segment of the economy has suffered more from the COVID-19 pandemic than the foodservice industry.

For the avocado category, foodservice typically accounts for about 35% of sales, according to the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission.

“This year it will be significantly less,” said Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing.

For Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, Calif., foodservice business was off by 80% when the pandemic first hit in March, then it improved to about 60% when restaurants started opening again, but dropped again in July when indoor dining was restricted in many areas, said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing.

“It’s off way more than 50% for sure,” Wedin said in late July.

The drop in foodservice sales created a dilemma for some growers, he said, because it eliminated outlets for No. 2-grade fruit, fruit that might have cosmetic imperfections but was good to use for slicing in a salad or on a sandwich.

Fortunately, California’s crop has been very clean this season, so there was not much No. 2-grade fruit, he said. 

But U.S. foodservice buyers were not ordering second-grade avocados from Mexico.

“We’re leaving a lot of our No. 2s in Mexico for processing,” Wedin said.

Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc. in Fallbrook, Calif., also saw foodservice business decline.

“It really took a big hit,” said partner Bob Lucy, especially in March and April.

“They’re coming back slowly,” he said in July, but pockets of the country still were shut down, including California and some other areas.

“Miami-Dade, which is a big foodservice area, has really had struggles,” Lucy said.

Many drive-thru restaurants and those that offer food to go are doing well, while white-tablecloth establishments are struggling, he said.

Some eateries offer outdoor dining, which is great during the summer, but Lucy said that weather will be a factor by the end of October.

Foodservice sales did not count for a large portion of Del Rey’s business, he said, but restaurants were important because they can take a variety of sizes and provide good returns to growers for No. 2-grade fruit.

Los Angeles-based The Giumarra Cos. is proud of its year-round avocado foodservice program, said Gary Caloroso, business development director.

“While the sector is hurting right now, we are committed to helping our foodservice customers grow their avocado sales in the future,” he said.

The company’s foodservice sales were headed upward before the pandemic.

“Foodservice operators are using fresh avocados across all dayparts with breakfast, lunch and dinner menu offerings,” he said.

Gahl Crane, sales director for Temecula-based Eco Farms, described the current state of foodservice business as “a little unpredictable.”

He said he has heard from foodservice suppliers that business in down about 50% on avocados, and that seems to be the case at Eco Farms, if not more.

Foodservice accounts for only a small part of the company’s business, though, and Crane said that increased retail sales have more than made up for the foodservice decline.

Prior to the pandemic, foodservice operators seemed to be taking a liking to the avocado category, said Aaron Acosta, corporate relationship manager for Pharr, Texas-based Villita Avocados Inc.

“A lot of restaurants really embraced fresh avocados,” he said, and were highlighting the fruit on their menus.

“Chefs went out of their way to plan dishes around avocados,” he said, and were expanding far beyond guacamole.

Acosta said he has seen restaurants feature fried avocado slices and a number of sauces using avocados.

Even global cuisine restaurants like Indian and Chinese eateries are featuring avocados, he said.

Wedin has seen avocados used with “handhelds,” like burgers and burritos, he said.

That didn’t use to be the case since it’s more difficult to cut up an avocado for a sandwich, but now it seems to be paying off.

“You can get a pretty significant markup if you’ve got an avocado on a sandwich,” he said.

Foodservice operators are using avocados on burgers, in salads, breakfast items, smoothies, tacos, California rolls and other sushi dishes, poke bowls, grain bowls and in many other ways, DeLyser said.

Foodservice business is important for continued category development, she added. 

“The versatility of avocados coupled with innovation from chefs and menu developers continually bring new usage ideas to consumers.” 

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