The following article was written before the current COVID-19-related shutdowns were issued and reflects general trends rather than present market conditions or demand.
As more consumers eat more avocados during more dayparts, the fruit is turning up on more restaurant menus.
“Foodservice continues to be a growing sector,” said Denise Junqueiro, director of marketing for Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif.
“As foodservice operators create more dishes and dining experiences with avocados, we will continue to see this trend,” she said.
Not only are avocados featured in more items, she said, but they have become a staple as an add-on.
“Most restaurants, especially fast-casual ones, feature avocados as an add-on, and diners take advantage,” she said.
Avocados may have surpassed bacon and cheese as add-ons, Junqueiro said. But that has not been documented.
Dana Thomas, president and CEO of Index Fresh Inc., Riverside, Calif., knows firsthand how popular avocados have become in local restaurants.
“It doesn’t matter what I order, I ask for avocados on top,” he said. “Every restaurant I go into these days across the country has avocados.”
Not too long ago, that was an exception, not the rule, he said.
“Now it seems like they have whole, ripe avocados in their back rooms, either for dishes they have on the menu or for people who ask for them as an add-on,” he said.
Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing for Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, Calif., said that when last year’s overall avocado crop did not increase, demand fell at restaurant level.
“It feels like it’s really come back,” he said.
Avocados are served at breakfast, they’re available in wraps and healthy sandwiches, and they’re served cut or sliced in Mexican restaurants, he said.
“There’s a surge in volume at the restaurant level of sliced avocados that are found in those menu items,” he said.
“It’s not just guacamole.”
About 50% of the avocados that Henry Avocado Corp., Escondido, Calif., grows are destined for foodservice distributors, said president Phil Henry.
They’re using avocados in all kinds of ways — on a breakfast omelet, avocado toast, slices on salads, avocados with grapefruit, tomatoes and lettuce in salads — he said.
Many chain restaurants in the West are big supporters of California avocados, said Gahl Crane, sales director for Eco Farms, Temecula, Calif.
They often source from Mexico during the rest of the year but are committed to California fruit when it’s available and are willing to pay a higher price for the higher quality, he said.
The wide variety of menu items “speaks to the versatility of the product,” he said, and is often driven by social media, chefs and “the whole innovative culinary industry.”
What do foodservice operators demand of their suppliers?
“The top demands for foodservice are quality, ripeness and service,” Junqueiro said.
“That ripe spec has to be just right when it hits restaurants,” she said.
Mission has a distribution network that makes its trained ripeners no more than a 24-hour truck ride away from any customer anywhere in the U.S., she said.
“Our ripeners have mastered the ripening of avocados from all origins at any portion of the season to provide exactly what the customer needs,” Junqueiro said.
“Our customers can also benefit from our educational resources on size, interchangeability, storing and handling practices, along with other best practices.”
Foodservice customers more often than not ask for custom-ripened avocados, Henry said.
“We’re shipping them custom-ripened avocados that typically are in a riper stage than what we would ship to a retailer,” he said.
“Distribution centers don’t want to inventory avocados,” Henry said.
“They want to get them and ship them out.”
Almost all foodservice customers request preconditioned avocados, agreed Crane of Eco Farms, so the company has several ripening facilities throughout the U.S.
Other differences between foodservice and retail customers are that foodservice operators often are more flexible on sizing, and they are open to accepting No. 2-Grade fruit, since it’s usually cut, chopped, sliced or mashed before serving, Crane said.
Foodservice business continues to grow at Los Angeles-based The Giumarra Cos. as well, said Gary Caloroso, regional business development director.
He agreed that many restaurants buy No. 2-Grade fruit, which is perfectly fine to eat but may have a cosmetic blemish. And that’s helpful to growers, he said.
An exception is that they are more likely to ask for No. 1 Grade when guacamole is prepared tableside.