The day may come when sales of organic avocados level off, but for most grower-shippers, movement continues to increase every year.
“It’s a growing category for sure,” said Steve Taft, president and chief executive officer at Eco Farms Corp., Temecula, Calif.
A significant portion of the company’s volume is organic, and the numbers continue to grow, he said.
Eco Farms has grown organic avocados since the early 1970s.
“We were the only ones doing it,” Taft said.
Henry Avocado Corp., Escondido, Calif., has converted a lot of acreage to organic over the past five years, said president Phil Henry.
Nearly 20% of the groves the company manages in California now are organic, he said, adding that demand for organic avocados remains strong.
“All organic produce has been growing, and avocados are part of that trend,” he said.
McDaniel Fruit Co. Inc., Fallbrook, Calif., has several good-sized parcels that are organic, said president Rankin McDaniel.
“It is a part of the mix for most all retail customers we deal with,” he said.
Organic avocados have been a steady growth item, he said.
There have been a number of times when the company has had trouble providing enough product to meet demand.
“We’ve tried to get out in front of that by increasing our organic acreage,” McDaniel said.
But that doesn’t happen overnight.
“It’s a several-year process to get the full certification,” McDaniel said.
And it’s costly.
“You have to be pretty convinced that it’s going to continue to grow for your company before (you) convert conventional ground.”
Organic volume is up and prices have been good for Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, Calif., said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing.
“We made a significant percentage jump last year, and it feels like we’re going to make another one this year,” he said.
The company has created a small department to control inventory and ensure fresh supplies of organic avocados, he said.
Organic business at Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif., has been fairly stable and consistent, said Robb Bertels, vice president of marketing.
He said he has not heard much about major growth in the industry or additional acres going in.
Nonetheless, he said, “I still think there’s more potential out there.”
No one seems to think that the growth of organics will continue forever at the steady pace it’s maintained for the past several years, but no one is willing to predict when that growth will subside.
Avocado demand has increased 9% or 10% every year for the past 10 years except for last year, when there was a supply glitch, Henry said.
“So far, we’ve been very fortunate with avocado demand and organic demand,” he said. “They continue to grow.”
But for all items, demand eventually tends to stabilize, he said.
“You just don’t know (when).”
Unlike some categories, where organic per-acre yields can be half that of conventional, yields of organic avocado trees can be similar to conventional ones, some growers said.
“It depends on how you do it,” Taft said.
If a grower farms with “a lot of the TLC things that are important,” like proper mulching, fertilizing and weed control, organic avocado yields can equal conventional yields, he said.
Henry also said organic avocado yields can be comparable to conventional if a grower follows the proper growing practices.
“We’ve been doing it now for quite some time,” he said, and have developed the right techniques to ensure decent yields.
Still, growing inputs for organic avocados are costly, and suppliers must charge a premium for the fruit if they want to continue to grow it.
Fortunately, many consumers are willing to pay more for organic fruit.
“The premium has been tremendous,” Calavo’s Wedin said, and he doesn’t anticipate organic prices coming down anytime soon.