Organic avocados grown in Temecula, Calif., for Mission Produce Inc. ( Tom Burfield )

A growing number of consumers seem to be drawn to the organic avocado category, and grower-shippers say organic sales are on the rise.

According to The Packer’s 2018 Organic Produce Market Guide, overall organic avocado sales jumped 28% in 2018.

Organic avocados account for 2% of overall organic sales and 5% of all avocado sales.

“(Organic avocados) continue to grow every year for us,” said Gary Caloroso, regional business development director for Los Angeles-based The Giumarra Cos.

“Organic demand for avocados continues to increase across the U.S.,” he said.

Giumarra is one of the largest suppliers of organic avocados, Caloroso said, and sells organic avocados to mainstream supermarket chains as well as specialty chains.

Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc., Fallbrook, Calif., also is a major organic avocado supplier and sources from Mexico, Peru and California, said partner Bob Lucy.

The company has sufficient organic volume to supply several large retail chains, he said.

In addition to the hass variety, Del Rey offers an organic version of the reed variety — a large, greenskin avocado — and has conducted promotions with it in California, Lucy said.

Many retailers offer it as an option along with other organic and conventional avocados, he said.

Dana Thomas, president of Index Fresh Inc., Riverside, Calif., said he has seen a variety of organic options in supermarkets, including a selection of sizes and bagged product.

Organic continues to be a very strong category for Index Fresh, he said.

“Avocados in general are supply constrained, and organics definitely are supply constrained,” he said.

There is a definite growth curve for avocados, said Steve Taft, co-owner and president of Eco Farms, Temecula, Calif.

But it can be a challenge to grow organic fruit.

“It’s not as easy to be a good farmer when you’re trying to grow organically as it is when you’re growing conventionally,” he said.

“There’s stuff there that’s really hard to overcome without certain chemicals.”

Since organic avocados are more difficult to grow, organic fruit typically sells at a premium compared to conventional.

On average, there is about a 20% price gap between organic and conventional fruit, Lucy said, but the size of that gap can vary.

Last year, when organic Mexican avocados were in short supply, California and Peruvian organic fruit took a big jump in price, he said.

But, Taft said, in the 45 years the company has offered organic avocados, there have been times when organic and conventional fruit were almost the same price.

It’s only fair that organic avocados should cost more than conventional ones, Caloroso said.

“The narrowing of (the price gap) would inevitably hurt the organic grower,” he said.

“There would be no incentive to grow organically other than your own set of values as it relates to the environment.”

The entry of mainstream supermarkets, such as Kroger and Walmart, into the organic category “has really changed the playing field,” Taft said.

“They buy a lot of organic avocados.”

But sales to foodservice accounts seem few and far between.

Giumarra sells some organic avocados to a few specialty restaurants that focus on organic offerings, Caloroso said.

“It’s part of their value for the consumer base they’re targeting at that restaurant,” he said.

Lucy said he is surprised at the lack of response from major players in the foodservice industry.

“The foodservice sector has not jumped on organic avocados as much as I thought they would,” he said.

He would like more restaurants to feature organic avocados on their menus, he said.

“You don’t see that very often.”