The Hass Avocado Board in Irvine, CA, which represents growers and importers of Hass avocados in the U.S. market, continues, as it has for about the past two and a half years, to focus primarily on nutrition research and nutrition marketing “in a way that supports the category as a whole,” according to Emiliano Escobedo, executive director.
This year alone, “we are budgeting close to half a million dollars in new research,” Escobedo told The Produce News. New findings are expected to continue the wave of “not only good news” about avocados “but good news based on facts,” which allows the board and the industry as a whole “to engage in evidence-based marketing.”
For the past 10 years or so, the board has engaged in consumer tracking studies that have shown there are three key reasons consumers buy avocados. “They care about taste. They care about the variety of uses,” he said. But they also care about “the nutrition message.” People are “very interested in the nutritional benefits and nutritional properties of avocados.”
Recent studies have revealed avocados to be nutrient boosters. When eaten with other foods such as tomatoes or carrots, for example, the avocados enhance the body’s absorption of essential nutrients such as vitamin A.
“The Buzz keeps getting louder” in social media and in traditional media about the health and nutritional benefits of avocados, and that is believed to be a major factor in the continuing dramatic growth of avocado consumption in the U.S. market, according to Escobedo.
During the first six months of 2014, “the industry shipped slightly over 950 million pounds” of Hass avocados, a 22 percent increase from two years prior. “Definitely, this will be a record-breaking year,” he said. The original estimate was 1.7 billion pounds, similar to the prior year. But “right now, the way it is looking, we are going to be closer to 1.8 billion pounds, so it is a very good year in terms of volume.”
The majority of that volume comes from Mexico, which will account for roughly two-thirds of the market this year.
The other major players are California, which had a lighter crop this year than last year; Peru, the newest player in the U.S. avocado market, which will double its volume this year over 2013; and Chile.
Mexico exports year-round, with lighter volumes during the summer. Chile comes in primarily during the fall and winter months. The length of the California season is largely determined by the size of the crop but typically is spring and summer and can continue well into fall on a large crop year. This year, the California crop will wane in the latter part of August and be mostly finished by September. Peru’s season is similar to that of California.
Shipping much smaller volumes to the United States are New Zealand and Dominican Republic.
Because the United States is “a very large market that is also growing very rapidly, it is attractive” to other producing countries as well, who are hoping to gain access. Columbia and South Africa are currently working their way through that process with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, although that is likely to take some time, Escobedo said. “Those certifications don’t happen overnight.”
A HAB tracking study of 4,400 grocery shoppers over the age of 25, over a period of 10 years or so, shows that two-thirds of U.S. consumers “have purchased avocados for home use,” Escobedo said. “Heavy and super-heavy avocado users represent 60 percent of all avocado users” but they consume about 92 percent of the avocados, “so these users are critical to driving the business. They are familiar with the product and know how to use it,” but they also “want to know more about how to use it and the variety of uses to which avocados can be put.”
HAB is continuing with its “Love One Today” marketing nutrition program designed both to raise consumption of avocados in the United States and to serve as “a uniform platform” for the organizations representing various points of origin that are promoting avocados in the U.S. market.
“We try to emphasize the points that are most relevant to consumers so the message is clear and consistent” across all marketing campaigns, regardless of origin, Escobedo said.