Avocados made headlines last month, when the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) announced it would redefine “healthy” to include good-for-you foods such as avocados, salmon and almonds, which were previously considered too high in fat to meet its criteria. “It’s huge — I think it will change the industry dramatically,” exclaims Rick Joyal, national sales manager for Calavo Salsa Lisa and specialty products, with regard to the FDA’s decision to update its guidelines for the first time since the 1990s. “I still have nutritionists approach me at trade shows and say that they try to keep their customers away from fats, including avocados.”
In fact, avocados contain “good” fats — both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated — which can lower “bad” cholesterol levels and have proved beneficial when consumed in moderation.
While Joyal notes that FDA’s redefinition will take several years to finalize, the message that avocados are part of a healthy diet is finally going mainstream.
Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc. offers a number of new products that play to the health message. It recently launched 2-ounce portion-controlled cups of 90-calorie guacamole. “Two ounces is really that sweet spot,” asserts Joyal. “It’s enough for a sandwich or a snack.” “Labeling avocados as healthy is a very positive step,” affirms Robb Bertels, VP of marketing for Mission Produce Inc., in Oxnard, Calif. “The consumer perception and understanding of avocados is at a very high point right now, and this will help to maintain the momentum.”
In addition to the health message, Mission is equally invested in communicating the versatility of avocados.
“Core, heavy users of avocados know about the many uses of the product — from avocado toast for breakfast, to salads, to use on sandwiches, and, of course, as guacamole,” notes Bertels. “As the perception of avocados as a healthy fruit continues to grow, we feel that nonusers will try avocados, and light and medium users will move up the scale and expand their use beyond guacamole.”
At West Pak Avocado, in Murrieta, Calif., communicating versatility also means offering the consumer options. “We have made considerable investments in our bagging technology in the last several years,” says Marketing Manager George Henderson. “With this investment, it gives us a wide range of flexibility to be on the front end of emerging demographics and merchandising trends with our new product and consumer packaging offerings.”
Ripe and Ready Sell
“Ripeness is critical to winning over customers with avocados, from coast to coast,” observes Bertels.
To that end, Mission’s goal is to offer ripe and ready avocados to its retail partners and consumers on a year-round basis by sourcing from multiple growing regions, including California, Mexico, Peru and Chile.
“We also recommend merchandising multicount bags in addition to bulk,” suggests Bertels. “This gives consumers a choice in sizing and level of ripeness. As long as the displays are well stocked and maintained, that choice always equals higher velocity through the department.”
About 90 percent of the nation’s avocado supply comes from California. This year’s crop is estimated at about 390 million pounds — about 40 percent larger than last year’s — with availability from March through September.
To strengthen the connection between avocados and the Golden State in this year of abundance, the California Avocado Commission (CAC) has launched a vibrant marketing campaign.
“It builds on the groundbreaking California avocado grower campaign, communicating that California avocados aren’t just made in California, but made of California,” says Jan DeLyser, VP marketing for CAC, in Irvine, Calif.
The campaign features a new theme, California by Nature, supported by consumer advertising, including traditional broadcast and in-store radio and print ads, as well as social media and digital marketing. CAC is also working with chefs, bloggers and dietitians to encourage consumption of California avocados.
On the retail front, CAC is providing display bins that complement the new advertising creative. DeLyser notes that the commission’s retail marketing directors are also working with retail partners on customized marketing programs featuring California avocados.
At this point, avocados have been a hot item in fresh produce for a number of years. Where does the industry go from here?
“There is absolutely room for continued growth in avocado consumption, both in the U.S. and worldwide,” asserts DeLyser, who points to a recent IRI FreshLook household panel data study indicating that only 42 percent of U.S. households outside of California purchase avocados from retailers.
“That leaves more than half of the potential audience untapped,” notes DeLyser. “In California, during California avocado season, retail household penetration is much higher (66 percent), but there’s still room to convert more consumers here to become avocado lovers.”
When it comes to merchandising that sells, DeLyser affirms that a dedicated ripe avocado program is of the utmost importance, but promoting origin also plays a role.
“Consumers look to retailers for information about the product seasonality and origin,” she adds. “Signage that calls out locally grown, or the California origin in season, provides the information consumers are looking for.”
In celebration of the California-grown avocado, Mission has created a California-specific bag strap. “Part of the initiative is to help highlight the California crop, and to also tie in with our California PLU labels,” explains Bertels. “We have specific customers that want to call out California on the packaging, and even though we are a global supplier, this gives us the opportunity to promote the crop for our grower base and our home base in California.”
Building on its campaign as the Summer Avocado, the Peruvian Avocado Commission (PAC), has planned an extensive menu of promotions for the season, which runs from June through September, featuring tagged radio and Pandora ads, and in-store demos.
PAC expects Peru to export approximately 100 million pounds of avocados to the United States in 2016, as it did last year. With sizzling summertime recipes, promotions and events, the fruit is sure to sell out.
“Walmart will be doing several radio-supported tasting events this summer,” notes Xavier Equihua, president and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based PAC.
In one event, customers will taste an avocado smoothie made with Avocados From Peru.
Equihua sees continued growth in the avocado category. “In our opinion, the primary reason for the unprecedented growth is simple: Hass avocados taste great and are extremely versatile, as they can be used in all kinds of recipes,” he says.
To promote this versatility, Avocados From Peru is once again offering its cookbook, “Cooking with Avocados From Peru,” as a free download via its website www.avocadosfromperu.com. For more inspiration and retail support, grocers can visit the Retail Marketing Support section of its website.
To the Mex
Meanwhile, Dallas-based Avocados From Mexico (AFM) creates compelling campaigns that increase avocado consumption each year.
This past year, its promotions surrounding the Super Bowl and Cinco de Mayo both met with success. “The Big Game is the No. 1 occasion where avocados are served, and Avocados from Mexico’s goal is to own this occasion both in-store and out of store,” asserts Stephanie Bazan, AFM market development director. AFM is currently rolling out its Grills Gone Loco summer promotion in partnership with Heineken/Tecate in an effort to leverage the peak season for outdoor barbecues and picnics. The promotion includes cross-merchandising, a joint savings offer, and recipe inspiration on AFM social/digital platforms.
For the back-to-school occasion, AFM plans to introduce its first shopper marketing program. “This program will be focused on nutritious breakfasts, encouraging moms to add avocados to their children’s morning-time meals,” notes Bazan. AFM will team with the Produce Marketing Association’s Eat Brighter! campaign, featuring “Sesame Street” characters, for this promotion, which will include displays and a money-savings offer.
Social Media Sensation
“We can say that, without a doubt, ‘avocado’ is a hot topic in the social media conversation right now, and that applies to all social platforms,” says Ivonne Kinser, AFM director of digital marketing. “However, the style, tone and form of the avocado conversation vary from one platform to the other.”
She points to Instagram as the preferred platform for foodies, health-and-wellness enthusiasts and food industry professionals. On the other hand, AFM’s Facebook audience is hungry for avocado recipes. They’re also more receptive to AFM’s brand messages, such as origin, freshness and year-long availability.
“Twitter is the preferred platform to share quick avo tips, and to amplify all the campaigns we deploy in digital as well as offline,” explains Kinser. “Pinterest is key to provide avocado lovers with a broad array of avocado recipes that they can easily add to their recipe collections.”
“Labeling avocados as healthy is a very positive step. The consumer perception and understanding of avocados is at a very high point right now, and this will help to maintain the momentum.”
—Robb Bertels, Mission Produce
“California avocados aren’t just made in California, but made of California.”
—Jan DeLyser, California Avocado Commission