Florida avocado crop gets summer sales lift

Excerpts from a 9/2/11 article in The Packer by Doug Ohlemeier

This season is turning out to be a great one for Florida avocado growers.

Growers of the green-skinned fruit are benefiting from expected record production and high prices accompanying a shortage of hass avocados.

Though south Florida growers don’t view hass avocados as head-on competition, they’re seeing how the large price difference between the two varieties could help encourage more Florida sales. 

They say their lower-priced, larger-sized fruit could help retailers invest more into Florida promotions and help grow their avocado category when hass fruit sells at stratospheric levels.

Throughout the summer, cartons of two-layer hass avocados have sold for more than $50. In late August, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 32s and 36s selling for $51.25-52.25 with 40s, 48s and 60s hitting $54.25-55.25.

One-layer flats of Florida avocados during the same time sold for for $5.50 for 8s-9s and $5.50-6 for 10s-12s.

In early June, when the season opened with lighter volume, those same sizes garnered $11-12.

Bill Brindle, vice president of sales management for Brooks Tropicals Inc., Homestead, Fla., said this season’s prices have been a little better than other seasons and said it’s the first time in a decade he’s seen such high demand and more promotions.

“We are seeing more Florida promotions and more retailers promoting them,” Brindle said in late August.

“Whereas a certain retailer may have just carried them in previous years, this year, they’re promoting them.”

Brooks is also seeing more West Coast demand for a fruit that typically sees its strongest demand in the East.

West Coast demand usually increases as September varietal production brings improved fruit shelf life for Western shipments.

Those fall varieties run through December, when most of the deal’s harvesting typically ends.

Mark Levin, co-owner of Philadelphia-based banana and tropicals distributor M. Levin & Co Inc., said he’s felt a slight increase in demand for Florida avocados.

Though Levin has always sold Florida and hass avocados, he said his clients typically prefer one or the other, and now business has changed a little.

“While Mexicans and Puerto Ricans always want Florida, many of them are taking the hass,” Levin said.

“Are there some change-offs? Are people willing to try the other because of the price of hass? Yes. Is there a big change in my business because of that? No.”

Florida growers in recent years have typically averaged 895,000 bushel crops, up from the 777,000 bushels they produced during the early 2000s, when hurricanes cut production in some years in half to 479,000 bushels.

After years of shorter than normal crops, growers expect this season to bring 1.2 million bushels. If realized, it could tie 2002-03 as the deal’s biggest year.