California kept supplies up

California kept supplies up

California’s 2019 avocado crop is winding down, but the state played an important role during a season where volume was low and prices were high.

“California really came to the party,” said Patrick Cortes, senior director of business development for Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif.

Earlier this year, it was thought that California “would be more of a niche player,” he said, with fruit staying within the state.

As it turned out, California growers played an important role in keeping supplies in the pipeline, he said.
The fruit came off the trees during a shorter window than what was predicted.

“When we saw Mexico was declining in crop size, California really came to the table and was harvesting substantially more week over week than what was anticipated,” Cortes said.

But the volume will come off the back of the season, with shipments winding down sooner than projected, he said.

The Irvine-based California Avocado Commission estimated that this year’s California crop will finish in the 190 million to 200 million-pound range.

Last year’s crop was just over 360 million pounds.

Consumer and customer demand for California avocados exceeded supply this season, said Jan DeLyser, the commission’s vice president of marketing.

“Due to weather and market conditions, harvesting began somewhat later than we initially projected,” she said, “so the season timing shifted a bit.”

“Where California avocados were in distribution, there were strong merchandising and support programs that focused on awareness-building and displays rather than price promotions,” she added.

This year’s volume exceeded the original crop projection, she said.

California took the lead in June and July when Mexico usually is the top avocado producer, said Gahl Crane, sales director for Eco Farms, Temecula, Calif.

“Usually, Mexico would be the leader, even with California peaking,” he said.

But this year, Mexico finished early and California made up difference, he said.

Though it’s too early to know for sure, many growers expect California’s avocado crop to be significantly larger next year than this year.

The 2020 crop could reach 325 million pounds, said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing for Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, Calif.

This year’s crop was one of the smallest ever, he said, because of a major heatwave during the summer of 2018 and a major fire in December.

Prices the fourth week of July had dropped to the $50 range from $70 a couple of months earlier. A year ago, they were in the $40 range.

Complicating matters was the fact that, besides the high prices this season, the fruit was on the large size.

“Retailers were having to sell fewer pieces off of a higher box price,” Wedin said. “The per-piece price has been very high.”

The good news for avocado growers was that there still was demand for the fruit, despite higher prices.

“It’s clear that the market in the U.S. will pay good, strong prices for avocados,” Wedin said. 

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