Exports play important role for Golden State crop
Even with this year’s smaller-than-usual crop, California avocado shippers may find some profitable opportunities outside of the domestic market.
About 4% to 7% of California avocados are exported annually, according to the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission.
Export programs typically are much shorter than domestic deals, said Tom Bellamore, commission president.
They may be four- or six-week windows in markets such as Asia, where demand and pricing may be strong at times when the U.S. market is not as robust as growers would like it to be, he said.
“It’s a global market now, and there are opportunities around the world,” said Rankin McDaniel, owner and president of McDaniel Fruit Co. Inc., Fallbrook, Calif.
“There is always the possibility that a market — Europe for instance — could be more profitable for California growers on specific sizes during specific times of the year versus what they may be able to garner in the U.S. market,” he said.
Exports can be a profitable proposition, agreed Bob Lucy, partner at Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc., Fallbrook, Calif.
“We have some opportunities to send our fruit to different places in the world and maybe get our growers a dollar or two more per box — maybe even more,” he said.
“Our job as California packers is to get the most money we can for our growers.”
California fruit is highly regarded in many export countries, including Japan and South Korea, he said.
“We did pretty good exporting last year,” said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing for Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Paula, Calif.
Export volume this year likely will be the same as it was last year at Calavo, he said.
South Korea is the company’s main export destination.
“There are some windows in Korea when pricing on California avocados is better than it is here,” he said.
Los Angeles-based The Giumarra Cos. has customers in Asia that love California avocados, said Gary Caloroso, business development director.
So when the opportunity arises, that may well be where the company’s fruit is headed.
“For us, it’s all about the best return we can get for the grower,” he said. “We do have strong customers in terms of exports.”
If offshore buyers will pay more for California avocados than domestic retailers, he said, “We have to do what’s right for the grower.”
Most of the company’s exports are destined for Asia.
“Asia works better for California from a location standpoint,” he said.
Exports, however, account for only a small part of the avocado business at Giumarra.
“We really focus on the U.S. and Canada,” Caloroso said.
Gahl Crane, sales director for Eco Farms, Temecula, Calif., said he has noticed for several years that California packers and shippers have been looking at offshore markets.
“Demand for California avocados globally is pretty significant,” he said, “especially in Asia.”
Buyers in export markets often are willing to pay a premium for California fruit, which growers appreciate because the costs of inputs are increasing and export sales can help keep costs under control, he said.
“Those types of opportunities are welcome from the grower community and the industry,” he said.
South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore are some of Eco Farms’ major export destinations, but still, Crane said exports account for only a small portion of the firm’s avocado sales.
While Eco Farms supports global business, the company’s core business is foodservice and retailers in the western U.S. — especially California — Crane said.
Exports usually are a bigger factor early in the season.
“We are getting some requests from Asia already for California (avocados), even with the minimal supply there has been,” he said in late February.
The best opportunities often arise during the spring, when the market is rebounding from the large volume of avocados shipped to the U.S. for Super Bowl celebrations, Bellamore said.
“If there’s an opportunity, even a fleeting one, in an Asian market, it may be a better deal for the grower essentially to send fruit that way through their packer,” he said.
“We’ve seen packers cultivate those relationships offshore — particularly in Asia — where the origin of fruit from California is of greater appeal,” Bellamore said.