(April 3, 11:45 a.m.) The California avocado crop may be small this year, but it’s peaking just in time to fill West Coast orders for Cinco de Mayo.

Nevertheless, the majority of holiday product nationwide will come from Mexico, grower-shippers said.

“Supplies will be pretty good, and it will be California that will give the total volume an extra bump,” said Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing for Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc.

Between Mexico and California, there could be enough product for some retailers to promote at a dollar-a-piece, said Bob Lucy, co-owner of Del Rey Avocado Co. Inc., Fallbrook, Calif.

Prices could climb $4-5 from their April 1 levels as Cinco de Mayo nears, said Dave Fausset, sales manager for Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif.

To meet holiday demand, Fausset expects Mexico to ship about 20 million pounds per week and California 5 million to 6 million pounds per week in the weeks leading up to May 5.

“We expect there will be a lot of fairly aggressive promotions,” he said.

Strong Easter pull this year, Lucy said, bodes well for Cinco de Mayo.

“We’re not really seeing any downturn on retail” as a result of the recession, he said.

Because of the small California crop this season — it’s projected to be about half its normal size — harvests were delayed for weeks in some growing areas, said Phil Henry, president of Henry Avocado Corp., Escondido, Calif.

As a result of that extra time on trees and good growing weather, maturity and overall quality for Cinco de Mayo should be excellent, he said.

Wedin, Lucy and Fausset also expect excellent quality for holiday supplies.

“The Mexican (avocado) oil content will be at its peak, and California maturity will be much better than at this time last year,” Fausset said.

The Golden State will likely supply 25% to 30% of Cinco de Mayo fruit, with Mexico providing the balance, Wedin said. That’s up from a 5% to 10% share of Super Bowl sales, he said.

Henry said that given the small California crop, most customers in Texas, the Midwest and locations in the east will likely get the bulk of their supplies from Mexico this year.

For the holiday, Wedin predicts a continuation of the brisk movement avocados have been enjoying so far this season.

“The economy’s been rough, and prices are off a little, but so far, volumes have been moving along really nicely,” he said. “It’s been pretty gratifying.”

Henry said prices began climbing in mid-March, and he expected them to keep rising as Cinco de Mayo nears.

“It will be a challenge to meet demand,” he said. Nevertheless, Henry anticipated “a reasonable amount” of promotions for the holiday.

On March 31, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $27.25 for two-layer cartons of avocados 32s from Mexico, down from $36.25 last year at the same time.

Two-layer cartons of 70s from California were $22.25-23.25.

Aggressive promotions have accelerated movement, and Wedin doesn’t expect that to change come May 5.

“There will be a lot of good Cinco de Mayo promotions this year,” he said.

While Mexico will likely have a wide variety of sizes available for Cinco de Mayo promotions, California’s supplies will lean toward big fruit, Wedin said.

As a result, some of Calavo’s California customers who prefer small fruit may be running promotions with Mexican product this season, he said.

Limes from Mexico

Promotable supplies of limes, mostly from the Vera Cruz region of Mexico, will be available for Cinco de Mayo from Los Angeles-based Westlake Produce Co., said Steve Miller, the company’s product manager for tropicals.

“The Cinco de Mayo action looks like it will be OK, with a fair amount of fruit,” he said. “We’ll be participating in some promotions, particularly on the West Coast.”

On April 2, fruit wasn’t as large or as juicy as Miller would like, but he was optimistic that by the holiday both would improve, with sizes peaking on the 200s that retailers like.

Markets could strengthen as Cinco de Mayo nears, Miller said, rising from the mid- to upper teens in early April to the low 20s.

On March 31, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $16-17 for 40-pound cartons of seedless 175-200s, down from $32-40 last year at the same time.

Avocado demand to heat up for Cinco de Mayo
California will likely supply 25% to 30% of the avocados for Cinco de Mayo, with Mexico providing the balance, says Rob Wedin, vice president of sales and marketing for Santa Paula, Calif.-based Calavo Growers Inc. That’s up from a 5% to 10% share of Super Bowl sales, he says.

Pamela Riemenschneider