(Feb. 23) Avocados are consistently available year-round but aren’t consistently placed on shopping lists. That’s because they are an impulse buy. If you want to increase sales of the tropical fruit, you need to offer them ripe and ready to eat.

“If retailers do not have ripe avocados on display, the opportunity is missed,” says Robin Osterhues, director of corporate marketing for Calavo Growers Inc., Santa Ana, Calif.

Osterhues cited a 2002 Produce Marketing Assoc-iation report that avocado sales average 1.6% of produce sales and rank No. 7 among fruit sales. Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the California Avocado Commission, Irvine, says California avocados typically rank in the top seven fruits in the produce department, but the number varies between regions.

Avocados can rank as high as No. 3, says Ross Wileman, vice president of sales and marketing for Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif.

BEYOND BULK

To entice shoppers, offer more than bulk avocados. Next to your bulk display, merchandise bags of three to five avocados. Many suppliers now offer a variety of packaging options so you can serve your customers’ needs.

“Calavo markets fruit in a multitude of options, including bulk 25-pound cartons, tray-packed 25-pound cartons, 12.5-pound flats, Euro-style common footprint corrugate cartons, reusable plastic containers and promotional 8- and 10-count handy-packs,” Osterhues says.

Calavo also markets bagged avocados that contain any size, variety and count in 25- and 40-pound cartons.

Osterhues says mesh bags are not new to the avocado industry but have become an incremental sales item to bulk. Calavo has customized hardware displays for mesh bags that are made to order for retailers.

DeLyser says the avocado commission offers corrugated packaging, RPCs and club packs and is testing Euro boxes.

“Bags have become a driving force in avocado merchandising. They are a wonderful way to realize incremental sales on avocados with a secondary display,” DeLyser says.

She says offering avocados in bags provides suppliers and retailers a market for smaller fruit while providing customers with the convenience of multipack purchases. Bags also are a way to pass recipes on to consumers.

Wileman says Mission Produce offers bagged avocados, as well as clamshells of four ripe avocados with a spice pack, to make guacamole. He says size, count and variety vary for bagged avocados but that most bags average four to five pieces of fruit.

While bulk displays still dominate at retail, Wileman says bags offer shoppers a choice.

MORE THAN GUACAMOLE

To increase avocado sales, be sure to promote the fruit at key times during the year.

“The two highest sales periods of the year are the Super Bowl and Cinco de Mayo. The rest of the year, sales are consistent,” Osterhues says.

Mario Andeola, produce manager for Podestos Market, an independent retail store in Stockton, Calif., says he sells the most avocados in December when customers buy them for parties and in January for the Super Bowl. To promote guacamole for Super Bowl parties, the store makes a big display and cross-merchandises the fruit with tomatoes, onions and chili peppers.

Craig Lorbiecki, produce manager for Ballard Market, one of six stores in the Seattle-based chain, says he opts for a color-break display consisting of 3-foot sections of large hothouse tomatoes, small avocados, roma tomatoes and large tomatoes.

While avocados may be most commonly used in guacamole, there are many other ways to consume them. Offer shoppers alternative usage options like salsa and merchandise them with packaged salad blends. Other uses include grilling, slicing onto sandwiches and hamburgers, chopping into salads or eating with a spoon. Some pizza shops are even putting them on their pies.

Andeola says Podestos Market uses signs that say “Perfect in Salads” to entice shoppers.

Casey Bryan, produce manager for Kash n’ Karry, Tampa, one of more than 140 stores in the Plant City, Fla.-based chain, says some shoppers use avocados as a substitution for butter. He’s heard of people using the avocado spread on sandwiches and grilled bread.

MAKE THEM VISIBLE

Besides offering usage ideas, simply promoting avocados will increase sales. Use point-of-sale materials like serving suggestions, price signs and recipes in English and Spanish to draw attention to the fruit.

“In-store promotions with no price reduction can lift sales at least 30%. Some promotions, when combined with in-store displays, point-of-purchase materials, newspaper ads and/or price reductions can more than double sales,” Osterhues says.

DeLyser says linking radio advertisements to circulars from specific retailers is effective.

And since avocados are an impulse buy, displaying them where shoppers easily see them can increase sales, too. “If you put them on an end, they’ll blow out of here,” Lorbiecki of Ballard Market says.

To increase sales, increase the size of the display and cross-merchandise with tomatoes, lemons, limes, chips, salsa and guacamole mix. Also offer samples of guacamole with tortilla chips or fresh-cut vegetables. To demonstrate that you can eat avocados out-of-hand, sample fresh-cut slices sprinkled with lime juice. And since the fruit is available year-round, consider displaying it in a permanent place so it’s always easy to find.

RIPE NOW

A relatively new marketing strategy is offering avocados at the peak of ripeness. Be sure to offer ripe avocados for shoppers to use that night as well as unripe ones for use later in the week. Wileman says consumers will pass by rock hard avocados.

Suppliers are finding that more fruit moves if it’s ripe because consumers purchase it to eat immediately. And instead of relying on the retailer or consumer to ripen the fruit themselves, many suppliers are doing it first. This allows retailers to consistently offer ripe avocados to shoppers.

Calavo offers preripened avocados from forward distribution centers across the country. Osterhues says this helps retailers reduce shrink, order only the amount of ripe fruit they need, eliminate inventory problems and increase sales.

DeLyser says ripening rooms allow shippers and handlers to ripen avocados at the point of packing. “Our goal is to offer a piece of fruit that can be used that night by the consumer,” she says. DeLyser says more handlers are using regional ripening plants so they can get the ripe fruit closer to the point of sale.

Wileman says Mission Produce uses technology that includes a machine that separates avocados according to their ripeness, which is measured by tapping each piece of fruit four times. Mission has regional ripening centers in Oxnard; Denver; Chicago; Vineland, N.J.; and Atlanta. It also is building a center in Dallas. Wileman says the 40 distribution centers Mission operates provide retailers with ripe avocados seven days a week. All retailers participating in Mission’s ripe program have experienced an increase in avocado sales, he says, from 30% to 200%.

Make sure your shoppers are aware that avocados are ripe by using signs indicating so. Many suppliers offer signs to use in retail stores.

FRESH-CUT FRUIT

Calavo is venturing into the fresh-cut category with avocados by offering the fruit sliced and ready to consume.

“We have the capability to offer fresh-cut avocados utilizing our new ultrahigh-pressure equipment in our new Uruapan, Mexico, processing facility,” Osterhues says. A hurdle to overcome in offering cut avocados to consumers is keeping the slices fresh. If you choose to cut and pack avocados in house, be sure to sprinkle the slices with lime juice, lemon juice or milk to prevent browning.

Already on the innovative trail, Osterhues says Calavo will offer Fresh Signature guacamole early this year. The company has developed three flavors: authentic, which is mild; pico de gallo, which is medium; and caliente, which is spicy. All are made with hass avocados, fresh tomatoes and onions, jalapeños, garlic salt and pepper. Two 8-ounce packages of Fresh Signature guacamole are packed in a 1-pound box.

“They contain absolutely no additives or preservatives, are never frozen and are positively fantastic,” she says. “The best guacamole I’ve ever tasted.”