IRVINE, Calif. — After a dismal 2009 deal, the California avocado industry is bouncing back with a projected volume of 470 million pounds.


To support the large crop, the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission has mapped an aggressive, $9 million advertising and marketing campaign.


“That figure is similar to the commission’s marketing budget during 2005-06, the year of the largest California crop in history,” said Tom Bellamore, president and chief executive officer.


The “hand grown in California” theme, which features the state’s growers, returns for another season and will run through all segments of the advertising-marketing campaign, said Jan DeLyser, the commission’s vice president of marketing.


The media include in store and broadcast radio, billboards, magazines and the Internet in addition to public relations, foodservice and merchandising materials and social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Increased avocado consumption

The commission has a strong story to tell — and the research to support it.


“A survey by IRI-Fresh Look Marketing (Hoffman Estates, Ill.) found unit sales of avocados increased 17% in the past year,” DeLyser said.


The jump in sales was in the face of the recession. California recorded the biggest hike, 23%, followed by the Great Lakes region and the plains.


As the increased sales would indicate, the growing popularity of avocados finds more people eating the fruit and eating more of it.


“Two-thirds of avocado buyers are now in the heavy-user category,” DeLyser said. “In fact, one-third of avocado fans eat more than 120 avocados a year.”


A heavy user, as defined by Cooper Roberts Research, San Francisco, consumes 37 to 120 avocados annually.


An even bigger fan of avocados is the super user, who puts away an average of 154 avocados a year. Cooper Roberts said the super user group runs heavier to men, is younger and more affluent than the norm and is more ethnically diverse, DeLyser said.

Sandwiches, Mexican dishes

Where avocados are found in meals also is becoming more diverse.


Of the Cooper Roberts’ survey’s respondents, 89% ate avocados in a Mexican dish while 86% use avocados in non-Mexican meals; 86% use avocados in salads and 76% consumed the fruit in guacamole.


About 73%, use avocados in sandwiches and 63% eat the fruit out of hand.


Imported avocados from Mexico and Chile — and soon from Peru — represent the lion’s share of avocados sold in the U.S., but there is a definite preference among shoppers for California-grown fruit, DeLyser said.

California preference

In 2007, the IRI-Fresh Look Marketing survey found that during the height of the California season retailers generated an average of $484 more per store in avocado sales than in the previous six months. By 2009, the average figure jumped to $564, she said.


“The preference for California avocados is 9-to-1 over imported fruit,” DeLyser said.


If given a choice, 88% of respondents to the Cooper Roberts survey chose California avocados while 10% preferred Mexican fruit and just 2% selected Chile.


That shoppers trust California growers and their farming practices is shown in the reasons they said they prefer California grown avocados.


Food safety and environmental responsibility-farming practices were mentioned by more than 90% of those surveyed. Freshness, taste, and quality followed close behind.


Shopper loyalty to California growers also is factor. Cooper Roberts found one in four shoppers checks the source of the avocados before buying.


Among them, 21% said they like to support U.S. products and growers. That’s an increase from just 4% in 2008, DeLyser said.


Fifteen percent said they trust locally grown produce, triple the percentage in 2008.

Radio advertizing

Regional radio commercials kicked off the commission’s advertising-marketing campaign, which runs March through September in Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, San Francisco, Phoenix, Portland and Seattle, DeLyser said.


Flights of radio advertising also are placed in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Denver. Those messages will be broadcast in portions of May, June, July and August, she said.


Outdoor advertising is scheduled for a mid-April to mid-July showing in the Western cities followed by a mid-June through late-September campaign in the Texas cities.


Posters touting the health and nutrition benefits of avocados were a hit in fitness centers last year, DeLyser said, and the posters get an encore this year in fitness centers located in Western markets.


Display advertisements in a wide variety of targeted magazines will debut in late March and continue through October.


The magazines include EatingWell, Healthy Cooking, Cooking Light, Cooking” and Prevention, DeLyser said. Launched simultaneously with the print advertising will be an Internet campaign that focuses on Web sites about cooking and eating, she said.


The radio, outdoor and print advertising will be supported by in store radio and shopping cart advertising in targeted cities.


The California commission is not the only avocado organization making a considerable investment in advertising and marketing.


The total marketing budgets for this year among the commission, the Avocado Producer & Exporting Packers Assoiation of Michoacan (APEAM), the Chilean Avocado Importers Association, the Hass Avocado Board and Avocados from Mexico will approach $40 million in the U.S., DeLyser said.


“That kind of marketing investment creates category demand,” she said.


Retailers who participate in the advertising efforts stand to reap substantial benefits, according to research conducted by Salt Lake City-based Fusion Marketing.


The research found local-regional advertising lifts sales even when prices are not discounted.


“Advertising coupled with everyday prices found sales increasing 52%,” DeLyser said. “But when the advertising was wedded to a price promotion, the increase in sales was a whopping 145%."

Foodservice focus

Most of the commission’s advertising-marketing campaign is focused on retail, but it also has plans for foodservice. The commission will be providing innovative menu concepts and customized menu promotions to foodservice operators and management companies, DeLyser said.


“We also will be conducting training and customized educational programs for foodservice operators, editors and others,” she said.


While the commission’s marketing-advertising campaign is focused in Western states, the large crop will enable more distant shoppers to purchase California avocados.


“We’ll be able to satisfy demand in the Midwest and in more Eastern areas,” DeLyser said.


Even as 2009 was winding down, the commission was reaching out to key Midwest and Eastern accounts that had expressed a preference for California avocados, she said.