California: Avocado retail sales recover from initial drop

After getting knocked about at the start of COVID-19, the California avocado business has largely resumed its steady progress to a voluminous harvest.

Al Stehly, who grows avocados in San Diego County, said the conventional avocado market struggled with the lack of food-service markets, but noted, "I'm fairly surprised at how much demand there was early on and how much there still is." Remembering the growers of other crops that have been struggling, he added, "I hope that people buy more lettuce and other fruits and vegetables to go with their avocados."

After a pandemic-induced plunge in harvest numbers in late March, California farmers brought in nearly 17 million pounds of avocados the first couple of weeks of April, well above projections of 10 million to 12 million pounds.

"There was a couple of weeks on the front end of the COVID-19 pandemic situation that were very stressful for the folks selling the avocados," said Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the California Avocado Commission. Retail, she added, "went (into) panic mode, then dipped for a week or two, and then has been performing amazingly well."

Retail avocado sales were up 20% year over year through the first month of shelter-in-place orders, according to a report from RaboResearch, compensating for the loss of food-service sales. Food service remains relevant, the report noted, because it takes most Grade 2 avocados.

Agalert.com also quoted DeLyser as saying that the commission estimates a harvest of 369 million pounds for 2020, well above 216.6 million the previous season. Since the official start of the 2020 season Nov. 1, the state's avocado farmers have marketed 122.7 million pounds of fruit.


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