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Super Bowl the Biggest ‘Touchdown’ for Latin American Avocados

Mexico’s exports of the fruit soar prior to the sporting spectacle, but Colombia, Chile and Peru are also vying to become major players

Un trabajador descarga una caja de aguacates Hass
February 09, 2022 | 03:45 pm

Bloomberg Línea — It’s not only the Los Angeles Rams or Cincinnati Bengals players who will emerge victorious from Super Bowl LVI, which will be played this Sunday at SoFi Stadium, but a product with Latin American DNA that will have the opportunity to make its mark in the most important sporting event in the U.S. This time around the region will not be represented by Shakira or Jennifer Lopez, who participated in the halftime show of the 2020 game, but by a fruit that will accompany the spectators.

For Latin America-grown avocados, the NFL final is one of the most eagerly awaited moments as a chance to boost its consumption. And while Mexico, by far, is still the main supplier of the fruit to the U.S., Colombia, Chile and Peru have developed the industry and also want to a place on consumers’ tables.

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According to Mexico’s Agriculture Ministry, 97% of the total prepared or canned avocado purchased in the U.S. is Mexican and, from January to November last year, exports totaled $398.9 million.

The Super Bowl is a driver of avocado shipments to the U.S. “Generally, during the three weeks prior to the sporting event, there is a progressive increase in Mexican exports of fresh whole avocados,” according to the Agriculture Ministry.

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Exports begin to grow progressively in the weeks prior to the event, which normally takes place in mid-February, with around 37,000 tons exported in the last week of January, compared to the 3,936 tons that, for example, were shipped in the first week of December 2021.

Between the beginning of January and the first week of February of this year, Mexico shipped 123,000 tons of avocados to the U.S., in addition to products such as avocado pulp or guacamole bought by processors for wholesale. “In stores in the city where the game will be held, the price of a 284-gram container of Mexican guacamole reached $2.98 in January”, according to the ministry.

For the weeks prior to the 2022 final, Mexico’s avocado producers and packers association APEAM expects to ship 140,000 tons, according to local newspaper Milenio, which quoted APEAM president José Luis Gallardo as saying that “orders have been placed for us to ship between 24,000 and 25,000 tons per week on average this month”.

A worker places avocados in crates during a harvest at a farm near Perivan, Michoacán state, Mexico, on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021. The avocado industry is worth $2.4 billion annually, it pays workers as much as 12 times Mexico's minimum wage, and offers high profit margins for local landowners.  Over three-quarters of Mexico's production comes from the state of Michoacan. Photographer:  Jeoffrey Guillemard/Bloombergdfd

Mexican dominance is such that it outperforms the U.S. avocado industry.

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Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the California Avocado Commission, told Bloomberg Línea that most of the avocado consumed in the U.S. around the time of the Super Bowl is imported.

California is the leading domestic producer of avocados, she adds, followed by Florida, and there is small commercial production in Texas.

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“There was some California avocado harvest in January to support the Super Bowl, and due to market conditions, but peak availability of California avocados is usually spring to early fall”, she says.

The three peak sales seasons for avocados in the U.S. are generally the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, May 5 (the anniversary of Mexico’s defeat of French forces in Puebla in 1862) and July 4.

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Per capita annual consumption of avocados in the U.S. tripled between 2001 and 2018 to eight pounds (3.6 kilograms) per person.

“Consumption has not dropped because of the pandemic; demand continues to grow. The biggest impact of Covid-19 on avocado sales occurred in 2020 when consumers were staying home more. In 2019, the California avocado industry was in relatively tight supply, so the increase in 2020 was particularly notable,” DeLyser said.

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The Industry ‘Rookies’

Despite Mexico’s dominance, there are other Latin American countries that are keen to get a sales boost from the Super Bowl. The Colombian industry, for example, plans to send 1,102 tons of Hass avocados to the U.S., Jorge Restrepo, president of the Colombian Hass avocado producers and exporters corporation (CORPOHASS) told Bloomberg Línea, highlighting the fact that the final will be held in California, the U.S. state with the highest avocado consumption.

“California is the region with the second highest consumption during the week of the event, only surpassed by the so-called western region that groups 10 states. At supermarket level, Los Angeles is the city with the highest consumption, followed by cities such as New York, Dallas, Phoenix and Miami,” he said.

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The Colombian avocado industry is enjoying sustained growth, with Hass avocados shipped to 33 countries, mainly to Europe, the U.S. and, to a lesser extent, Asia. According to Colombia’s Agriculture Ministry, the country has avocado plantations totaling 99,126 acres, of which 57,377 acres are registered as exporting properties.

In January and early February 2021, Colombia exported 43 tons to the U.S., and this year’s total is expected to surpass that of 2021 by some 1,000 tons. However, Restrepo acknowledges that “the real protagonist” in the supply is Mexico, with a 95% share, followed by California.

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Workers fill sacks of avocados during harvest at La Regada farm in Salgar, in Colombia's Antioquía department, on April 16, 2018. Photographer: Eduardo Leal/Bloombergdfd

“We must recognize the effort of Mexicans in recent years to promote the consumption of the fruit during the event. The Super Bowl is a party that many people join, not only for the game as such, but also for the food and the commercials on television,” he adds.

Along with Colombia, there are other Latin American countries that are developing the sector, but are not yet relevant players in the U.S. market.

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Chile, which has more than 74,000 acres of avocado plantations, is also seeing an opportunity in the NFL finals.

Francisco Contardo-Sfeir, executive director of Chile’s avocado committee, says that although the most favored country is Mexico, “Chile also benefits, especially during years when Mexican prices are high. 2022 is a good example, as Chile resumed exports to the U.S. during the first weeks of January, with a view to being present in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.”

He estimates that, in general, avocado exports peak in the weeks leading up to the sporting event, with increases of between 20% and 30%.

Luis Corvera, general manager of Fresh Fruit Peru, a company specialized in business intelligence for the agricultural export sector, agrees that the Super Bowl is a major driver of demand for avocados.

According to the Peruvian Ministry of Agrarian Development and Irrigation, this year more than 130,000 acres of the crop were planted, although the NFL final does not yet represent a business for Peruvian growers.

Regarding U.S. avocado imports, Corvera says “there is an increase of almost 30% in January with respect to other months, which is more or less 30,000 tons more. That is what the Super Bowl brings. Practically all the product comes from Mexico; that is a constant. Peru has no product, since its export window is mainly between February and September. In January 2022, Peru exported 5,500 tons of that and only 140 kilos went to the U.S. Nothing”, he says.

He says that while Mexico serves the U.S. because of its proximity, Chile and Peru focus on Europe, and that only when the California season ends and Mexico cannot meet demand do Peruvian exporters enter the U.S. with additional shipments, or when prices improve.

Xavier Equihua, CEO of the Peruvian Avocado Commission, a marketing association based in the U.S., agrees.

He said sales are dominated by Mexico, but both the Super Bowl and the Fourth of July week are “very important” events for promoting the consumption of the fruit in the U.S.

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