Often dubbed one of the most exciting categories in fresh produce, the avocado job has enjoyed phenomenal growth in the UK in the last couple of decades. But despite huge consumer appreciation, there are still plenty of Brits who have never even tried the fruit. Produce Business UK takes a look at the opportunities for growth and the role Peru’s rapidly developing avocado trade can play as a strategic supply source during the UK summer and beyond
“Avocados are one of the most exciting categories within fresh produce in terms of growth and potential for further growth – in the UK the market is really motoring and everyone is watching,” explains Dominic Weaver, communications director at RED Communications, which has coordinated the UK marketing strategy for ProHass (the Peruvian Hass Avocado Producers’ Association) since 2009.
Mark Everett, business unit manager for avocados at UK importer-distributor Worldwide Fruit, agrees there is plenty of room for continued expansion. “In the last two years there has been phenomenal growth across the UK and Europe,” he says. “Sales were up 30% in 2014 and this year they’re up 25% year-on-year. So the market could sell double the volume of Hass avocados in three years’ time.”
Although some people are consuming more avocados on a 12-month basis, Everett claims a lot of people still don’t eat the fruit. “Some genuinely don’t like avocados, but some haven’t even tried them and some people haven’t tried avocados that are ripe and taste good,” he explains. “That part of the market is untapped – there’s more potential there.”
Ripe-and-ready fruit is definitely the way forward, according to Weaver, who says certain UK retailers are already doing a good job of selling avocados to shoppers in optimum condition, which ensures a good eating experience and a willingness to repeat the purchase.
“We’ve seen impressive growth in retailers such as Waitrose, which has excelled at ready to eat recently and this is still increasing,” he notes. “The discounters are also doing exciting things on ready-to-eat fruit, including avocados, which will introduce it to a wider audience also. If the fruit on the shelf is good quality and you use marketing to drive that first purchase, people who enjoy avocados will come back and eat them time and time again.”
At Waitrose, avocado buyer Richard Bickerton tells Produce Business UK that avocados are “extremely popular” with the retailer’s shoppers. “Volume has grown by 123% since 2010, with the biggest increases in sales coming from our ‘Perfectly Ripe’ avocados,” he explains. “Waitrose has a dedicated supplier who is an expert at ripening and making sure Waitrose has the right varieties in the right eating condition for our customers.”
Following the successful introduction of the concept, Everett believes ripe-and-ready is here to stay in the UK. “People want to shop for convenience two or three times a week, and they don’t want to wait for an avocado to ripen,” he points out. “Where [our] lines are sold with either really ripe avocados or ripen at home avocados, 70-80% of what’s sold is the ripe format – it’s the consumer’s preference.”
Why are avocados proving so popular now?
Everett believes a lot of the growth in avocado sales comes down to improved consistency and quality of the fruit over the years. “Quality is probably better than ever now,” he claims. “There is also far more interest, we’re seeing avocados more frequently and they’re more readily available and accepted.
“There has been a big drive for Mexican-style restaurants to open [in the UK], which use avocados in guacamole, and that is helping the fruit to go more mainstream. Avocados are also used in salads by restaurants and sandwich shops are incorporating more avocados too. Prêt a Manger has several sandwich lines that feature avocados, plus they’re in some of Marks & Spencer’s offer and Tesco’s Finest range. Avocados are also used in sushi which is increasingly popular.”
Over the last couple of seasons Weaver says there’s been a noticeable uplift in media coverage too. “Avocados have been on the front of Stylist magazine, featured on women’s lifestyle website The Pool (which was recently launched by 6 Music presenter Lauren Laverne and former Cosmopolitan and Red magazine editor Sam Baker) and in the Evening Standard,” he notes. “There is a lot of interest all of a sudden. This adds up to good growth for the category.”
Bickerton agrees that avocados appear to be very in vogue with food writers and cooks at the moment. “The availability of new varieties and sizes is widening the interest of consumers [and] the eating occasion is spreading through the day with breakfast becoming a new opportunity,” he adds.
Messaging working but more marketing needed
Today, UK consumers are far more informed about the real health benefits of avocados. Once misunderstood as having a high fat content, a misconception that is still reasonably widespread, marketing campaigns and media support have helped to drive home the message that avocados contain ‘good’ fats.
As a consequence, the fruit is increasingly being recognised as healthy. “We are continually promoting the ‘good, healthy fat’ message and have seen that in the decade of doing the campaign – Chile promoted Hass in the winter season for five years until 2011 – more consumer journalists have come to understand this, which has been reflected in the articles that appear now,” explains Weaver.
To further increase direct purchases in supermarkets, consumers need to be inspired, according to Everett. “There needs to be more activity in store through good signage, good descriptions of the fruit and information on what to do with it,” he says.
As for foodservice operators, Everett says companies need to ensure they receive and prepare avocados “at the point of perfection” to ensure a good eating experience for consumers.
“When you cut an avocado it oxidises quickly [so] the closer you are to the point of consumption when it’s prepped, the better,” he explains. “We work with a Mexican restaurant in London, for example, that prepares guacamole fresh every day for this reason. Prêt does the same – their sandwiches are prepared in store.”
Peru promotions expand this year
To keep up the momentum, RED will once again coordinate the trade and consumer PR strategy for Peruvian avocados in the UK this season. The integrated campaign works directly with selected retailers and the media to promote Hass avocados and Peruvian provenance while the fruit is available on shelves. Using the strapline ‘Mashed, Sliced, Diced’, the focus of the drive is on the versatility and usage of Hass avocados.
This year, the campaign includes consumer tastings at Marks & Spencer and Tesco to develop sales at both retailers, as well as recipe development, recipe photography and social media. “The recipes are new this season – focusing on salads and other ways to prepare easy but great tasting food,” reveals Weaver.
For the first time this year, a separate, complementary campaign will also run, thanks to investment from the Peru Trade & Investment Office in the UK, which forms part of the Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism and works under the umbrella of the Peruvian Embassy in the UK.
“Hass avocados are one of Peru’s most promising exports to the UK [and] there is still exciting potential to develop sales of this fruit in this market,” explains Jaime Cardenas, director of the Peru Trade & Investment Office, which works to develop business in the UK for Peruvian products.
This additional campaign will see labels on ready-to-eat packs at Waitrose displaying key facts about Hass avocados and a recipe using the fruit. The Peru Trade & Investment Office in the UK will also work with food writers and journalists to support the fruit while on retailers’ shelves.
Waitrose says it is “delighted” to sell and sponsor Peruvian avocados in its stores. “Waitrose continues to help drive awareness of such a versatile product through a number of well-planned promotional activities for customers,” Bickerton says.
Where does Peruvian supply fit in?
Although Peru’s avocado exports to the UK have already experienced strong growth in the last decade, expansion has really ramped up in the last few seasons as more orchards enter commercial bearing.
There has been significant growth already in 2015, over last year in particular, according to Weaver. “The volume and value of Peruvian avocado exports to UK over the first six months of this year, compared with the year-earlier period, are up by approximately 68% to 10,328 tonnes (against 6,127 tonnes in 2014), which equates to just under US$18.4 million FOB in value (just over £12m), up from just under US$11m last year,” he notes.
Waitrose avocado buyer Bickerton sources the fruit from a range of producing countries and considers Peru as a key player. “Peru is an excellent source and we see our volumes growing significantly in the future,” he reveals, adding that the Peruvian season coincides with the peak consumption period for avocados in the UK.
“With consumption growing significantly, Waitrose is committed to building continued partnerships with our existing growers as well as offering significant opportunities for additional growers in the future.”
Everett at Worldwide Fruit, which supplies both retailers and foodservice operators, did not source avocados from Peru before 2000; instead receiving mainly South African avocados during the UK summer. By 2014, though, 32% of Worldwide Fruit’s avocado volume came from Peru, compared with 16% two years previously.
Despite volume set to rise significantly as plantings increase in Peru, he points out that the world’s population and consumer demand for avocados is growing at a pace too. He believes production is not keeping up with demand.
“The UK is only one market,” Everett points out. “A lot [ from Peru] goes to Europe and the US. Peru has access to China and Japan now too, and there are new markets like eastern Europe that are starting from such a low base that they could really take off.”
Where does Peru go from here?
With the fruit in such demand, there are many avenues of opportunity for Peru to grow its avocado supply to the UK market, according to Everett, and not just by increasing volume in its current supply window.
“Peru has the advantage of its climate, its land and water availability,” he notes. “In Chile, for example, there are issues with drought and frost which has capped production.”
In particular, he claims Peru could extend its avocado season. “Their main window is mid-June to mid-September,” he says. “But with the different climatic regions of the country they could start earlier with production from Piura [in the north], or by going to higher altitude regions of the Andes in certain valleys where it’s warmer.
“Or they can produce later – either by using different varieties of Hass, or by producing in different regions. These are long-term developments, of course, that will come in the next four to 10 years.”
For now, Everett says buyers should ensure they work with the best growers in the best parts of the world. “The fruit needs to be picked in optimum condition and then transported using the best technology to ripen and pack the fruit,” he says.
Read other articles in PBUK’s Sourcing Spotlight on Peru: