Canola oil sales were down slightly (-1.8%) over the year to March 22, 2020, while olive oil sales were up +2.4%, sunflower sales were up +4.9%, grapeseed oil sales were up +2.3%, corn oil sales rose 8.4%, peanut oil sales dipped by -1.1%, and flaxseed oil sales surged 53.3% (albeit off a very small base).
‘Avocado is the only major category that has experienced double-digit growth over the last couple of years’
Natalie Morse, director of marketing at San Diego-based Chosen Foods (which makes avocado oil, avocado oil-based mayo, dressings and simmer sauces), said the firm had been enjoying strong growth of its #1 product - refined avocado oil – pre-COVID-19, adding: “We’re at a little less than 40% CAGR in the last three years; the business has been really thriving.
“If you look at specialty oils, avocado is the only major category that has experienced double-digit growth over the last couple of years. Some of that has come from coconut oil, but we’re also seeing some consumers making a transition from olive oil as avocado is really an all-purpose oil, whereas they’re keeping olive oil for certain recipes and salads.”
Refined avocado oil has a high smoke point and a clean flavor profile
Chosen Foods’ refined expeller-pressed avocado oil has a smoke point of more than 500°F, enabling consumers to sear, saute, stir-fry, barbecue, and bake at high temperatures without the oil breaking down, said Morse [virgin avocado oil does not have such a high smoke point].
“It also has a really neutral clean flavor profile whereas some olive oils can have a little spiciness or bitterness; avocado oil really elevates the other ingredients you’re cooking with.”
From a nutritional perspective, she added, avocado oil – which is primarily composed of healthy monounsaturated fats - is one of the few cooking oils that is universally perceived in a positive light (along with olive oil), without any negative PR (fair or otherwise) around its nutritional or sustainability credentials.
“There’s no controversy or confusion around avocado oil, and while it’s more expensive than an everyday cooking oil like canola oil, it’s comparative to coconut oil or high-quality olive oil, so it’s not unobtainable.”
‘Cooking oils, salad dressings, and condiments will continue to be used at a much higher rate than before’
Like many packaged food brands, Chosen Foods has experienced a sharp surge in demand in bricks and mortar stores and online platforms in the past month as food consumption – traditionally split around 50:50 between in-home and out of home - has swung almost entirely to in-home consumption in many parts of the country.
“We ran through our safety stock pretty quickly during the surge and now we’re manufacturing at maximum output to meet the purchase orders that are coming in,” Morse told FoodNavigator-USA.
“While the surge could slow down [as consumers work through pantry items bought in early/mid March] there are a lot of indicators that suggest that cooking oils, salad dressings, and condiments will continue to be used at a much higher rate than before.
“We’ve very blessed to be able to handle this because we’re very vertically integrated and we have control over our supply chain,” she added.
Like many packaged food firms with products in strong demand, Chosen Foods has also temporarily rationalized SKUs, focusing on a more limited number of top sellers and popular pack sizes to improve productivity at its facility in Guadalajara, Mexico (the company was acquired by Mexican firm Sesajal in 2017).
A new look for the brand
As for new ‘avocado-centric’ products and innovations, Chosen Foods recently launched IQF (individually quick frozen) avocados at Costco, which have been very successful, and a new salsa line that will roll out in the next 4-6 weeks, while a completely new look for the brand (pictured above) is just starting to hit stores, said Morse.
“We had planned [to debut] our big rebrand at [the Natural Products] Expo West [trade show in early March, which was cancelled as COVID-19 started to take off].”
As for category reviews, some retailers are going full speed ahead with planned shelf resets, while others are delaying them until later in the year, she said.
“We’re still working on innovation projects around packaging changes for certain retailers and channels, particularly around e-commerce ready packaging.”
*Based in Guadalajara, Mexico, Sesajal conducts business in 25+ countries and operates manufacturing facilities in Mexico and Central America. Its core products are specialty oils (safflower, rice bran, chia, flax, avocado, sesame), seeds (chia, sesame), peanuts, and Mediterranean products (chickpeas, tahini, hummus, lemon juice powder). It took a 50% stake in Chosen Foods in 2015 and acquired a controlling stake in January 2017.
“A series of protocols have been established based off the official information and regulations given by the World Health Organization, Mexican Institute of Social Health, and other government agencies, including:
- Conducting a medical check on all on-site employees once they arrive on-site.
- Employees considered at high risk of contracting COVID-19 (underlying medical conditions) have been asked to work from home.
- Work schedules for on-site employees have been modified to reduce the foot traffic in our facilities. Additionally, we also restricted the number of people who can be in our production facility, cafeteria, and locker rooms at any one given time.
- Employees have been instructed to wash and sanitize their hands every hour; we’ve installed 16 additional sinks to encourage this.
- Employees working on-site have their shoes cleaned and disinfected as well as their clothes before entering any facility.
- Green circles have been painted on the ground to indicate 6ft of distance between employees to encourage social distancing at all of our facilities.
- Employees are required to wear face masks/shields regardless of what area they work in."