Avocado exports by air shrink, but industry adapts

Auckland Airport says the volume of New Zealand avocados being exported to other countries by air has fallen drastically, but an industry association says many growers have simply opted to send product by sea instead.

An avocado grower holding a fresh avocado. Source: Supplied

In a release today, Auckland Airport General Manager Aeronautical Commercial Scott Tasker said shrinking air freight capacity is reducing market options for avocado growers.

Figures for August, traditionally the start of the avocado harvest and export period, show a nearly 60 per cent drop in avocados being sent by air to overseas markets, compared with 2019.

"That's really reflecting a crunch in air freight capacity into those markets," Tasker said.

"Cargo capacity between Auckland and Korea was down 44 per cent and 89 per cent through to Thailand - it looks like some of that has shifted across to sea freight, with a 15 per cent increase in avocados leaving Ports of Auckland and Ports of Tauranga.

"Normally we'd expect a fair proportion of avocado exports to go via sea freight to Australia, with significant exports flying out to markets further away - this mixed-freight strategy allows the fruit to arrive in top condition and capitalise on seasonal market peaks.

"It's definitely harder to time the market when you're planning longer lead times if you're sending your crop via sea freight."

However, New Zealand Avocado Chief Executive Jen Scoular painted a much rosier picture of New Zealand's avocado exports, saying growers have simply changed their routes to go by sea.

New Zealand Avocado Chief Executive Jen Scoular. Source: Supplied

She said only about 10 per cent of New Zealand's avocado exports are sent via air freight each year.

"All the logistics were significantly impacted by Covid and one of the biggest impacts was no flights, therefore no air cargo, so we had to find alternative arrangements, which was to put more by sea freight," she said.

Scoular said a large jump in the price of sending avocados by air was responsible for the change, with prices up to 400 per cent higher.

"Capacity wasn't there, and the price was something like four times as high as normal," she said.

The amount of avocados being sent overseas was expected to be "a little bit higher" than last year," Scoular said, "and we are tracking to expectations.

"There's been delays in sea freight, but capacity has still been there."

Hass avocados on the tree. Source: Supplied

There was no shortage of avocados this year and Ms Scoular said prices in shops should be about the same as usual.

"Our crop is looking good - the size is a little smaller than last year, that's probably the impact of drought, and we are really welcoming the rain we're getting in Tauranga today because it's been a dry winter as well.

"It's all going well and I think the New Zealand market is strong - there's good availability of avocados on the New Zealand market."