There’s a new avocado making its way into the marketplace that might give the venerable hass variety a run for its money.

Called GEM — from the initials of Gray E. Martin, a University of California technician who helped develop it — the new variety actually was patented and released in 2003 but only recently has started to spark the attention of growers.

Marketers say it tastes as good as hass, if not better, and it appeals to growers as well.

GEM grows on smaller trees than hass and is a more consistent producer, since it tends to be less alternate-bearing than hass, which typically has a heavy production year followed by a lighter year, say Mary Lu Arpaia, Cooperative Extension horticulture specialist at the University of California, Riverside.

“When you look at yield efficiency – the number of pounds produced per tree — GEM trees are much more efficient than hass,” Arpaia says.

              

Attributes

GEM has several positive attributes, including taste, size, color, productivity and seasonality, says Giovanni Cavaletto, vice president of sourcing for Index Fresh, a Riverside, Calif.-based grower-owned corporation that is one of a handful of grower-shippers that plan to market the variety in the near future.

Index Fresh conducted some test marketing in 2017 and expects to have enough volume this spring to conduct its first rollout. It should be available for four or five weeks.

So far, the variety has attracted “huge interest,” Cavaletto says.

“Lots of retailers are looking to differentiate themselves from the competition,” he says. “GEM is one of the ways in which to separate yourself from the pack when everyone else’s options are limited to hass.”

The rollout for Index Fresh will take place over several seasons.

 “Most of the acreage will be increasing in production over the next three to five years, with new trees also being planted each spring,” he says.

Since the variety is just now becoming available in marketable volumes, “a big portion of this rollout is educational,” Cavaletto says.

Retail price of the GEM will vary by market, he says, adding that in Europe, GEM sells for a premium compared to hass.

The company plans to market the GEM as a stand-alone variety.

So far, the few bins of GEM that Del Rey Avocado Co., Fallbrook, Calif., has marketed have been well-received, says partner Bob Lucy.

“It looks promising,” he says. “It looks like a very interesting variety.”

Del Rey likely will offer more of the fruit in coming seasons, he says, but the company is moving forward cautiously.

“We’re always careful not to overpromise on new varieties,” Lucy says. “We want to see how they perform.”

The company is trying to determine the best time of year to pick and market the fruit to get the best quality and customer satisfaction, he says.

 

Testing

In the 1990s, when Martin was evaluating the GEM, he provided some test material to Westfalia Technological Services in South Africa, Arpaia says.  

Today, Westfalia Fruit, internationally the largest GEM producer, licenses GEM to growers in a wide range of avocado-growing countries, says Stefan Köhne, research and development manager for Europe and the Americas at Westfalia Technological Services.

“The international production footprint of this superior avocado is likely to expand further in the future, in line with the need to meet the growing demand for GEM fruit,” he says.

Westfalia’s exclusive arrangements with carefully selected partners ensure that fruit quality is managed throughout the value chain, he says.

“This is important for an avocado that’s promoted as ‘gourmet’ and warrants the appropriate attention when it comes to handling, ripening, packaging and merchandising,” Köhne adds.

Growers are excited to be part of the GEM story, he says, though some areas still are years away from producing a commercial harvest.

 

Waiting game

It’s difficult to predict how successful the GEM variety will be among California avocado growers, says Tom Bellamore, president of the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission.

“The GEM avocado has various attributes that may make it attractive to growers, including tree structure and productivity,” he says.

Although GEM matures later than hass, Bellamore doubts that it will significantly extend the California season.

To date, the commission’s marketing programs have focused on building awareness and preference for California avocados in general, he says, but he adds that, “There’s room to create excitement about a new variety, especially with customers who strive to differentiate themselves in the marketplace.”

So far, response to the GEM is said to be quite positive.

Cavaletto of Index Fresh calls the new variety “a great piece of fruit.”

“The gold flecks in the skin are absolutely beautiful,” he says. “Combine the aesthetics with the flavor and peelability, and I think that we have a winner.”

GEM’s flesh has a unique buttery/nutty flavor and smooth texture, Köhne says, and its eating quality is “definitely exceptional,” and in some categories, superior to hass.

“Independent consumer taste panels have confirmed this, as have several of our retail customers in Europe,” he says.

There could be an opportunity for GEM to be a major player.

“I think it could be the next hass variety,” Arpaia says.

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