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When Opportunity Knocks: A Q&A With Jeff Oberman, President, California Avocado Commission

When Opportunity Knocks: A Q&A With Jeff Oberman, President, California Avocado Commission

When fate comes knocking at Jeff Oberman’s front door, he invites it in for a cold drink. The two have danced to the tune of industry growth for quite some time now, and with each year that passes, Jeff identifies new opportunities to exceed his own expectations.

It all began when he moved to Washington, DC, to pursue a career in line with his Political Science degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He eventually found his way to the produce industry, working at the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, subsequently named United Fresh Produce Association and currently the International Fresh Produce Association.

Today, Jeff mans the helm as President of the California Avocado Commission (CAC). He is focusing on the core mission of the commission—maximizing California avocado grower viability in today’s environment. To accomplish this task, he and his team have put forth a plan that will increase efforts at trade (point of sale) as well as continued messaging to ensure the brand occupies an exclusive position in the minds of consumers, retailers, and foodservice operators.

Before we get too far ahead, let’s take it back to the beginning.

Chandler James: You’ve tried your hand in several different areas of the industry! What were some of the lessons learned in your various roles that have contributed to your leadership style today?

Jeff Oberman, President, California Avocado Commission: Every job provides great learning opportunities.

Bartending and foodservice positions earlier in my career offered insight into the value of customer service. Working in Washington, DC, was unique in that most of the workforce is there for the long haul and committed to their work. United Fresh provided me with a multitude of learnings—from providing value for clients to fighting the good fight on legislative efforts.

In 2018, I joined PRO*ACT as Vice President of Strategic Programs. I was able to set up deals in retail, foodservice, and alternate channels buying, selling various commodities, and navigating challenging freight markets.

In the produce industry, you can learn something new every day. When I meet someone new and let them know I work in the produce business, they are quick to share their thoughts on fruits and vegetables. We truly impact lives through good nutrition.

CJ: And now here you are, a highly influential member of the CAC leadership team. It certainly sounds as though those past experiences led to new opportunities for you to grow your experience and find the right fit. What about working for CAC keeps your passion aflame?

JO: I’m honored to lead the dedicated team at the California Avocado Commission. During my first several months on the job, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to meet growers and stakeholders throughout the supply chain, gaining valuable insight into their unique backgrounds, operations, and expectations for my role and direction for the Commission. My travels have included visits to all five growing districts in addition to regional and national trade events.

“With household penetration of avocados hovering around 60 percent and many consumers only purchasing occasionally, there’s still tremendous opportunity for category growth.”

Jeff Oberman, President, California Avocado Commission

CJ: Enough with the technical talk, let’s get to the tasty aspect of your job: California avocados! I can say I have quite an affinity for the green gold myself. In your opinion, what are the most coveted aspects of this category?

JO: The fruit works well with sweet, savory, and neutral flavor profiles and can be a carrier for spicy ingredients or a cooling contrast to them. The creamy mouthfeel makes it a great fat substitute, and its green hues add appetite appeal. More than 75 percent of the fat in avocados is good fat, and yet they have no sugar, no salt, and no cholesterol. They also are a good source of fiber and have nearly 20 vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.

Another uniqueness of the avocado category in the U.S. is sourcing. Fortunately, there is enough worldwide supply for avocados to be available here year-round, mainly from Mexico. California avocado season generally occurs from spring to fall, with peak availability in spring and summer. Supplies from South America and green skin avocados from Florida complement the deal. With household penetration of avocados hovering around 60 percent and many consumers only purchasing occasionally, there’s still tremendous opportunity for category growth.

CJ: Opportunities are aplenty! As you continue in your first year with CAC, what is your vision for the commission’s evolution?

JO: CAC is at a unique point in our history. We have a strong and committed Board of Directors and, with new leadership, the opportunity for evaluation of where we are today and where we can go are at the forefront. My visits with stakeholders have provided some insight into the current and future needs of the commission. Many have shared that California avocado growers potentially face a challenging year like no other.

An analysis of the feedback I received on industry issues led to three topics rising to the top of the list: a renewal of the focus on varieties, the need to address key issues that impact grower profitability, and the desire to research the value of sustainability programs. We are taking these challenges and turning them into opportunities to maximize California avocado grower value.

CJ: You clearly have a lot to say about CAC and your passion for the avocado segment. Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?

JO: Jan DeLyser, a produce industry icon and mentor to so many, retired earlier this year, but her legacy and efforts remain instilled within our team. While these are big shoes to fill, we are excited to announce that the California Avocado Commission has hired food industry veteran Terry Splane to be the organization’s new Vice President of Marketing. Meanwhile, 2023 marketing programs are well into development and will launch concurrently with the California avocado peak harvest.

Jeff has long been an advocate of the produce industry, stemming from his degree in political science and extending to the fields where fresh fruits and vegetables are planted. His experience is wide-ranging, making him the perfect candidate to lead CAC and the California avocado industry into its next era of growth.

Because, as we learned here today, when opportunity knocks, Jeff Oberman answers.