7 surprising facts about the avocado & avocado economics

Part of the new series: Avocado – everything you always wanted to know about the trendy berry

Part I

Green, creamy, and super healthy: Despite the difficulty some people have cutting it, avocados are popular around the world. Sourdough bread with avocado spread is not only an all-time favorite on the menu of many trendy cafés and restaurants in my home country Austria but also in the USA and Singapore.

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This does not come as a surprise: Avocados are versatile, contain many healthy ingredients, and taste simply delicious. In recent years however, the green fruit has increasingly fallen into disrepute because of its environmental impact. High water consumption, long transport routes, and monocultures are among the negative points associated.

Therefore, I decided to publish a series of articles on the topic. In the first part, I will give an overview of the plant, avocado economics and import/export facts, in part II I will talk about different growing areas as well as the difference between organic and conventional and part III is as usual about food waste. Here we go!

What to expect in Part I

  1. The 7 most surprising facts in a nutshell
  2. Avocado – what is it and how does it grow?
  3. Economic background: Cultivation, trade and trends

1.The 7 most surprising facts in a nutshell

  1. The avocado is actually a berry.
  2. There are over 400 varieties of avocado, but in Central Europe, we mainly know Fuerte and Hass.
  3. Giant avocados (“avozillas”) can weigh up to 1.8 kg!
  4. There are even seedless avocados!
  5. From 2002 until today, worldwide avocado production has almost tripled!
  6. More than half of all avocados exported worldwide end up in the USA, more than one third in the EU.
  7. Meanwhile, avocado consumption per capita in Western countries is 1kg per year, but forecasts suggest it could rise to 2.4kg by 2028!

 You can learn much more about the avocado in the following parts.

2. The avocado – what is it and how does it grow?

You probably already noticed it in the first paragraph: I call the avocado “fruit” and not “vegetable”. From a botanical point of view, we can more exactly label it as a berry. The avocado belongs to the laurel family[1].

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Photo: Avocado „Hass

In Central Europe, consumers only distinguish between two avocado varieties: a somewhat thicker one with dark, leathery skin (Hass) and a slimmer fruit with smooth, green skin (Fuerte).  In total, more than 400 avocado varieties are grown worldwide! Among them are varieties like Pinkerton, which strongly reminds an average uninformed consumer of Fuerte. But we also see varieties with very wrinkled skin being cultivated[2]. They are all descended from three original types, named after their original place of growth: Mexico, West Indies, and Guatemala[3].

When you open an avocado, you see tender green flesh and a single large pit. The size and amount of flesh varies according to variety and origin: while avocados available in Central Europe weigh between 150 and 200 g in my experience, the so-called „avozillas“ can even weigh up to 1.8 kilograms[4]! These Australian giants are a fairly new avocado trend and, like the other varieties, also arose from accidental crossing.

We can already find avocados without a pit in the middle: This makes cutting easier. About one in 100 avocados sold are seedless by accident[5]. But the intentionally seedless variety comes from Spain and is mainly available in England. These fruits are much smaller than the avocados we know and resemble young cucumbers. Without a pit, avocados are naturally infertile [6]. In general, you can plant avocado pits and even get a tree. But it usually takes up to ten years until the first harvest.

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The evergreen avocado tree can reach a height of up to 20 meters. It has grey bark and large, oval leaves.  The small, short-stalked inflorescences are colored in inconspicuous yellow to green tones. The majority of these flowers are sterile, yet a single avocado tree can produce 200 to 500 fruits per harvest[7].

The avocado tree originally relied on large mammals for its propagation. In its area of origin in Central America, animals ate its avocados, excreted the seeds, and thus sowed them sufficiently distant from the mother plant. Today, humans take over this work – and propagate the avocado tree by sowing, cuttings, or grafting. The latter is a technique in which the avocado tree is placed on a fast-growing rootstock plant. With cuttings you can produce an exact clone of the plant from which you have the cutting – thus you can propagate the desired characteristics much more safely than by sowing seed.

3. Economic background: Cultivation, trade and trends

As already mentioned, the avocado originally comes from Central America. From there human beings spread it all over the world: Avocados are now cultivated worldwide in tropical regions, but also in Mediterranean regions, South Africa, Israel and Australia.

In 2002, global avocado production was divided as follows:

2.6 million tons of avocados per year were grown on an area of about 3487 km²[8].

Avocado cultivation 2002: Countries – Mexico, USA, Columbia, Indonesia, Dominican Republic, Chile, Brazil, Israel, Others

[9]

Cultivation volumes have increased massively since then: in 2018, around 6.3 million avocados were already harvested worldwide[10]. This means that the amount cultivated has almost tripled!

This is not surprising when we look at the nature of the market for avocados: The avocado market is heavily influenced by export volumes and global demand for these exotic fruits has been growing at an incredible 13% per year[11]. In 2018, the cultivation volumes look like this:

Avocado cultivation 2018: Mexico, USA, Dominican Republic, Chile, Others, Peru, South Africa

[12]

Among the largest avocado exporters is Mexico, selling more than half of its crop abroad. Of this, 80% goes to the USA, the rest to Japan, Canada, and Europe[13]. Peru exports 2/3 of its export volume to the European Union, and since 2013 also increasingly to Asia. Colombia focuses more on exports to the USA and strives to compete with Mexico for a higher export volume[14]. As year-round harvests are possible due to the tropical climate and the economic framework conditions are more stable, these plans are not unrealistic.

Globally, export volumes are mainly divided between the USA (50%) and the European Union (28%)[15]. However, Japan, South Korea, and China also started to import higher quantities of avocados in recent years[16].

Compared to other tropical fruits such as pineapple, banana, mango, and papaya, the quantities consumed have increased the most albeit from the lowest base. As expected, the increase in avocado consumption is particularly strong in industrialized countries: Around 9% per year between 2009 and 2018, with annual consumption now averaging around one kilogram per year. However, there are major regional differences: In Central America, for example, people consumed 4.4 kg per person in 2019; in industrialized countries around 1 kg. An increase to 2.4 kg is expected for the latter[17]. Times look promising for avocado farmers, at least in terms of demand. But how do the thirsty avocado trees affect the environment? Read more about it in the next article.

Summary

As with my article on bananas, I learned about the incredible diversity of avocado varieties while researching for this part. Let us all be more aware of identifying different avocado varieties and tasting differences in flavor.

Research shows that the run on avocados does not stop, especially in industrialized countries. Since the avocado trend has been going on for more than a decade and the underlying megatrends (healthy eating, plant-based nutrition, functional food, fitness) are not weakening either, I assume that avocado consumption in industrialized countries may well continue to rise according to the projections. But how long can this continue? Avocado cultivation is causing major problems, especially in Mediterranean regions, that are increasingly affected by drought (more on this in Part II). Moreover, new superfoods are being discovered all the time. It remains exciting.

What was new for you in this article? And which question would you like to answer in Part II (Cultivation and social aspects)? I look forward to your comments.

Links to other parts – to be added: II (Cultivation and social aspects), III (How healthy is the avocado really?) and IV (Conscious use of avocados – The ten best tips for avoiding food waste).

Sources:

Cover photo: REPIC_STUDIO (Pixabay)

[1] https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avocado

[2] The Hofshi Foundation. (n.d.). Avocadosource.com. http://www.avocadosource.com/

[3] https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avocado

[4] Santos, C. (2019). These giant avocados weigh over a kilogram. Broadsheet. https://www.broadsheet.com.au/national/food-and-drink/article/avozilla-giant-avocados

[5] Krstic, Z. (2017). Here’s the deal with pitless avocados. CookingLight. https://www.cookinglight.com/healthy-living/health/no-pit-pitless-avocado-safe-to-eat

[6] Van Hare, H. (2017). Seedless avocados are here and we’re obsessed. Los Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/food/sns-dailymeal-1860469-healthy-eating-seedless-avocados-120817-20171208-story.html

[7] Reddy, J. (2019). Avocado Fruit Farming information Guide. Agri Farming.  https://www.agrifarming.in/avocado-fruit-farming

[8] Dorantes, L., Parada, L. & Ortiz, A. (2004). Avocado – Post-harvest operations. Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations. http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/inpho/docs/Post_Harvest_Compendium_-_Avocado.pdf

[9] Dorantes, Parada & Ortiz, 2004

[10] Altendorf. (2019). Major tropical fruits market review 2018. Food and Agricultural Organisation. (http://www.fao.org/3/ca5692en/ca5692en.pdf)

[11] Altendorf, 2019

[12] Altendorf, 2019

Info: This graphic does not display all countries from 2002 due to a lack of accurate data.

[13] New Zealand Avocado. (n.d.). World Avocado Market. https://industry.nzavocado.co.nz/world-avocado-market/

[14] New Zealand Avocado, n.d.

[15] Altendorf, 2019

[16] Yoon, J. (2020). Global Avocado Market Update. Tridge. https://www.tridge.com/stories/global-avocado-market-update

[17] Altendorf, 2019

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