Why Avocados Are So Expensive | So Expensive

Avocado has become one of
the world’s trendiest foods. As the poster child of
millennial healthy eating, this superfood is now a
mainstay for foodies everywhere. But have you noticed your avo on toast is costing more and more? Avocado prices have rocketed
in recent years by up to 129%, with the average national
price of a single Hass avocado reaching $2.10 in 2019, almost
doubling in just one year. So, why are avocados so expensive? Archaeologists in Peru have
found domesticated avocado seeds buried with Incan mummies
dating back to 750 BC. But it was the Aztecs in 500
BC who named it āhuacatl, which translates to “testicle.” When Spanish conquistadors
swept through Mexico and Central America in the 16th century, they renamed it aguacate. The farming of aguacate developed over the next few hundred years, predominantly in Central
America and South America. But consumption of the “alligator pear” outside of these regions
before the late 19th century was almost nonexistent. The commercialization of
aguacate began in the early 1900s but was focused on branding
avocados as a delicacy for the wealthy, like this
advert in The New Yorker from 1920, which declared them as “The aristocrat of salad fruit.” But a selection of
Californian growers realized that the hard-to-pronounce
aguacate was off-putting for the mass market, so they formed the California Avocado Association. By the 1950s, production scale grew, and avocado prices fell
to about 25 cents each. Popularity increased further with the wave of inter-American immigration in the ’60s, as Latin Americans brought
their love of avocados with them to the US. But as demand increased,
supply had to keep up, and the true difficulties
of yielding large-scale avocado crops began to show. Avocado orchards require
an extraordinary amount of costly resources in order to flourish. Gus Gunderson: There are multiple inputs that avocados require, whether it’s water, fertilizer,
pruning, pest control, the sunburn protection of trees. All those go into making
your chances better of having a very good-quality crop. When we decide to plant
an avocado orchard, we’ll plant trees that come
from certified nurseries. We have to place our
orders years in advance. On average, if we’re producing
100,000 pounds per acre, that takes about a
million gallons of water, so 100 gallons per pound, so it’d be about 50
gallons per 8-ounce fruit. But that’s dependent on what mother nature will throw at you, you know, we have wind, we have intense sun. It’s really hard for a grower to manage the unmanageable things
that will affect a crop. Narrator: The surge in
popularity of avocados stalled during the fat-fighting
frenzy of the 1980s, with an average of only 1 pound per capita being consumed in America by 1989. The decade’s low-fat
obsession drove consumers away from avocado because
of its high fat content, without really understanding the nutritional truth hidden within. Hazel Wallace: When it comes
to fat in food in general, people tend to get a little bit concerned because we often hear in the media that fat isn’t good for us. But the type of fat that’s in avocados is monounsaturated fat, which
is actually often deemed healthy fat or heart-healthy fat, so while there is a
lot of fat in avocados, it’s actually quite good fat. Narrator: Avocado started
its meteoric comeback at the turn of the
millennium, and it was helped by an unlikely political decision. In 2005, the US Department of Agriculture lifted a 90-year-old ban
to allow the importation of Mexican avocados to all 50 states. Initially, this decision
angered Californian growers, who feared the move could
slash local growers’ sales by as much as 20%. Harold Edwards: What actually
had transpired and took place was, as that Mexican
supply became much more prevalent and available,
retailers got behind marketing and selling avocados, food service providers,
restaurants started putting it as permanent parts of their menus, and demand started to boom because the inconsistent
supply chains before were now consistent, and
consumers were allowed to enjoy avocados every day of the year. Narrator: The biggest day
of the avocado calendar became Super Bowl Sunday,
when it’s now estimated that almost 200 million pounds of avocados are eaten during the big game in America. But if you take a moment to consider the resources needed
to produce that amount, you can start to understand
avocados’ elevated prices. According to experts, it takes
roughly 270 liters of water to grow a pound of avocados. So 200 million pounds could require as much as 54 billion liters of water, which means droughts
or heat waves can have devastating consequences
on the avocado industry. In fact, that’s exactly what’s
been happening in California for the last seven years,
with the Sunshine State only recently being declared
drought-free in 2019, which goes a long way to
explaining record avocado prices. In some countries, like
Chile, avocado cultivation is being blamed for exacerbating droughts, as lush green orchards
overlook dry riverbeds. Perhaps the biggest reason for
avocados’ rise to dominance is the emergence of the
clean-eating lifestyle. No longer just a chip dip
for special occasions, this superfood can be found
in a plethora of recipes in cafés and restaurants
everywhere around the world. And those who are eating
them are really keen for you to know about it. Just type #avocado into
Instagram, and you’ll be hit with over 10 million search results. But is the glorification
of avocado justified? Wallace: There’s quite a
big hype around avocados, but it actually is quite
justified when it comes to how nutrient-dense this food is. There’s not many foods
that actually replicate it in terms of a nutritional profile. When it comes to calling
something a superfood, I’m not really for that label. Avocados are definitely a good food to include in your diet, but like I said, you’re not really missing
out if you don’t like them or if you can’t eat them for any reason. Monounsaturated fats, we
can find that in things like olive oil and olive, nuts, and seeds. The vitamins and
minerals, we can find that in other green vegetables,
so spinach and broccoli and things like that. So there’s ways of
getting those nutrients in without having avocado. Narrator: All of this produce requires an astonishing amount of labor. Even once grown, pruned, and picked, avocados need costly distribution methods in order to be delivered fresh and ripe to far-flung corners of the world. Gunderson: If you’re living
in Philadelphia, right? You wanna buy a ripe
avocado in Philadelphia? What they do is they ship green avocados from California to Philadelphia, they send them to the ripening center, they warm them up and
get ethylene in them, so they all ripen, and then, when they’re moved out
to the retail stores, you’re actually buying something that’s almost ready to
eat or ready to eat. ‘Cause if you were to buy a
green avocado that’s shipped straight from California to your market, you would have to ripen it yourself over a seven- to 10-day period, and most consumers are
a little more anxious for their avocado toast than
waiting 10 days. [laughs] Narrator: With prices so high,
the commodity of avocados has attracted a spate
of thefts from orchards and delivery trucks worldwide. In New Zealand, armed night
patrols and electric fences have been introduced after
a grower in Northland had 70% of his orchard stolen. There’s even further grim
reading for avocado lovers. In Michoacán, where 80% of
Mexico’s avocados originate, cartels run a so-called
“blood avocado” trade, violently enforcing a
nonnegotiable extortion fee from farmers based on
the size of their land and the weight of their crop. Some restaurants have
begun an avocado boycott, as we all weigh the ethics
behind our eating habits. Experts suggest that water shortages could affect 5 billion people by 2050, and rainfall in the
so-called drought belt, which includes Mexico and South America, is predicted to decline. But whilst evidence of
environmental degradation is mounting, the avocado
industry is still growing along with consumer demand. In certain places, the
sustainability of avocado production will become untenable.

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