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Supply Chain, International Trade

“Yes, I know guacamole is extra.”

This saying has become pretty stylish these days – making appearances on shirts, jewelry, and all around the internet in meme form. But if we take a closer look at the complexities of the avocado trade, you will understand exactly why we are paying more for that delicious guacamole.

Avocado: A Tasty Fruit

To start tracking down the logistics of avocados, we must first look at the fruit itself. There are more than 400 variations of avocados, and each type depends on the weather where it is grown. These green beauties grow in warmer temperatures, and much of the global supply of avocados come from Mexico. Between 1996 and 2014, US consumption of Mexico’s avocados has increased 494%. One Mexican state in particular, Michoacan, provides 4/5 of the country’s avocado exports – that’s roughly 1.2 million tons of Michoacan avocados.

If you’re in the grocery store, you will probably find a Haas avocado. The Haas is a uniquely perfect avocado plant– it comes from the process of grafting the roots from a criollo avocado plant with the branches of a patron avocado, making it not only tasty but also easy to grow. You can expect up to 750 pounds of avocados each year from one Haas tree. The grafting process, however, is long and painstaking (perhaps adding a few cents on to your guacamole charge). The growing and harvesting process is equally painstaking – for example, each fruit must be plucked using a special picking pole. The fruit bruises easily, and if an avocado touches the ground, it can’t be sold to an exporter. Growers and packers are trained to avoid contamination of the fruit, which is another expense for Haas avocados but guarantees a safer quality for consumers. From Mexico, or wherever the fruit is grown, the avocados are exported all over the world. Fans of the fruit are everywhere, but the top importers of avocados are the US, France, Japan, and Canada. Each year, the United States imports 1.3 billion pounds of Mexican avocados, with nearly 30% of consumption happening around holidays and big sporting events. That’s a lot of guac!

So how does a single, delicious avocado end up in your sushi or on your cobb salad?

Once the individuals are carefully picked, they are sent to a packing house to become the shiny, high quality fruit you see in the store. Samples of the avocados are extracted in order to ensure they are perfect. Next, they are brushed and washed so that they would look more attractive. The fruits then take a high speed ride on a conveyer belt with a camera that checks for imperfections. The individuals that pass muster are packed into 55-pound boxes and sent to their final destination, often making it to the store in 48 hours. And those avocados that didn’t look so pretty during the first go-around? They get made into guacamole and sent as refrigerated cargo.

The logistics of avocados

Because avocados have so little water in them (the lowest water content of all fruit, in fact), they need to be transported in a very controlled atmosphere as they require specific temperature and moisture conditions. Unripe avocados can travel at 45-54° F, but ripe ones must stay colder (around 41-43°F). The actual avocado shipping is going to add some change onto your guacamole charge – because this fruit bruises easily and must remain cold at all times during transportation. Therefore, they must be packed with care in single layers to avoid bruising and spoiling. If the avocados are heading into a wet territory, even more care must be taken to ensure they reach their final destination without spoiling due to excess moisture.

People must love avocados – because in the decades since 1993, the world’s avocado growers have increased production 139%. To aid the avocado lovers across the globe, growers are doing their part to increase production while also delivering a great product. One way they do this is by adhering to strict regulations put in place by various world organizations, such as phytosanitary control programs and systems contamination risk reduction practices. This strict quality control, along with the fact that Mexico’s climate allows them to produce all year long, makes Mexican avocados particularly easy to enjoy. One group of growers, Asociación de Productores Y Empacadores Exportadores de Aguacate De México (APEAM), has even invested in reforestation programs to replace trees that were displaced by orchards. With this reforestation, the growers are helping keep the planet healthy. Hey, it probably increases the cost of your guacamole at Chipotle, but it’s also another reason to feel guilt-free when eating an avocado.

Guacamole: the avocado’s crowning glory

Out of the tons of avocados eaten by Americans each year, 1.4 billion pounds of them are consumed as guacamole. Guacamole might be considered a dip by some, but trace the word back to its roots and you’ll find that it is actually a sauce. The Spanish word, ahuacamolli, is a compound word that contains the Nahuatl words for avocado and sauce. No matter what we decide to call it, guacamole has a long, storied history dating back to 14th-16th century Mexico. The native people, the Aztecs, introduced the Spanish to the creamy sauce. The creamy fruit was mixed with herbs, vegetables, and spices in a molcajete (mortar and pestle). The Spanish explorers tried to take the recipe home, but could not get the avocados to grow in the European climate – the not-so-good Spanish take on guacamole became known as “midshipman’s butter.” Once the Haas avocado empire started to take root in the early 20th century, the supply of avocados became much more reliable – and so too did the supply of actual, tasty guacamole. This sauce’s reputation has grown so much that it has its own holiday, and people around the world are constantly putting their own, modern spin (our favorite: cucumber, sweet peppers, and red onion) on a centuries-old recipe.

We know people love avocados. But let’s try to conceptualize just how much we love this creamy, versatile fruit. Here’s a look at the numbers:

  • 71,803 hectares of avocado orchards in Mexico are certified to export avocados to the U.S. in 2014
  • 20,300 growers that supply the 1,056,000 tons of Avocados From Mexico that are consumed globally
  • 3 BILLION POUNDS of avocados shipped from Mexico to the U.S. every year
  • 54% of Americans consume avocados (97% of Hispanics)
  • 2 POUNDS of avocados are consumed per capita every year in the U.S; while in Mexico, this number is 15.4 pounds
  • In 2013 the world production of avocado was 4.7 million tons; 1.47 million tons of avocados were produced in Mexico in 2014 representing 31% of the world avocado production. Between 1993 and 2003 there has been a growth of 107% in production.
  • From Michoacán, exports of avocado go to the U.S., China, Korea and Chile.
  • Exports of avocado:
    • USA: 687,601 tons
    • Japan: 43,879 tons
    • Canada: 38,018 tons
    • Latin America: 27,863 tons
    • Europe: 9,010 tons
    • China: 8,295 tons
    • Other markets: 414 tons (Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore)

When you think about it, creamy, tasty avocados go through a lot just to get onto our plates – or into the delicious avocado milkshae. Between the specialized growing, packing, and shipping processes, we are truly lucky to have a chance to eat this finicky fruit. So yes, I know guacamole is extra. And I don’t mind!

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