Avocados are healthy and versatile, they are easy to prepare and can be enjoyed on any occasion. Whether in salads, as dips or traditionally on bread – there are many ways to integrate them into our daily diet. The avocado offers a special sensory experience due to its slightly nutty flavor, creamy texture, aroma and appearance and is a nutritionally balanced food. The nutritional benefits are quite clear: avocados contain almost no sugar, but lots of vitamins, important minerals and healthy fats. They are part of a balanced diet and are available throughout the year. The cultivation of avocados is becoming increasingly sustainable and their reputation is growing in all cases.

By Sabine Straka

Attractive growth segment

In only a few years, the avocado has developed from being a rather exotic fruit into a real food trend and has become an integral part of modern cuisine and in restaurants throughout Europe and beyond. More and more nutrition-conscious consumers integrate this popular fruit into their daily diet. Particularly during the last four to six years, the consumption of avocados in the EU has increased significantly. Accor-ding to the World Avocado Organization (WAO), around 150,000 tonnes of avocados were consumed in France last year, 110,000 tonnes each in Ger-many and the UK, 60,000 tonnes in Scandinavia and 45,000 tonnes in Italy. The cultivation and trade of avocados is an attractive growth sector. Avocado consumption is increasing worldwide by around 3 % every year. In the EU, growth of as much as 15 % is expected over the next five years. This makes Eu-rope the second largest growth market for avocados after the USA.

High-demanding consumers

For around 50 years, avocados have been available in supermarkets. In Ger-many, 40 % of households regularly eat avocados, with 1.3 kg per capita consumed last year. This puts Germany in the second place after France in terms of avocado consumption. In Europe, Millennials and Generation Z are particularly fond of avocados, a discerning target group with a conscious lifestyle who like to share their dietary preferences on social media. Avocados are popular in salads and are mostly eaten for breakfast, often with bread and eggs. Avocados are mainly eaten for their healthiness, but also for their flavor and enjoyment. As a nutritious superfood, avocados are an alternative to animal products. Avocados are available all year round. Most avocados come from countries such as Peru, Mexico, Colombia, Chile, South Africa, Kenya, Spain and Israel. More and more consumers are therefore concerned about the carbon footprint and whether they can eat avocados with a clear conscience. 

We asked Zac Bard, Chairman of the World Avocado Organization (WAO) some of these specific questions. Founded in 2016 as a non-profit organization, the WAO is made up of the largest avocado producers, exporters and importers from around the world. The aim of the organization is to educate people about the health benefits of avocados, to raise awareness of avocados in selected international markets, especially in Europe, and thus promote the consumption of avocados. It also provides information on the sustainable cultivation of avocados and supports retailers with sales. For this purpose, WAO runs large-scale marketing and communication campaigns.

Nutritious superfood

Most avocados are eaten for health reasons. In various educational campaigns, the WAO informs about the nutritional and physiological benefits of avocados. They hardly contain any sugar, but many essential vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, copper, potassium, vitamins C, E, K and some B vitamins, as well as other essential nutrients that are important for a healthy immune system and for the prevention of many diseases. The health benefits of avocados have also been proven in numerous clinical studies. With their high content of mono-unsaturated fatty acids, avocados can help to lower the LDL cholesterol level in the blood and thus reduce the risk of a stroke. A study in the „Journal of American Heart Association“ found that eating just two portions of avocado a week can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. With their high proportion of unsaturated fatty acids, avocados are also a healthy alternative to animal-based foods. Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats can also improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Avocados have a high satiety value and contain few calories (approx. 250 calories per avocado). They can help losing weight and reducing the risk of obesity. Avocados are rich in fiber, which regulates appetite and is important for intestinal health and digestion. The nutrients and bioactive compounds in avocados can reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome (high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity). In older people, eating avocados can have a positive effect on brain function and eye health. The carotenoid lutein contained in avocados can protect the eye from damage caused by ultraviolet light from the sun and reduce the risk of macular degeneration. Finally, avocados can also be used externally. The combination of mono-unsaturated fatty acids, carotenoids, vitamins with the antioxidants vitamin C and E and phenolic compounds can improve skin firmness. The WAO is running various information campaigns about the health benefits of avocados.

Precise irrigation systems

The cultivation of avocados is mainly criticized for its high water consumption. However, in the past ten years much has been achieved in the irrigation of avocados. Producers throughout the World Avocado Organization have also been able to reduce their water consumption significantly. Irrigation primarily de-pends on the amount and frequency of precipitation in the growing area. Avoca-dos grow in tropical and Mediterranean climates. Countries such as Ethiopia and Tanzania, for example, have almost ideal climatic conditions for cultivation. In areas with high rainfall, avocados can obtain almost all of their water requirements directly from the rain. The use of rainwater is a sustainable method of irrigation allowing farmers a certain degree of self-sufficiency so that they can water their crops regularly even when water is scarce. Rainwater harvesting systems consist of a network of collection mechanisms, filtration processes and storage facilities. In countries such as Kenya, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil and the Dominican Republic, the additional irrigation for 1 kilogram of avocados requires less than 10 liters, approximated. Where additional irrigation is required, water consumption has been significantly reduced thanks to modern, precise irrigation methods. This also happened at Three Farms in South Africa, for example, which exports around half of its 3,500 tonnes of avocados to Europe. Here, the water is channelled directly into the soil in the right quantity and at the right time using a new drip irrigation system, so that each plant gets exactly what it needs without wasting water. “Drip irrigation does not only reduce water consumption, but also im-proves crop yields. Thanks to intelligent irrigation systems, the average global water footprint of avocados is much lower than that of other everyday foods, such as beef, chocolate, coffee or butter,“ explains Zac Bard.

Smart agriculture

Innovative technologies for digital agriculture use agronomic algorithms, sensors and artificial intelligence to monitor plants and to deliver the ex-act amount of water required. With the help of new agricultural techno-logy, water consumption on smaller farms in Chile has been reduced by 30 % and in Spain by up to 50 %. Intelligent sensors monitor soil moisture and ensure that water is only applied where it is needed. This minimizes waste through evaporation and prevents overwatering. Soil moisture monitoring systems provide precise data in real time and enable well-founded decisions to be made about irrigation systems. Fertigation systems are also frequently used, al-lowing fertilizer to be applied at the same time as irrigation. The nutrient mixture can be tailored precisely ac-cording to the needs of the individual avocado plant and delivered directly to the roots of the trees. In this way, the nutrients can be used more efficiently and excess fertilizer can be avoided. The use of new technologies can reduce water consumption, improve plant health, increase yields and make avocado

cultivation more sustainable.

Carbon footprint significantly lower than other foods 

Many consumers are also concerned about the long transport distances. With over 300,000 tonnes, Peru is the largest supplier of avocados to Europe, followed by Colombia, Chile, Kenya and South Africa. “Most of the avocados consumed in Europe are transported by ship from Latin America and Africa. This is more environmentally friendly and produces fewer CO2 emissions compared to air and road transport. These avocados therefore perform even better than avocados produced in Europe, which are usually transported by car or plane,“ Zac Bard adds. The CO2 emissions of avocados are significantly lower than those of other everyday foods such as milk, cheese or eggs and are comparable to those of other fruits such as apples. Avocados grow on perennial trees that can absorb up to 20 kg of carbon per year from the atmosphere and produce 2.4 kg of CO2 equivalents per kilogram. Compared to many other foods, avocados have a smaller ecological footprint overall.

Economic impact on the growing countries

Avocado production is often associated with negative economic impacts in the countries where they are grown. In various projects supported by the WAO, however, the cultivation of avocados has helped to improve the living conditions of people in the respective regions. In the Olmos Valley in Peru, for example, water intended for the Atlantic Ocean was diverted through the Andes to an automatic irrigation system. This turned a former desert into 24,000 hectares of fertile land for growing fruit and vegetables, including avocados. This project has created over 25,000 jobs in agriculture and many other indirect jobs, securing the livelihoods of many people. Avocado cultivation thus makes an important contribution to the economy in many growing countries, where the majority of production still takes place on small farms. In Peru, growth in the agricultural sector has helped to reduce poverty significantly, particularly in rural communities. The example of Three Farms also shows that sustainable avocado cultivation can have a positive impact on local communities. The farm pays competitive wages to its 300 employees and also promotes vocational skills and training.

In recent years, the cultivation of avocados has also increased significantly in other countries with suitable climatic conditions, such as Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania, where the up-coming avocado industry benefits small local farmers and boosts the local economy. In Chile, the third largest avocado supplier to Europe, the avocado industry has created around 35,000 new jobs and reduced poverty, particularly in rural regions. Here, there are programs to support organic avocado cultivation as well.

The cultivation of avocados is becoming more and more environmentally friendly and the ecological CO2 footprint is already reduced compared to other products. Farmers are continuing to improve production methods. This makes avocados – together with their high nutritional value – to sustainable and healthy alternative to animal products. As Zac Bard says: “Transport distance, retail, packaging or special cultivation methods per kilo are very small compared to their high nutritional value.“

The WAO expects a worldwide increase in avocado consumption in the coming years, especially in Europe and Asia, particularly in India, where the avocado is still a very new fruit. 

For more information: www.avocadofruitoflife.com

About the Author

By Sabine Straka, Editorial Team, Food Marketing & Technoloy