How the avocado conquered the world
The avocado is considered the fruit of the millennials. Take the British company Virgin Trains, which launched a marketing campaign called “#Avocard” last year. After the company sold off the new train cards, it decided to give customers between the ages of 26 and 30 who showed up at the train station with avocados a discount on train tickets. Millennial reactions have been mixed, but there’s no denying that millennials eat a lot of avocados.
People have been eating them for thousands of years, but today young people in their 20s and 30s have developed their popularity. Global avocado imports reached $2016 billion in 4,82, according to the World Trade Center. Between 2012 and 2016, imports of this fruit increased by 21%, while the unit value increased by 15%. One London-based plastic surgeon said that in 2017 he treated so many patients who cut themselves while slicing avocados that his staff began calling the injury “avocado hand.” The expensive avocado toast has even been called “money-sucking frivolity” and the reason why many millennials can’t afford to buy houses.
There are many factors that fuel food preference among consumers, such as embellished and beautiful Instagram food photos or advertisements funded by organizations that support a particular food economy.
Long, exotic stories also add to the charm of certain products, especially in regions far from their origin. Jessica Loyer, a nutritional values researcher at the University of Adelaide in South Australia, cites “superfoods” like acai and chia seeds as examples. Another such example is Peruvian Maca, or Maca Root, which is ground into a powdered supplement and is known for its high levels of vitamins, minerals, and fertility and energy boosters. People in the central Andes adore the gnarled, spindle-shaped root, so much so that there is a five-meter-tall statue of it in the town square, Loyer says.
But she also points out some of the problems that can arise when food makes big headway. “It has good and bad points. Of course, the benefits are unevenly distributed, but popularity will create jobs. But it also certainly has implications for biodiversity,” she says.
Xavier Equihua is the CEO of the World Avocado Organization based in Washington DC. Its goal is to stimulate the consumption of avocados in Europe. He says that food like avocado is easy to sell: it’s tasty and nutritious. But celebrities posting pictures on social media also help. People in China, where avocados are also popular, see Kim Kardashian using an avocado hair mask. They see that Miley Cyrus has an avocado tattoo on her arm.
How kale conquered the world
If the avocado is the most popular fruit, then its vegetable equivalent would be kale. The dark green color created the image of the perfect dietary staple for healthy, responsible, conscientious adults everywhere, whether it’s adding leaves to a cholesterol-lowering salad or mixing it into an antioxidant smoothie. The number of cabbage farms in the US doubled between 2007 and 2012, and Beyoncé wore a hoodie with “KALE” written on it in the 2015 music video.
Robert Mueller-Moore, a Vermont T-shirt maker, says he has sold countless “eat more kale” T-shirts around the world over the past 15 years. He estimates that he has sold over 100 bumper stickers celebrating kale. He even got into a three-year legal dispute with Chick-fil-a, America’s largest fried chicken fast food chain, whose slogan is “eat more chicken” (eat more chicken). “It got a lot of attention,” he says. All of these feasts affected people’s daily diet.
However, like avocados, kale has real health benefits, so its celebrity status shouldn’t be reduced to flashy headlines or pop idol endorsements. But it’s important to remain somewhat skeptical and know that no single food is a panacea for perfect health, no matter how famous or nutritious it may be. Experts say a varied diet of lots of fruits and vegetables is more nutrient-dense than one where you just eat the same thing over and over again. So think about other products the next time you find yourself in a store.
However, the unfortunate truth is that it’s probably easier to put one vegetable on a pedestal than it is to try to advertise an entire group of vegetables or fruits. This is the problem facing Anna Taylor, who works at the British think tank The Food Foundation. She recently helped create Veg Power, a prime-time TV and movie ad campaign that sounds like a superhero movie trailer and tries to get kids to change their minds about all vegetables for the better.
Taylor says the budget was $3,95 million, mostly donations from supermarkets and media companies. But this is a tiny amount compared to other indicators of the food industry. “This is equivalent to £120m for confectionery, £73m for soft drinks, £111m for sweet and savory snacks. Thus, advertising for fruits and vegetables is 2,5% of the total,” she says.
Fruits and vegetables are often not branded like chips or convenience foods, and without a brand there is virtually no customer for advertising. A concerted effort by governments, farmers, advertising companies, supermarkets, etc. is needed to increase the amount of money spent on fruit and vegetable advertising.
So when things like cabbage or avocados come up, it’s more of a specific product and therefore easier to sell and advertise, rather than promoting fruits and vegetables in general. Taylor says that when one food becomes popular, it can become a problem. “Typically, these campaigns are pushing other vegetables out of this category. We see this in the UK where there is a huge growth in the berry industry, which has been hugely successful but has taken market share away from apples and bananas,” she says.
It is important to remember that no matter how big a star one particular product becomes, remember that your diet should not be a one-man show.