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South Korea imported $2.4 million of Avocados in September 2017

Bad news for avocado-toast-despising millionaires: the bumpy-skinned fruit is exploding in popularity in South Korea. Koreans imported $2.4 million of it in September 2017, compared to $752,000 in September 2016, according to the Korean Customs Service. That's a shocking 19-fold increase compared to the same period in 2010.

The reason for the craze? Avocados are healthy, look pretty on Instagram, and hint at opulence. "Korean consumers are very health conscious and a significant percent of the population have good disposable incomes," said Steve Trickett, who managed sales at New Zealand-based grower Just Avocados, in a February interview with produce industry publication Fresh Plaza.

It's still not common. Show the average Korean a picture of an avocado, and they'll probably shrug. Recent newspaper headlines here concerning the alligator pear include "How to deal with avocados" and "What is guacamole?" They're also quite pricey. A single fruit usually costs $3 to $4 at the supermarket. As one expat wrote on Reddit two years ago, "I thought about buying avocados here once...then I remembered I wasn't a Saudi prince."

But at Korea's more stylish eateries, avocados are a necessary menu option. One can nosh on avocado toast, topped with olive oil, coriander and lime, for 12,000 won ($10.70) at Underyard in Gangnam or order up 13,000 won ($11.60) guacamole eggs Benedict at Root in Itaewon, Seoul's international district. When cooking at home, Koreans are apt to mash the green, fatty product into bibimbap, put it on toast, or even juice it.

As a result, avocado hawkers worldwide are jockeying for market entry to Korea's avocado market. Only Mexico, New Zealand and the U.S. presently export to Korea, according to Korean Customs Service data. Korea has been the fastest-growing market for growers like New Zealand-based Just Avocados.

New Zealand growers, who enjoyed a bumper crop this year, are especially keen on getting into the Korea market. They produced just 0.44% of the world's avocado crop in 2014, according to the latest available data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. But their individual avocados are larger than those coming from Mexico, who dominated 30% of the world's production in 2014.

Avocado toast goes global
It's not just Koreans who are keen on the green fatty fruit. Consumers throughout Asia and Europe are learning more about avocados, and eating more of them too. One London "avocado bar" called Belli Freschi goes through 400 avocados on a busy day. They serve up deep-fried avocado chips and sandwiches with avocado "buns."

Avocados are called "butter fruit" in China, where a growing middle class is increasingly demanding the stuff. The Financial Times reported in April that avocado imports to China are growing by about 250% every year. China's KFC even rolled out a line of avocado-slathered chicken sandwiches and wraps.

Japan is probably beating everyone at the avocado game, though. One Japanese dish features salted avocado in soy sauce, a delectable yet simple combination. McDonald's Japan even include avocado on a breakfast sandwich, and there's even Sailor Moon avocado tortilla chips. But nothing could beat cheese-and-avocado Doritos, a blindingly-green chip released in 2013.

The new markets are great news for avocado growers outside of Mexico. That country dominates inflows to the U.S., which imports the most avocados of any country in the world. Last year, Americans imported three times as many avocados as the second-biggest importer.

It's not so dandy for avo-enthusiasts looking for a good deal. Avocado harvests were paltry this year, and demand is at an all-time high. So, the green goodies rose to record highs last month - 75% higher than July's prices. Tough times for avocado toast lovers in all continents.


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