Avocado cultivation is expanding both in Spain and in the rest of the world while the product's popularity continues to increase. Will there be enough consumption to absorb the productions that are to come? Is avocado a product that really needs so much water?
In the framework of the meeting that the World Avocado Organization (WAO) organized in Malaga with representatives of the international press, FreshPlaza visited the facilities of one of the companies that are part of this organization in Spain, Reyes Gutiérrez; a producer and marketer of avocados and mangoes, and interviewed its manager Juan Antonio Reyes.
In the 40's, during the post-Spanish Civil War, the generations before Reyes Gutiérrez were devoted to the production of raisins, almonds and other nuts in Malaga. The first exports were carried out in the 50's, with early extra potatoes that they themselves cultivated in the Axarquía. This led them to become one of the leaders in this sector until the 80's. In the 70's, when Juan Antonio's grandfather was already of advanced age, it was decided together with the children that they would bet on an alternative crop to potatoes and vegetables. That's when they planted the first avocado trees.
"After a trip to the Canary Islands, where the crop already existed, my uncle Luis said that we had to plant avocados on our land, claiming that it was the fruit of the future. It was then when we traveled to other producing areas, like Israel or the Canary Islands, in order to get advice, and we started planting avocados between 1970 and 1975. In 1980, the avocado production area kept expanding, until I decided to found my own company, Reyes Gutiérrez, in 1993. The idea was to be able to dedicate myself fully to this product, as well as to mangoes," says Juan Antonio.
"In the beginning we worked for just 3 months, from October to December, but the supermarket chains we were collaborating with asked for a year-round supply. For this reason, we started importing avocados from other countries, and today we are among the biggest European importers of avocados from Peru, Mexico and South Africa. Of the approximately 30,000 tons of fruit marketed by the company, 24,000 correspond to avocados, and 18 / 20,000 tons of those are imported. Our philosophy is to find producers all over the world able to do their job well and willing to let us do the commercial management for them," says the manager.
Spain currently has more than 15,000 hectares devoted to avocado cultivation. 50% of them are in Malaga, where it is already very difficult to expand the acreage due to the poor water infrastructure.
"Although there is a lot of water available around the Axarquía, there is no infrastructure to bring it here, as this depends on concessions from public administrations and it is a really slow process. We have been asking for more water for about 20 years. For this reason, avocado cultivation is making its way into other areas, such as Cadiz, Huelva, Valencia and Alicante, as well as Portugal."
It is worth noting that many people still believe that avocado cultivation requires great amounts of water, but the truth, according to the WAO, avocado, is that it is a crop with much lower water needs than other basic products. It takes fewer than 1,000 liters to produce one kilo of avocados, a much lower amount than that of basic foods like eggs (3,300 liters per kg), chicken (4,300 liters per kg), veal (15,400 liters per kg) or chocolate (17,000 liters per kg).
According to Juan Antonio Reyes, in the coming years, the avocado sector will undergo a radical change at a quantitative level and prices will fall. "Large corporations have invested great resources in the improvement of their production capacity and efficiency, which means that in the very near future, the market will have a lot more avocados. For that reason, it is important to carry out promotions that can help stimulate the growth of this product's consumption."
"While the annual per capita consumption of avocados in the United States stands above the 3.5 kg, in the European Union, this figure still remains at just over 1.2 kg per capita. The EU is now one of the markets with the fastest growth when it comes to avocado consumption, having exceeded the 650,000 tons sold in 2018. If we encouraged this growth of the consumption with promotions and reached a similar level to that of the United States, it would take more than 2 million tons to meet the demand from European consumers. However, this would also entail an adjustment of prices and a greater commercial tension. In fact, over the last 5 years, the price at origin of avocados has ranged between 2.50 and 2.80 € per kilo, reaching up to 3.50 € in the 2018 campaign, and this has aroused great interest in planting the product, both here and in the rest of the world."