Evy van Gastel is a senior buyer at Special Fruit. This Belgian company imports fruit and vegetables, including avocados, from all over the world. She says the avocado market is expanding tremendously. "There's still a huge growth potential, both in Europe and globally." Consumption in Europe has some catching up to do, though.
Sarah Hellemans, Special Fruit
That is compared to, for example, the United States, where per capita consumption is much higher. Avocado consumption also varies enormously within Europe. Many things contribute to this fruit's growth potential, says Evy. It is versatile and has a neutral flavor. Also, for many people, the health aspect is key. This development is causing company-wide expansion at Special Fruit.
"We have to grow to meet the increasing demand. We're importing more and, so, our capacity has to improve. Our teams are, thus, getting bigger, and the supplier base is expanding. We're also sourcing avocados from more countries," she says. Special Fruit gets most of its avocados from Peru, Chile, and Spain. But plantations in Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Morocco, Israel, and Portugal are also increasingly in the picture, says Evy.
Avocado planting is increasing in tandem with the increasing demand. Acreage is being expanded so much that average prices are, obviously, beginning to fall. "A few years ago, production couldn't keep up with demand. Now it seems the crop is catching up with demand." Van Gastel says there are now times when there is more avocado available than there is demand.
"Supply sometimes lags behind demand, but less so. The extreme price spikes are generally decreasing." She sees that separate from supply and demand, the climate, too, is a market factor. Evy cites Chile as an example, which harvested significantly fewer avocados in 2020. That forced it to stop exporting to Europe as early as December. Exports from Chile usually continue until April.
"Market prices are severely affected when such a large country of origin drops out, last minute." The current season's forecast is the opposite of last year's. "Chile is having a normal harvest. The Mediterranean region, Israel, Morocco, and Portugal are also expecting good yields. Combine that with the growing production in Colombia, and a lot of fruit is expected this fall," explains Evy.
Aside from the growing demand for 'regular' avocados, there is also increased interest in organic varieties. The senior buyer expects organic avocados' share to rise. If only because of the increasing interest in all types of organic fruits and vegetables. "Consumers are more aware of the environment, healthy eating, and things' ecological footprint."
The younger generation is particularly concerned with these aspects. There is also a lot of focus on extending shelf life to reduce food waste. One way to do so is by testing a biodegradable coating. It is applied to the avocados. "It's a win-win for everyone; from grower to end consumer, everyone benefits from maximizing shelf life," Evy says.
She states that, for consumers, ripeness and color are the most important aspects of an avocado. The ripening process' outcome depends on how much dry matter the fruit contains. A minimum of 23% is required to ensure proper ripening. So, it is vital to keep this in mind.
Using new techniques makes it easier to harvest the fruit at the right time when the dry matter content is high enough, Evy says. "We can now use new equipment in the country of origin to better determine whether the fruits are ready to be harvested. That is done on a larger scale and in a non-destructive way," she concludes.