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Global demand for avocados and berries on the rise

The consumption of 'superfruits' such as avocado and blueberries has increased dramatically over the last few years. The demand for frozen fruit is also rising. This is according to Rabobank. What kind of impact will this have on global food supply? Can production keep up with demand?

Cindy van Rijswick, Fruit and Vegetable Analyst at Rabobank: "In the last decade, the trade in avocado has grown by more than 12% per year. This is much faster than production, which has only increased by almost 5%."

Most Instagrammed food
Although there are no hard figures available, Van Rijswick thinks all the attention on avocados has contributed significantly to its popularity. "Avocados are in the top 20 most Instagrammed foods among the most eaten food items, such as pizza, burgers and sushi. The fact that it is photogenic, versatile and healthy has been crucial to the rising popularity of avocado. The fact that good quality, ready-to-eat avocados have come onto the market, has played an even more significant role", says Van Rijswick.

Avocado is not only getting more popular in Western countries. Developing markets are also discovering the avocado. In 2013, China only imported 1,5 million kg of avocado. In 2015, this was more than 25 million kg and in 2017, almost 30 million kg.

Sustainability of production
Environmental organisations, in particular, have pointed out the negative impact of the avocado-hype: the use of large amounts of water and agricultural chemical products during cultivation, deforestation and the adverse effects of the packaging and transport of all these avocados to other countries.

"Since they have the Andes mountains, there is, in principle, enough water sources in export countries such as Peru and Chile", says Van Rijswick. "The issue is getting the water to the locations where it is needed, and using it, as efficiently as possible. In the current upward market, where, on average, good prices were paid, there should be room at companies to invest in making production even more sustainable. Beside good irrigation systems, developing better varieties that use less water, and other production methods can increase sustainability."

See the graphic below.

Blueberries and frozen fruit
The World Fruit Map 2018 also shows that the demand for blueberries and frozen fruit has increased sharply. The trade in blueberries grew by 11% annually over the last decade. The worldwide demand for frozen fruit rose by 5% per year over the same period. Van Rijswick: "The popularity of berries has paid a large part in the increasing popularity of frozen fruits. It does not seem to be a case of fresh fruit consumption dropping in favour of frozen fruit, or visa verse. On the contrary, they have strengthened each other. People are using these products more often in, for instance, yoghurt or smoothies and have discovered that frozen berries are a handy alternative. The same is true for avocados and mangoes, which we also see more often in the frozen foods section."

Fewer and fewer fruit pickers
New cultivation systems ensure increasingly higher yields and less use of resources. Van Rijswick uses the strawberry as an example. These are grown more and more often on shelves or under cover, than in open fields. Additives can be used more efficiently in this manner. Labour costs are also cut, and working conditions improved. This last point is especially important because there is a worldwide shortage of labourers for fruit harvesting.

"Fruit pickers are hard to come by, especially when it comes to temporary work", says Van Rijswick. "This is not only true for the US and Europe, but also for a number of regions in, for example, South America. By developing systems which make the work less strenuous, the growers save money, and the harvesters have better working conditions. The next step is to harvest using a machine or robot. There are harvesting machines available for, for instance, blueberries. The quality of the berries harvested in this way is, however, not good enough to sell for fresh consumption. Currently, robots are being developed to harvest fruits such as strawberries. I expect these to be operational within a few years."

Diseases and unpredictable weather conditions remain another challenge for the fruit sector. Van Rijswick is of the opinion that this will become worse, rather than better. "I have confidence that the fruit sector will find ways to deal with this. It will, however, require investing in shelters, automation, and so on. This is also where the importance of a strong financial position or good bank comes into play. The availability of credit is a big problem in, especially, many developing countries. Stable yields are also a challenge. A lot of fruit is still day or week traded, where prices can fluctuate greatly. I, therefore, welcome the fact that more longer term price determinations are made in the fruit chain."

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