How the Avocado Became America’s Favorite Fruit
There was once a time when guacamole wasn’t at the top of the list for party snacks and happy hour munchies, a time where most Americans avoided what was once known as “the alligator pear” altogether. But how did the bizarrely green fruit (yes, it’s a fruit) undergo the popular metamorphosis that eventually brought it to Instagram stardom? The story of the avocado’s rise, which some may say is already on a decline due in part to an over influx of avocado toasts on their brunch feeds, is one of guerrilla marketing and nutritional discovery. It’s a story of ups and downs and eventual success.
According to AvoSeedo, archeological findings date the avocado back nearly 10,000 years in Mesoamerica where the Olmec, Inca, and Maya began to cultivate the fruit and for personal use about 5,000 years go. After spreading across the seas due to Spanish conquest, variations of the fruit began to pop up all over North, Central, and South America where the climate suited it. But how did it become so trendy and popular? When did it make the jump from being a rare tropical commodity to stacked at supermarkets across the country?
Today, having the option to add avocado to a dish increases a menu’s value and Americans eat over 2 billion pounds of Hass avocados a year. But there was once a time when the fruit was entirely unapproachable. Of course, the lifting of import restrictions, which used to ban shipments from Mexico, in the late 1990s made a big difference since they went from depending on solely California’s pressured crop to solidifying the fruit’s availability nationwide. Before the fruit become popular by itself, much of its presence was due in part to guacamole’s rise which increased its demand across the board. But its lack of sale in the country goes deeper than its availability at the supermarket.
First of all, the California Avocado Growers’ Exchange had to do something about the early 20th century use of “alligator pears” as its accepted name which, for obvious reasons, was not driving sales for the fruit. The group began pushing to replace the name with the more-exotic and less-menacing “avocado,” a word that was adapted centuries ago from the Aztec “ahuacacuahatl”. Eventually, the name caught on which made it ever so slightly easier for the average American to believe it might be tasty. It then became a high scale item, being called “the aristocrat of salad fruits” in the late 20s, which now took the approachable fruit to a level of exclusivity its name no longer caused. But when nutrition experts shifted to a low fat diet emphasis in the 80s, the avocado got the short end of the stick once again.
After multiple internally funded studies and in-depth research, The California Avocado Commission shed light on the fat prejudices of the low-fat movement that cut out “good fats” that help keep cholesterol levels at bay like monounsaturated fat which the fruit is in abundance of. Once the numbers were in their favor, a slew of creative and sometimes odd marketing campaigns were launched. Throw in one big Superbowl ad campaign featuring everyone’s favorite green dip with some toritlla chips and Americans finally worked past the idea that a fruit could be green and savory, have a weird texture, but pair gorgeously with a little lime and cilantro.