The Irvine, Calif.-based Hass Avocado Board has taken on responsibility for coordinating avocado nutrition research and expects to see some preliminary results by the middle of 2012, said Jose Luis Obregon, who recently resigned as executive director.
The California Avocado Commission previously handled research programs, but after the Hass Avocado Board was formed, it made more sense for the Hass Avocado Board to oversee research, since the health attributes of avocados apply to all of the fruit, no matter where it’s grown, Obregon said.
All segments of the industry — California, Chile and Mexico — were involved in discussions to develop strategies for the program.
“It wasn’t about what studies are we going to do. It was more of what do we want to say,” Obregon said.
“We know avocados are healthy,” he said. “We need the substantiation and science to be able to develop marketing messages to market avocados.”
The Hass Avocado Board is working with Chicago-based FoodMinds LLC to develop strategies to determine what U.S. consumers want to hear about and what are their main concerns regarding health and wellness, he said.
Many potential study topics were discussed, but eventually three main pillars were selected: Heart health; weight management and diabetes; and healthy living.
The next step was to decide what types of studies needed to be conducted in order to develop messages and to determine who would be the best researchers to conduct the studies.
With the help of FoodMinds, the Hass Avocado Board pinpointed the best researchers and eventually “came out with the best possible design for a study,” Obregon said.
Universities selected for the first set of studies, which now are under way:
- Pennsylvania State University, conducting a cardiovascular study;
- Ohio State University, studying absorption and bioconversion of vitamin A; and
- Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, Calif., conducting a satiety study relating to weight management and diabetes.
Selected for 2011:
- UCLA, conducting an oxidative stress study; and
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Beltsville (Md.) Human Nutrition Research Center, studying the effect of avocado consumption on vascular health and blood pressure.
The Hass Avocado Board already is looking at topics for studies for 2012.
“The board is very committed to this,” said Obregon, who expects preliminary results from the first round of studies to be available within a year.
“It is really a big commitment on the part of the avocado industry to spend millions of dollars to do these human-based research (projects),” said Jim Donovan, vice president of business development, Mission Produce Inc., Oxnard, Calif., and chairman of the Hass Avocado Board.
“We’re able to focus on this generic work that ultimately will benefit all the stakeholders,” he said.
Results of the studies eventually will be available online, he said.
The industry already is making progress spreading the word about the nutrition value of avocados.
Not long ago, many consumers perceived avocados as a fattening food to be avoided, Obregon said. Now they realize that avocados contain good fat that the body needs, and the fruit’s nutrient content has become the main reason shoppers buy them.