Chilean avocado industry looks to validate health claims

09/15/2010 01:26:19 PM
Jim Offner

The hass avocado industry is hoping science becomes an ally in its quest to sell avocados as a superfood.

The industry already proclaims its product can cut cholesterol with the monounsaturated fat oleic acid. It touts the fruit’s power to fight hypertension through its potassium content. It also claims avocados’ folate is good for healthy hearts.

Now, the board is getting set to launch an extensive three-pronged research initiative that will document those claims scientifically.

“We have developed a nutritional research strategy that’s a long-term investment for the board,” said Jose Luis Obregon, the Irvine, Calif.-based board’s managing director. “It’s one of our main objectives to develop research trials and human clinical trials at various universities.”

“We know hass avocados are healthy. We know with the science behind us, we’ll be able to develop sound nutritional messages that will provide tools for our marketing teams to do their job. Who better than the hass board to do this to benefit the whole industry?”

The board has developed three research avenues — Heart Health, Healthy Living and Weight Management — and is planning studies and clinical trials in all three areas, Obregon said.

The studies likely will take 18 to 24 months, he said.

Obregon said he was not ready yet to identify the universities involved in the studies.

“They’re very well-recognized experts in their field in U.S. universities,” he said. “It’s going to be very exciting.”

The results are certain to be a key promotional strategy, said Jim Donovan, vice president of global sourcing for Oxnard, Calif.-based Mission Produce Inc. and chairman of the Hass Avocado Board.

“We’ve obviously seen in other commodities studies on nutrition that are scientifically proven,” Donovan said. “Once you go through that and get those, it really does help potentially on growing the commodity.”

The industry has been looking for an opportunity to do something along those lines for years, Donovan said.

“Under this HAB umbrella, it’s allowing us to do this,” he said.

He also emphasized that such undertakings require some patience across the industry.

“These are long-term projects; these studies take a lot of time,” he said. “We have a nutrition committee that guides it and focuses in on certain areas and will continue to do so.”

But the ultimate payoff is official government recognition of the validity of findings, Donovan said.

“These are things people can relate to, and once you have a statement that you can use, a ‘qualified health statement,’ you really then have something that can get past FDA and you can then really start to drive it,” he said.


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