Avocados have come a long way, but just how much higher can they go?

I do know this: I am eating more guacamole than I ever have before and my wife occasionally includes avocados in salads and sandwiches around the home. So count me with the upward trending arc of avocado demand.

The history of the avocado, like any commodity when we truly pause to think about it, is fascinating.

From a mini-history in “What’s Cooking America”

"It is evident from miscellaneous reports by Spanish Conquistadores that, at the time of the Spanish conquest, avocados were grown from northern Mexico south through Central America into north-western South America and south in the Andean region as far as Peru (where the avocado had been introduced shortly before the conquest), as well as into the Andean region of Venezuela.

The Aztecs used the avocado as a sex stimulant and the Aztec name for avocado was ahuacatl, meaning "testicle." In the pre-Incan city of Chanchan, archaeologists have unearthed a large water jar, dated around 900 A.D., in the shape of an avocado."

Several publications have recently noted the astonishing rise of the pebbly fruit, including The Huffington Post last year. In that article, the coverage noted the dramatic rise of Mexican hass imports since the late 1990s and the $40 million annual investment that avocado marketers use to stretch demand. If you look at that story, the 185 reader comments also reveal the passion of avocado consumers. Here is a sampling:

"I don't trust people that don't like avocado."

"I started eating avocados for lunch to mix up boring lunches and my hair got really shiny."

"I eat on average 1.5 avocados a day, usually in a salad or as guac (with diced mango instead of tomatoes, try it!!!). And if for some reason I go for more than 3 days without avocado, I get some really serious avocado fantasies."

One of the truly transcendent produce items in the past 30 years, USDA statistics showed that total U.S. avocado production in 1970 was 91.4 million pounds, with just 2.3 million pounds of imported product. Fast forward to 2010, when domestic production was rated at 253 million pounds and imports were tallied at an astounding 830 million pounds. Per capita consumption has risen from less than a half a pound in 1970 to 3.2 pounds by 2010 and near 5 pounds today.

In the Huffington Post story, one avocado industry leader speculated that U.S. per capita consumption is far from peaking:

"While Mexico eats about 20 pounds of avocados per capita, Americas are only consuming around five pounds per capita. "We could literally be four times the growth," (Mike Brown) believes. "Especially with the buying power of the American consumer."

The rise in demand has fueled more volume which in turn has served to soften prices. From the latest quarterly report by Calavo, the sales price for Mexican fruit declined 12.7% per carton in the latest quarter compared with a year ago, and prices for California fruit were off by about 11% compared with year-ago numbers.

The USDA’ Custom Average Tool is a good way to track average prices for avocados, or any other crop, for that matter. The shipping point average price for all avocados was $35.26 per carton in 2011, $22.84 in 2012 and $23.57 per carton so far in 2013. Retail promoted prices of avocados averaged $1.47 per pound in 2011, $1.24 per pound in 2012 and $1.19 per pound so far in 2013.

Check out The Packer’s Markets Editor Andy Nelson’s latest coverage of avocado crops from California, Mexico and Peru at this link.

Also, I’ve added per capita consumption and FAO trade data from global producers of avocados to The Packer Market.

Spurred by ripe and ready fruit at retail and the opening of the U.S. market to Mexican fruit in late 1997, the rising tide of avocado demand has lifted all boats.  Yet some boats have benefited more than others. USDA stats show imports of Mexican avocados rose from 300,000 metric tons in 2009 to 431,300 metric tons in 2012. However, imports from Chile fell from 116,000 metric tons in 2009 to just more than 40,000 metric tons in 2012. U.S. imports from rising star Peru have grown from 10 metric tons in 2009 to nearly 16,000 metric tons in 2012.

Can avocado demand climb higher yet in the U.S.? With the marketing power of the avocado industry and the legacy of leaders like Gil Henry, there should be no doubt.

Other reports of interests:

Chile 2012 annual avocado report: USDA FAS

Avocados weekly shipments