The growth rate of avocado consumption in Europe could slow down in the short- or medium-term, an expert has warned.
This would potentially create challenges for an industry that is expecting a significant production increase in the coming years, said Eric Imbert of French agricultural research organization CIRAD.
Speaking at the World Avocado Congress held in Colombia in September, he explained that two of the continent's largest avocado-consuming countries that have been driving much of the impressive growth over the last decade could soon see per-capita consumption level off.
The industry should act now in order to avoid future problems, he said. It will be key to accurately forecast world production, satisfy the consumer and boost consumption.
During a session entitled 'World Flows and European Projection', Imbert explained that around 2.2m metric tons (MT) of avocados were traded internationally in 2018-19.
There has been impressive average annual trade growth of 12% - almost unheard of in the world of fruit and vegetables. And with around 20,000 hectares being planted annually, supplies will likely grow for a while to come.
Two pillars of world avocado market
But Imbert told World Avocado Congress attendees that it was important to understand where these volumes were going, and what the industry could expect from those markets in the future.
"Where are all these volumes sold? It's very simple - half goes to the U.S., a third to the European Union, and so just 20% is left for other world markets," he said.
"It is therefore very important to bear in mind that the avocado market is supported by two pillars. More than 80% of volumes go to the U.S. and Europe. And, for the moment, the participation of other markets is fairly small," he said.
While many of the other world markets - like China, South Korea, Gulf States and Eastern Europe - are seeing strong annual growth in percentage terms, the volumes they import remain minimal compared to the U.S. and Europe, he emphasized.
European avocado market in focus
The growth of the European avocado market this century has been phenomenal. Import growth tripled from 2002 to 2013, rising by an average of 18% annually. It now imports in excess of 700,000MT, with around an additional 100,000MT of domestic production also being sold.
Like the global avocado market, there are two pillars to the European avocado market - the U.K. and France. These are relatively mature markets that are still seeing strong growth, he explained.
Other markets like Germany, Eastern Europe and Italy are growing quickly, but have lower levels of per-capita consumption. There are also the Scandinavian countries, which have very high per-capita consumption but are nowadays growing very little and have small populations.
"What are the perspectives for consumption in Europe? In fact, this isn't a projection, but rather a trend," he said explaining that European countries' consumption growth in the past had tended to stabilize after reaching around 2.5 kilograms.
"This can be seen really clearly in the Scandinavian markets. Despite being markets with a high purchasing power, very high per-capita consumption and with many ways of eating avocado, the consumption has been almost stable for years."
European growth drives could stabilize
The U.K. and France could therefore also see growth stabilize in the short-term as their consumption rates edge closer to the rates of Scandinavian markets. As those two countries have been the growth drivers in Europe, a slow-down there could pose huge challenges.
"We have seen an incredible [global] avocado market that is growing at a rapid pace. But there is a very strong acceleration in global production," Imbert said.
"We are supported by two pillars [the U.S. and Europe], and while I completely agree that other world markets have enormous potential, they are currently growing at quite a limited rate when we consider the rate of production growth."
Bearing in mind the situation in Europe, he said there could be a "revision to the consumption growth rate in the short- or medium-term".
He said recommended that the avocado industry "work, work, work" in three areas to minimize potential future challenges.
One is monitoring new plantings and accurate forecasting the rate of future avocado growth. This would allow the industry to anticipate import volumes adequately.
In this area, Imbert said that CIRAD and the U.S. Hass Avocado Board (HAB) had launched a study of world avocado production. The results of that will be open to all stakeholders, he said.
Another is remembering that for most consumers nowadays, avocados remain an expensive fruit. Therefore, the consumption experience has to be "100% satisfactory".
"I'm not just talking about organoleptic properties, but also about social and environmental regulation," he said.
Finally, it is crucial to raise consumption as much as possible around the world.
"We have to invest more in avocado promotional activities in other markets, to break the roof of 2.5 kilograms in Europe and to continue growing, especially in Asia," he said. "I think that this is now urgent."