It is the most watched TV event each year in the U.S. and the last eight games rank as the eight most watched television programs in the history of American television. Well over a hundred million people tune in to the Big Game every year in February. There is no wonder why it is called the Super Bowl. It has become a sort of mini-holiday in America and if you aren’t at a party during the game, or at least invited, then there may be serious questions about your social life to be addressed. Of course, not everyone likes football and some even despise it. But who doesn’t love a party? Especially when there are loads of decadent food and gallons of libations to enjoy.
One of the unquestioned stars on the table every year during this yearly sports ritual is the almighty avocado. In fact, along with those 100 million plus viewers, 100 million plus pounds of avocados are eaten during the event. And avocado growers credit the game for being one of the major factors in the dramatic increase in demand for the fruit. Avocado consumption in the U.S. has doubled in the last decade from about 22 million pounds per week in 2007 to over 45 million pounds in 2017. The week of the Super Bowl is the best selling time of the year for them, followed by the weeks of Cinco de Mayo and the Fourth of July.
It wasn’t just by accident that the avocado had this great rise in popularity however. Many decades of laborious marketing efforts by California growers through their marketing board know as the California Avocado Commission laid the groundwork for the recent explosion in consumption. As recently as the late 1990’s Americans in most states outside of California, didn’t know what to do with them and, as a result, didn’t have much to do with them. Lack of education and information about how to select them and how they ripened put a huge stumbling block in front of sales for the fruit. People were buying them when they were hard as a rock and trying to eat them unripened. Not a very tasty experience. Avocados are one of the few fruits that don’t ripen until they are picked, which helps farmers with storage and waste. But once into the supply chain the unevenness of the ripening process frustrated retailers and consumers. But the California growers were relentless and from the late 1980’s their merchandising efforts explaining this to consumers and educating produce clerks on the ripening process produced a breakthrough.
That breakthrough coincided with the Super Bowl emerging as a major celebration that appealed to a broad and diverse audience rather than just another football game. Indeed, the halftime show, with its musical megastars featured in a colossal production rivaled by no other performance, is probably watched more than the game, which often turns out to be an anti-climatic, lopsided win for one of the teams. The avocado cashed in on that and now rivals pizza and chicken wings as the most popular foods for parties on that day.
One other major change also contributed to the avocado’s meteoric rise over the past ten years. As a result of the NAFTA trade agreement, Mexico could begin to export the fruit into the U.S. beginning in 1997. However, the states that they could ship to were severely limited for almost a decade after the pact went into effect. Slowly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture allowed successive states to bring them in until finally, in 2007, every state could import them, including California which grows the majority of U.S. raised avocados. Farmers there had fought importation from their southern neighbor for over 80 years prior because of fears of pest invasion. But now the gate was open.
Mexico is by far the world’s largest producer of avocados and, unlike California, they grow them year round. So with the new laws the availability and volume of the fruit was increased multiple times. As a result, Mexico formed its own marketing board called, with perfect clarity, “Avocados from Mexico.” Suddenly, Mexican growers had a major resource to promote to its huge new market to the north. The advertising efforts they used were literally and figuratively a major “game changer,” pun fully intended. In 2015 the board became the first fresh produce item to book an advertisement in the Super Bowl, arguably the most expensive advertising on television. The ad was a huge hit with viewers and Mexico has advertised every year since and will do so again in 2018.
America's growing love with the rich and creamy fruit probably has a lot to do with its nutritional makeup. It has more fat than any other fruit of veggie and makes that guacamole, sandwich or salad so much more satisfying. Yes, it's fat laden, but it is fat that is much better for you than other kinds, especially considering it is also delivering other essential nutrients at the same time. They are rich in Vitamin C & B-6 and provide a lot of lutein, one of those powerful anti-oxidants we often hear about. Lutein is particularly beneficial for improving eye sight and brain health.
Avocados are one of the oldest fruits and have been dated back 10,000 years in Mexico and Peru. Paleontologists believe they were a favorite food of giant sloths that roamed North and South America up until about 13,000 years ago. These huge mammoths could weigh as much as a UPS truck and could pack away an avocado in a single bite. They probably helped spread the trees all across the tropical regions of the western hemisphere as they would eat the whole fruit, including the seed and then expel them later when they were some distance from the original tree. Interestingly, avocado pits won’t usually survive if they fall straight to the ground because the existing tree chokes it out. So scientists believe that the avocado needed the sloths and other large herbivores, not only to spread geographically but to survive. When the sloths and other megafauna like them died out the avocado probably became endangered since there was no longer a good method for seed dispersal. But fortunately humans came along soon after and began to do the work.
Not only did humans keep the avocado from becoming extinct but they improved the quality of the fruit tremendously through breeding. The original avocados probably had very little flesh and were mostly one big seed under their skins. But growers, recognizing the delicious nature of that flesh, found ways to increase the pulp until we had the plump varieties available today.
Perhaps they were improving on a “mistake” of nature? In the 1970’s movie, “Oh, God!” starring George Burns, God appears to a local grocery store worker played by John Denver to commission him to deliver the message that He exists. At one point God admits that he made some mistakes. One of those was creating the ostrich, because it was a “silly looking thing,” but his other error we agree with. God reluctantly admits, “Avocados. I made the pit too big.”
Speaking of avocados in movies, one of our favorite movie scenes featuring them was in the movie “Bottle Shock,” starring the great British actor Alan Rickman. Rickman played a snobbish European wine sommelier who comes to California in the 1970’s to taste the wines because he has heard that some of them are becoming quite good. He seems to resist every part of American and California culture that he encounters and cannot believe anything good could come from there. But in one scene he is sitting outside a beautiful winery overlooking a vineyard when a worker at the farm brings him a bowl of guacamole.
With great skepticism he eyes the green concoction and then reluctantly dips a chip into it and crunches down. His snobbish snarl slowly turns to one of surprise and then to a very pleased smile realizing how good this newfound dish tastes. He sits back satisfied and takes another sip of wine.
In the movie it’s as if the guacamole was his turning point for opening up his mind about California and their wines. The film is based on true events and chronicles the story of the first American wine to win a tasting competition in Europe against French wines. Whether avocados had a role in getting California wines accepted on a global stage or not we do not know. But we bet if the real sommelier did indeed have a chance to taste one on his journey here, his distinguished palate would have declared them one of the most delectable and exquisite foods on the planet.
The avocado did make it to France much earlier than American wines. In fact, the most famous monarch of France, King Louis XIV, loved them and called them, La Bonne Poireor the good pear, not only because of its delicious taste but also because he believed they restored his virility. He wasn’t the first to call the fruit a “pear” since its shape is so similar to that fruit. They were called “alligator pears” in the English speaking world up until the early 20th century. But avocado growers wanted to distinguish them from other fruits because they were so different. For awhile they tried to dub them “butter pears” to highlight their rich and creamy texture. But that didn’t help much, so in time they adopted the Mexican word for them which we use today. But had English speakers known the origin of that name, the change to it probably would have backfired too. It actually comes from an Aztec word meaning “testicle,” and, like the word “pear,” was inspired for use because of its shape. Oh well, what’s in a name, as Shakespeare asked us to consider. There are not many people speaking the language of the Aztecs any more and, fortunately, now the name of our fruit of the week, the avocado, elicits much more beautiful imagery.
We hope you enjoy the big game this weekend. But even if you are not a football fan and have other plans, it is a great time to enjoy some avocados. They are plentiful as ever, even despite some losses in orchards in California from the recent wildfires and high winds. They will most certainly be on sale at your local grocery and farmers markets along with all the fixings for your favorite guacamole recipe.
One hundred million. That’s the enormous number associated with the Super Bowl, America’s yearly ritual with its favorite sport, football. Yes, that is the number of people watching (plus about 20 million more) but it’s also the number of pounds of avocados that the viewers eat during the game (plus about 30 million more). How did this once niche fruit rise to be one of America’s favorite?
AVOCADOS ARE THE REAL REIGNING SUPER BOWL STAR
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Here's our favorite scene in the movie, "Bottle Shock." featuring Alan Rickman as a snobby European wine sommelier who comes to California to taste the wines. He resists everything American, but he can't resist delicious guacamole when he first tries it. Based on a true story about the first American wine to win a European tasting competition. Did avocados help win favor in Europe for California wines?