A California Avocado Hass Taken Over the World
In 1926, a mail carrier and amateur botanist named Rudolph Hass planted three mystery avocado seeds in sawdust-filled apple boxes at his Los Angeles area home. One of the seeds grew into a tree that produced fruit with a thick bumpy skin. Spurred by his children who loved the taste of these avocados, Hass began to sell them to locals before eventually patenting the tree and selling seedlings from it.
This humble tree has millions of descendants. The Hass avocado now makes up 85% of global production. Its thick skin makes it easy to ship and its buttery taste is enjoyed by people the world over. The patent on Hass avocados expired in 1952. The Hass family earned less than $4,000 from Hass avocados over the life of the patent, or about $40,000 in today's dollars.
The original Hass avocado tree finally succumbed to root rot in 2002 at the ripe old age of 76.
Avocados are now grown all over the world, and production is increasing exponentially. Global production has more than doubled since 2000, and it has quintupled since 1980. Mexico is by far the world's largest producer, with a third of global production. The next largest producers are the Dominican Republic, Peru, and Colombia. The US was the 13th largest producer in 2019.
Most avocados consumed in the US are imported, and almost all imports come from Mexico. The growth in imports began in the late 1990s when the US lifted import restrictions. US production has declined somewhat since that time, and the large amount of imports has enabled consumption to soar. The average American now eats over 8 pounds of avocados per year.
California dominates US production, with Florida and Hawaii the only other states reporting production to USDA NASS. Most California acres are in Ventura and San Diego counties.
Prices received by American growers have been higher and more stable since the late 1990s when imports opened up. This change likely reflects increased demand created by year-round availability. The avocado is no longer just a Super Bowl and Cinco de Mayo snack (although the Super Bowl remains the largest week for annual avocado sales).
US avocado acreage has declined by 30% since 2007. Factors driving this decline include import competition from Mexico and suburban pressure. The proximity of avocado orchards in Ventura and San Diego counties to suburban areas raises land prices and makes farming less profitable.
Today is Cinco de Mayo. Nominally a commemoration of the Mexican army's victory in the Battle of Puebla, Cinco de Mayo has evolved into an American celebration of Mexican food and culture. The Hass avocado is a central food ingredient in the celebrations, which seems appropriate given that the avocado is native to the Tehuacán Valley in Puebla Mexico, and the Hass variety was developed in California.
I generated the figures in this article using this R code.