Avo think about it: Optimising the avocado supply chain this Avocado Day
Matthew Woodcock, director at software development company, LLamasoft discusses the complexities of the avocado supply chain as we celebrate Avocado Day (31 July)
Of all the various and, let’s admit it, slightly bizarre days of the year, today is arguably the most important of all: Avocado Day! Has there ever been a more treasured fruit (yes, it is a fruit!)? With every year that passes, its stock seems to rise and it finds its way into another weird but wonderful recipe.
Yet, when we mash up an avocado for that Sunday brunch, or throw one into the blender for a #Detox smoothie, do we ever consider how that avocado got there? Well, it’s far more complicated than you might think. Be prepared to have a new appreciation for the avocado.
1. An avo-lanche of demand
Whether you live in London, Paris or Amsterdam, you’ll probably have noticed that demand for avocados is growing all the time. As healthy eating becomes a greater focus for the general population, avocados are being used in almost everything: avocado toast, smoothies, guacamole and even coffee!
But just how much has demand increased? According to the CBI, avocado consumption increased across Europe by 25% in 2018 alone, with import volumes exceeding 600 million tonnes. However, as a continent, our avocado eating habits are underdeveloped compared to the rest of the world. Where average consumption in Europe is 1.05kg per capita, that number jumps to 6.5kg per capita in Mexico!
2. There are many reasons for the demand increase
We could attribute the rise of the avocado to many factors. Perhaps the most notable, though, is the pro-fat movement in the health world – highlighting the health benefits of monounsaturated fat. Its reported health benefits have in turn led to major brands such as Starbucks, Subway, Burger King and more offering avocado additions.
3. The harvesting process is very particular
First, you should know that avocados may mature on the tree – but they will not ripen. This adds many complex issues to the supply chain of an avocado. The amount of time it takes to ripen can vary from days to weeks. This depends on the degree of maturity before they are plucked from the tree, storage temperature and the variety of avocado (there are many varieties, however, Haas avocados are the most prevalent). Additionally, avocado trees need specific amounts of sun and rainfall to produce perfect avocados. There are only a few places that avocados can grow all year long, one of which is Mexico. Climate can have a major impact on supply, which is apparent in California who lost nearly 75 million pounds of avocados due to a heatwave. Keep in mind – harvesting is only one complicated aspect of the supply chain.
4. The avocado requires a cold chain
It may be surprising to find out that avocados require a cold chain to deliver optimal ripeness at the grocery store. Although the avocado is rarely sold in the refrigerated section, they typically prefer a container of 1-degree Celsius while en route (by either land, air, or sea). Additionally, supply chain managers must make sure temperatures are not too cold, or else the avocados will shrink! They must also limit the amount of exposure to sunlight, which could cause the avocados to overripen and rot. From farm to fork, moving avocados requires careful attention to transportation and warehousing to keep customers happy and reduce waste.
5. Unripe avocados? Avo day off!
As if the harvesting and transportation needs weren’t complicated enough, consumers are very particular about the avocados they decide to purchase. We have all been there: we walk up to the display of avocados and test their firmness. They can’t be too hard or too soft. They must be just right! Adding ripening facilities to the supply chain is one way avocado suppliers have combatted this delicate balance. Another is the use of sophisticated decisioning software to build digital twins of the entire supply chain, optimising the many trade-offs in this complex fresh supply chain.
Next time we approach a crate of hard avocados, consider taking one home to ripen in a brown paper bag. You may not have perfect guacamole that night, but you can pay respect to this extremely complicated supply chain!
So, what have we learned from this? Of all the fruits we could have thrust into the mainstream, we’ve picked one of the most demanding of the lot. But you know what they say: when the going gets tough, the tough get going. If you want to provide your customers with the perfect avocado for their toast, or the most delectable of avocado-infused coffees – we’re still wrapping our heads around that one – then the supply chain must also be just right.