Everything You Avo Wanted to Know About Avocados

DataRes at UCLA
11 min readMar 29, 2021

By Team Green Tea: Tara Jaigopal (Project Lead), Aarushi Gupta, Amy Tang, Emily Ng, and Tiffany Feng

Thumbnail Credit: delicious.com.au

Introduction

Hailed in recent years as a trendy superfood, avocados have soared in popularity faster than you can say “holy guacamole!” They are as prized for their nutritious value as their delicious taste and versatility. Not to mention they come with possibly more health benefits than ways to prepare them! Loaded with a healthy monounsaturated fat called oleic acid — which has been shown to reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, and protect against cancer — avocados are truly nature’s gift to humanity.

Although there are over a thousand varieties of avocados, most of which are grown outside the U.S., the vast majority we consume are Hass avocados. Hass avocados turn a beautiful deep green-black shade when they ripen, opening up to a big round pit, creamy green flesh, and over 20 essential vitamins and minerals crammed into a pear-shaped package. Hass avocados even have an official organization, the Hass Avocado Board (HAB), dedicated to funding scientific research on the health and nutrition benefits of avocado consumption.

HAB’s mission is to provide growers, health professionals, and the public — from tentative buyers to regular consumers to ardent avocado lovers — with “trusted and unbiased avocado volume data, projections, and market insights to make avocados the most popular and desired fruit in America.” We sought to use data collected from HAB to explore and explain trends in avocado prices & consumption. We also attempted to draw links between avocado consumption and the health and demographics of a population by supplementing our analysis with data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).

We began by asking the following guiding questions:

  • What are recent trends in avocado prices and consumption? How does this differ by region?
  • What do these trends tell us about people’s health? Does increased avocado consumption correlate with a healthier population?
  • What are the links between avocado consumption and demographic data such as age, socioeconomic status, etc.?

The Dataset

Before we could begin our analysis, we had to clean and collate our primary dataset, which was sourced from the Hass Avocado Board. Some of the key variables included in the dataset are:

Date—the date of the observationAveragePrice—the average price of a single avocadotype—conventional or organicRegion—the city or region of the observation• Total Volume—total number of avocados sold

We found a cleaned version of the dataset on Kaggle; however, it only contained data from January 2015 through March 2018. Since we had more recent data through November 2020 on the HAB website, we combined the two datasets. This allowed us to draw insights about avocado prices and purchases over a larger time frame.

A curious feature of the dataset was how different regions were grouped. While the dataset contained observations specific to certain U.S cities (e.g. Los Angeles, New York, Portland, etc.), it also provided data aggregated by regional divisions described below:

  • California
  • The West, which includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico
  • The Plains, which includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri
  • The Great Lakes, which includes Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio
  • The South Central, which includes Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana
  • The Southeast, which includes Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina
  • The Midsouth, which includes Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, and Washington D.C., and finally
  • The Northeast, which includes Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey

These divisions are presumably due to similarities in demographics and access to avocados.

However, since the data sourced from the Census Bureau and Kaiser Family Foundation provided figures related to health and demographics for each U.S. state rather than for each region, we transformed the data by using population-weighted aggregation to arrive at figures for each region. This enabled us to draw links between avocado consumption and the health and demographics of the population of each region.

Having readied our datasets, we delved into our analysis.

When and Where are Avocados Cheapest?

Being fierce devotees of the avocado, we’re always on the lookout for a bargain and were desperate to find out when and where we could get the best deals on avocados. To answer this pressing question, we created an interactive Tableau dashboard that charted the price fluctuations from 2015 to 2020 across the US regions previously listed. We’ve included a .gif of our visualizations below, but we highly recommend trying out the interactive dashboard to gain a better understanding of how avocado prices were changing during this time.

In the “Map of Avocado Prices” included above, lower average prices are denoted with lighter shades of green, and higher average prices are denoted with darker shades of green.

We immediately notice that, on average, the South Central region seems to be the region with the cheapest avocados regardless of the year. Meanwhile, the Northeast and California seem, on average, to be the most expensive regions to buy avocados (which, as UCLA students, was not what we wanted to hear!). Avocado prices also seemed to have risen sharply across the nation in 2017 but fell again and stabilized at a lower price by 2018, as seen in the moving time series chart in the bottom right corner.

Based on annual averages, avocados were at their most expensive in the Northeast in 2017 at a whopping $1.69 per unit. Avocados were at their lowest in the South Central region in 2020 at $1.04 per unit.

We also wanted to investigate the monthly fluctuations in avocado prices across the years, and thus included the following time series chart in the dashboard:

Looking at the “Avocado Prices — Monthly” line graph, avocado prices hit their lowest point at the end of 2020, with an average price across all regions of $1.14 per avocado. Avocado prices were highest in September of 2017 when the average price was $1.89 per avocado across the U.S.

This sharp increase in price in 2017 was due to a 44% fall in avocado growth in California, which produces almost 90% of the US’s crop. This increased demand for avocados imported from Mexico, thus driving the price upward. Luckily, due to better weather conditions, the output improved in the following years and avocado prices once again reduced.

Overall though, it is evident that avocado prices are lowest in February. In truth, this has little to do with the highs and lows of the harvest season. Instead, this behavior can be traced back to a cornerstone of American culture: the Super Bowl, which is played on the first Sunday of February every year. On this day, Americans are expected to consume over 48,000 metric tons of avocado in the form of guacamole. To drive even more consumption, supermarkets often offer avocados at a sharp discount at this time of year, which explains the graph’s behavior.

We also attempted to predict avocado prices in 2021 by using Tableau’s forecast feature, which selects the highest quality forecast of up to eight exponential smoothing models. You can click on this link to view and interact with the visualization on Tableau.

The prediction suggests seasonality will play a key role in avocado prices: as usual, avocados will be cheapest in February, and prices will peak in the fall. The forecast also indicates that, on the whole, the downward trend of avocado prices will continue — which bodes well for all avocado lovers. (We can only hope this trend extends to California!)

Note that the shaded region in the graph above indicates the 95% confidence interval of the forecast.

How Do Avocado Prices Affect Volume?

Naturally, our next step was to observe the links between avocado prices and purchases. We prepared the following lollipop chart using the plotly package for R to analyze how changes in avocado prices affected consumer behavior.

The visualization above depicts the percent change in the price (dark green) and the volume of avocados purchased (light green) across each region between 2015 and 2020. Immediately, we noticed that the volume of avocados increased across all regions. This change was highest in the Southeast and, interestingly enough, smallest in California — a state where the avocado is not simply a fruit (or vegetable), but a symbol.

Upon further examination, we saw that only California and the West saw an increase in price; all other regions saw a reduction. We deduced that this price hike was probably why California and the West saw a relatively reduced jump in the volume of avocados purchased. Furthermore, California consumes more avocados annually than any other state in the US (notably, almost half of that consumption is driven by LA), so it possible that the state simply didn’t have the potential for growth that other regions did.

Ultimately, one thing is clear: regardless of price fluctuations, the avocado craze isn’t going away anytime soon.

Types of Avocados: An Organic Obsession

Based on how they are grown, Hass avocados can be categorized as either conventional or organic. The donut charts below depict the total proportion of both types of avocado purchased between 2015 and 2020 in each region. You can hover over the graph to reveal specific figures.

The volume of conventional avocados purchased dwarfs that of organic avocados, which form only 3.24% of all avocado purchases between 2015 and 2020. The South Central region consumes the smallest proportion of organic avocados at 1.96%. Furthermore, even in the Great Lakes region, where the ratio of organic avocados consumed is highest, this figure does not cross 5%.

This stark disparity can be traced back to the classical economic interaction between price and quantity. The line graph below tracks the average unit price of organic and conventional avocados between 2015 and 2020 across the country (note that organic price data is unavailable for July 2015).

As expected, organic avocados are more expensive than conventional avocados due to the higher costs of growing and harvesting organic produce. The only exception to this trend was observed in 2017. As we mentioned previously, a fall in avocado growth during this time drove the price of imported avocados up — to the extent that organic avocados became the more pocket-friendly option.

On average, an organic avocado costs $0.46 more than a conventional avocado. With increased consumption of avocados, this difference is bound to add up. Ultimately, despite the growing obsession with eating organic, conventional avocados are still preferred by the average consumer.

Still, we found the organic fad hard to ignore. The organic market is the fastest-growing sector of the American food industry and grows by double digits every year. We deduced which regions formed the largest markets for organic avocados based on absolute volume and tracked their growth over the past five years using the interactive bar chart below:

The graph confirms our hypothesis about the staggering increase in the volume of organic avocados purchased. Los Angeles and New York led the pack in terms of absolute volume, with their markets growing by about 253% and 479%, respectively. We see a similar trend in other cities and metropolitan areas, where consumers tend to be more environmentally conscious and affluent.

That being said, we don’t necessarily believe that organic avocados are the superior choice. According to the Environmental Working Group’s 2017 Shoppers’ Guide to Pesticides in Produce, pesticides were detected in only 1% of avocado samples tested — which means that even the most environmentally conscious buyers don’t need to consume solely organic avocados. So, you don’t have to shy away from some (conventional) avocado toast — both your stomach and your wallet will thank you for it.

Do Healthier People Eat More Avocados?

As we previously mentioned, the health benefits provided by avocados are crucial to their enduring popularity. We wanted to investigate whether populations that consumed more avocados were, in fact, healthier than those who consumed fewer avocados.

One measure of health is body mass index, or BMI, which can be used to classify individuals as normal weight, underweight, overweight, or obese. We created a bar graph describing the distribution of the population of different regions based on BMI level and ordered it by income, and then overlaid a line graph depicting the average avocado consumption of that region.

Interestingly, as the regions’ median income increases, there is a slight increase in the proportion of the population with a ‘normal’ BMI, which could imply that higher income leads to improved access to healthy foods.

However, there is no direct correlation with avocado consumption. The Plains, Midsouth, and Northeast purchased relatively fewer avocados, while purchases were high in South Central, California, and the West. Ultimately, avocado purchases may have a stronger correlation with a region’s proximity to avocados rather than the health of the population.

Avocados and Millenials: A Love Story

Another trend we wanted to investigate was the obsession millennials (and generally younger consumers) have with avocados. This obsession has certainly been a bone of contention, to the point that in 2017, an Australian millionaire blamed excessive consumption of avocado toast as the driving force behind reduced homeownership.

We devised the following scatterplot, which shows the per capita consumption of avocados in various cities across the US and residents’ median age in those cities.

We observed that there is no trend between age and consumption. Portland, OR, which has a high median age of over 38 years, has one of the highest rates of avocados purchased per capita; meanwhile, Jacksonville, FL, with a median age of almost 30 years, has a much lower rate.

According to a HuffPost survey, older Americans were more likely to affirm their love for avocados than younger Americans, although the majority of both age groups enjoyed the fruit. Evidently, it’s not just millennials — everyone loves avocados!

Conclusion

So what can avocado prices and consumption tell us about our society as a whole? Avocados have undoubtedly risen in popularity — the volume of avocados purchased increased across all regions between 2015 and 2020, with the largest increase in the Southeast and the smallest in California. Interestingly, only California and the West saw an increase in price, which may be why both regions saw a relatively meager change in volume. Regardless of year, the South Central region consistently has the cheapest avocados (time to book your flights!), while the West seems to be, on average, the most expensive region to buy avocados (what a bummer!). We also observe that while there is significant growth in the organic avocado market, most people still prefer conventional avocados.

But what does this information tell us about the people in the regions who consume a lot of avocados? Do people who consume more avocados tend to be healthier? The answer, unfortunately, is not really. While the Plains and Midsouth purchased comparatively fewer avocados, their BMI levels did not substantially differ from those of the South Central, California, and West, where avocado purchases were much higher. Is it true that younger generations are more obsessed with avocados? Again, we debunked this myth — avocados are not just a millennial fad. Everyone wants a piece of the avocado craze!

In future studies, it may be helpful to analyze other correlations between avocado consumption and prices and various socioeconomic and demographic data. It is quite possible that using a state-wise breakdown of avocado market data could lead to even more robust insights regarding market growth and price fluctuations. Alternatively, future studies could dive much deeper into relationships between avocado consumption or prices and measures of health, including life expectancy, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure.

For now, here are some of our favorite avocado recipes for you to enjoy: Avocado, Sweet Potato, and Black Bean Tostadas, Shakshuka with Avocados, Corn, Cucumber, Peach & Avocado Salad, and Herby Avocado Hummus.

If you’re interested in learning more about our data cleaning, analysis, and visualization processes, check out our Github repository here.

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