Avocados are sold at Tegucigalpa's main fruit and vegetable market El Mayoreo.
Avocados are sold at Tegucigalpa's main fruit and vegetable market El Mayoreo. - 

The U.S. is the biggest importer of Mexican avocadosWe eat about 1.7 billion pounds a year. But Mexico is eyeing an even larger market: Asia.  

Behind 20-foot-doors in a chilly warehouse, hundreds of thousands of avocados are ripening in cardboard boxes. 

“We take the rooms up as far as 72 degrees,” says Luis Galicia. He’s the assistant manager at Mission Produce’s ripening center in Grand Prairie, Texas.

Customers want to sell and use avocados at different stages of softness. So, Galicia explains, the avocados are heated to ripen only a certain amount, and then chilled at about 38 degrees.

The avocado business, he says, is hot. Mexican avocado sales increased by about 30 percent the first half of this yearand that’s not the result of a Chipotle rush or a Super Bowl guacamole bump. Yes, avocados are a popular condiment for sandwiches at Subway and breakfast items at Denny’s, but the real growth is happening in Asia. Japan is already the second largest importer of Mexican avocados. And in the first six months of 2014, Mexico sent nearly $3 million dollars worth of avocados to China.

Eduardo Serena, Marketing Director of the Mexican Avocado Industry, says for the first time, the industry will have marketing campaigns specifically designed for China and Japan.  

Maura Maxwell, Latin America editor for The Market Intelligence Group, says marketers will have their work cut out for them.

“The thing with China is there isn’t an avocado consuming habit,” she says. “People aren’t familiar with the fruit yet.”

Consumers need basic education about when the fruit is ripe—Black on the outside for Hass avocados is a good thing, but Maxwell says many people assume the soft bumpy pear-shaped fruit is rotten.

Right now, Serena says the most popular ways to eat avocados in Japan is with sushi, or fried. 

“In China in particular, they like to use as smoothies as a juice, and also of course in soups,” Serena says. In today’s avocado awakening, there’s no wrong way to eat the fruit.

So go ahead, toss on the Tabasco, limón, or soy sauce.