On the avocado craze sweeping China’s burgeoning middle-class
“I’ll take the avocado lover with an avocado chicken burger please” … I don’t know why I ordered this. I was feeling adventurous, but now I’m faced with a bright green smoothie and something that I think was supposed to resemble a burger, but instead looks like a baby nappy explosion squished between two pieces of floppy bread. The hostel staff told me these were the most popular items on the menu (for Chinese visitors), and they thought it bizarre the majority of Westerners are keen to try Chinese food, rather than their adventurous avocado dishes.
Left: the avocado menu at my hostel in Kunming. Right: a special avocado fruit juice menu outside my former apartment in Shanghai.
Avocado consumption and a middle-class lifestyle are seemingly synonymous in China (and indeed around the world) – whether for the creamy taste, to lose weight, or for an ego-boosting social media post. Social media influencers both within and beyond China’s Internet firewall, including fitness trainers and TV celebrities, smatter their Instagram accounts with avocado-containing meals, shakes and snacks. The association with Western lifestyles has also accumulated interest. The fashion world has snobbishly declared itself “overcado” – these days avocado is so ubiquitous, even McDonalds has it on the menu.
The world for an avocado in Chinese is 牛油果 niu you guo, which literally translates as milk oil fruit … yet amongst China’s affluent middle-class, it is more fondly nicknamed as an “alligator pear” or “butter fruit”. According to the GlobalTimes, the importation of avocados, dubbed “green gold” due to their extortionate price of 50RMB per fruit upon entering China’s first-tier cities, reached 32,100 tons in 2017. Last year, it reached 43,000 tons in 2018.
An alleged “superfood”, for every 100g avocados contain 0.3% sugar, 8% carbohydrates and 15% fat – yielding a similar fatty acids ratio to olive oil. Due to their high potassium concentration (507 mg per 100g), which helps to lower blood pressure and maintain metabolism, avocados are said to therefore facilitate weight-loss – a major consideration for China’s health-conscious middle-class. By 2020, it is estimated China’s middle-class will swell to 630 million. Over-priced gyms, personal trainer sessions and yoga retreats are ubiquitous in China’s first-tier cities.
Aside from their proclaimed superior health benefits, many attribute the sole reason for the proliferation of avocados to crafty marketing, and as a status-enhancer. Chinese netizens have mockingly jeered “few foods can contain such a wealth of information as avocado, from a simple food to a fashion item, even a symbol of life” … When decadent photos featuring avocados appear on social network, the caption may be …
First, I am eating very well, and avocado is really super delicious;
Then, I am a person who is very healthy and fit;
Finally, I am super (and) ~ have ~ money ~
On a blog post entitled “How to eat avocado”, over 800,000 views and countless avocado recipes have accumulated in what some might interpret as a modern, materialist branch of religious devotion. Other blogs provide in-depth information on the perks of avocados, from preventing the onset of ageing, to when to determine prime ripeness.
However, when avocados were first introduced to China just 4 or so years ago, ignorance of how to consume them limited their immediate uptake, especially in second and third-tier cities. Huxiu media recounts a department store in Harbin that was able to sell 50 boxes of avocado following a successful promotional display by a Mexican girl, demonstrating how to prepare and eat avocados.
As China’s middle (and indeed upper) class come into new money, their health is becoming a major priority in the hope of preserving and passing down their new-found-wealth for future generations. So long as avocado’s remain affiliated with status, health and money, demand for these little milk oil fruits is likely to remain consistent.
This 66hands story was largely adapted from an article I wrote as a summer intern with Week In China, entitled “Green gold: Avocado imports hit 43,000 tonnes last year”
*No copyright infringement is intended