Smashing the 'butter fruit': Australia looks to feed China's growing avocado demand

Avocados are gaining in popularity in China, especially within the country's rapidly growing middle class. But as SBS World News Asia correspondent, Katrina Yu, reports, not everyone’s convinced it’s a ‘superfood'.

The popularity of avocados is growing in China.

The popularity of avocados is growing in China. Source: SBS News

Five years ago avocados were virtually unheard of in China, but a rapidly growing middle class has seen demand for foreign avocados skyrocket.

Located between the tall office buildings of Beijing’s CBD sits Chaan, a western-style salad bar catering to the city’s increasingly health-conscious army of white-collar workers.

Zhu Hui, 35, is a regular customer of the fruit.

“I first heard about avocados when watching a foreign online video about their nutrition and beauty benefits," she told SBS News.

"Since everyone has become more conscious of their health, avocados have become more popular."

Chinese vloggers taste avocado for the first time
Chinese vloggers taste avocado for the first time Source: SBS News

Chaan owner Jiao Jun said he was one of the first in Beijing to serve what's known locally as 'butter fruit’, a gamble that paid off.

“At the start, about five years ago, these dishes didn't sell well," he said.

"Customers just weren't familiar. But in the past year more and more people have approached us asking if we serve avocados."

According to United Nations data, China's avocado market is worth almost one billion dollars.

“We’ve seen an almost ten-fold growth every year since 2012,” Clement Mougenot, an analyst from the China-based Daxue Consulting said.

“It’s likely that we’ll continue to see growth."

While Mexico, Chile and Peru dominate China’s imports, Australian avocado farmers are missing out.

“Australia doesn't have access to China for avocados,” Avocados Australia CEO John Tyas said.

“Avocados are prohibited to enter mainland China from Australia. We're obviously really keen to get access.”

This year avocados were prioritised for market access negotiations with the Australian government.

“A small step forward but a really important step,” Mr Tyas said.

John Tyas CEO of Avocados Australia
Avocados Australia CEO John Tyas is hoping Australian farmers will soon be given market access to China next few years. Source: SBS News

Mr Mougenot said more exporters would lower prices, and make the fruit available outside of major cities.

“When you look at the figures there's definitely space for other market players," he said.

"The avocado right now is quite expensive for most Chinese consumers."

While younger generations of Chinese living in China’s first-tier cities have enthusiastically adopted avocados into their diet, many others have not.

At a wet market 15 minutes drive east from Beijing’s CBD, fruit seller Liu Wei said her first attempt to sell a box of avocados was a failure.

“My husband thought we’d try them, but all our customers think they’re too expensive," she said.

"We definitely lost money and won’t try again.”

But that's not the only problem. Avocados are unrecognisable to most many living residents living in less developed areas of China.

“I’ve never seen that fruit before,” Mrs Li, 85, said.

“It looks strange. Is it edible?” Mrs Ren, 69, said

"it doesn't taste like anything! I wouldn't eat this," after being offered a piece of freshly sliced avocado."

Beijing resident Mrs. Ren says avocados are "tasteless"
Beijing resident Mrs. Ren says avocados are "tasteless"after being offered her first taste by SBS Asia Correspondent Katrina Yu Source: SBS News

Hoping to boost the China’s appetite is Australian Cassie Wang.

Her newly-opened Beijing cafe Home Grounds is helping to popularise a brunch favourite from her home city, Sydney.

“Our avocado smash is the most ordered breakfast dish on the menu, and I see a lot of Chinese people ordering it and sharing it with their friends," she said.

"We're one of the few places serving it in Beijing so far, but I'm sure there will soon be many others.”


3 min read
Published 14 September 2017 at 7:32am
By Katrina Yu