How the Super Bowl saved the avocado
Avocados started out life with a very unappetizing name. But thanks to some clever marketing and Super Bowl Sunday, the seeded fruit found rebirth.
Game time guacamole
In the '90s, the nature of Super Bowl Sunday changed.
It became less about football fanaticism and more about getting together for a party — and consuming beer and chips. Avocado growers wanted in on the Super Bowl frenzy.
So a PR company devised the idea of a "Guacamole Bowl" by soliciting chip dip recipes from NFL players and their families. Avocados are the main ingredient in guacamole. Hundreds of free avocado and guacamole samples were given out to sports reporters leading up to Super Bowl day.
It was a huge success. Marketing had moved guacamole from the food pages to the sports pages. Sales shot up. Between 1988 and the year 2000 alone, the value of avocados spiked by nearly 70 per cent.
From that time forward, guacamole became a Super Bowl ritual.
Over 105 million pounds of avocados are now consumed on Super Bowl Sunday, making it the biggest avocado day of the year.
What you may not know, is that the avocado spent most of its existence under different name: the aguacate fruit.
The aguacate fruit has been part of Central and South America since at least 500 B.C. Over time, people started referring to it as an "alligator pear" — likely due to its green, leathery skin. But this posed a big marketing problem.
The association with a swamp-dwelling man-eating reptile wasn't exactly appetizing.
The fruit was actually good to eat, so it wasn't a product problem. It was a marketing problem.
A group of growers got together in 1915 to try and solve this marketing issue. Collectively, they decided to change the name of the fruit from alligator pears to avocados.
The new name sounded exotic and appetizing.
The growers — now re-named the California Avocado Association — positioned avocados as a luxury food in the 1920s. One print ad from that era showed a sliced avocado on an expensive piece of china with the headline: "The aristocrat of salad fruit."
However, just selling avocados to the wealthy was a niche play. Avocado growers needed to cultivate a much larger market to generate bigger revenues.
But avocados were never an easy sell. They weren't sweet. They had a green, leathery skin. They tasted best when they turned a dull brown. They didn't cook well.
Various avocado marketing campaigns maintained moderate sales in the produce aisles during the '50s, '60s and '70s. Yet avocados still puzzled people.
Eventually, a PR firm was hired to make avocados an "everyday item for shoppers." That's when the guacamole Super Bowl ritual was born.
Guacamole's Super Bowl success has led to a broader consumption of avocados as an everyday food ingredient.
Today, avocados are not only used in guacamole, but in smoothies, sandwiches, salads, pastas, popsicles, desserts and even on toast.
From alligator pears to avocados — what a difference a name makes.
For these stories and more from Under The Influence, click or tap on the "Listen" tab to hear the full episode.
You can also find us on the CBC Radio app or subscribe to our Podcast.
Under The Influence is recorded in the Terstream Mobile Recording studio - a 1969 Airstream trailer that's been restored and transformed into a studio on wheels. So host Terry O'Reilly can record the show wherever he goes.