Bored & Confused: Why is avocado so popular?

“Millennial: your generation got houses and jobs

Boomer: yes but we lived with constant fear of nuclear winter

Millennial: hold my avocado” — Twitter user @kennethn

Ken Norton’s tweet may be the ultimate embodiment of the millennial generation: one fraught with worries about future employment and stability, yet comforted by the promise of a rich, creamy avocado to quell its fears. Americans eat a whopping 80 million pounds of avocados on Super Bowl Sunday, and the average American eats five pounds of avocados a year, surpassing the apple. While it’s a no-brainer that avocados are delicious, one can still ask: why are avocados so popular?

The avocado’s popularity is, in fact, the result of tireless, decades-long work by avocado organization California Avocado Growers’ Exchange and public relations firm Hill & Knowlton. In the beginning of the 20th century, the avocado had a pretty bad rep. This probably had a lot to do with its former name: the “alligator pear.” The rough, dark green skin of the avocado did slightly resemble an alligator, but many were not keen on eating a fruit that reminded them of a swamp creature. “Alligator pear” was such a distasteful name that the California Avocado Growers’ Exchange accused it of causing the fruit’s devastatingly low sales. Thus, they advocated for a name change to “avocado,” suggesting a sort of exotic opulence to U.S. consumers. And while the name change was ultimately achieved, the public still felt unsure on how or why they should eat such a foreign, unfamiliar fruit. Enter Hill & Knowlton.

Hill & Knowlton had a seemingly impossible challenge: to spread the joy of avocados to the then unbeknownst masses. The PR company first attempted to market the fruit as fun and relatable. So, naturally, they gave the avocado a mascot: Mr. Ripe Guy. Mr. Ripe Guy was a pretty cool dude, traveling in an avocado-colored car and bringing avocados (his favorite fruit, of course) wherever he went. He soon even had a female counterpart: Ms. Ripe. This piqued the interest of the American public, eager for another fun mascot and role model to join the iconic likes of McDonald’s Ronald McDonald and KFC’s Colonel Sanders.

Hill & Knowlton’s quest for avocado victory culminated in the Super Bowl, or more appropriately, the “Guacamole Bowl.” In 1992, the PR company presented guacamole samples to Super Bowl audiences and enlisted NFL players to publish their favorite avocado or guacamole recipes, reaching out to the vast American public. Its “Guacomole Bowl” tactics were a success. Soon after, the economic value of the avocado skyrocketed 70 percent from 1988 to 2000, declaring the avocado, Hill & Knowlton and the California Avocado Growers’ Exchange the true winners of the Super Bowl. Since then, avocados have become a staple in many millennials’ as well as many U.S. families’ diets.

So, next time you eat an avocado, stop and think about the unlikely, long-fought victory of the “alligator pear.” And then eat the avocado because it’s delicious.