The Story About the Avocado

by: Isabella Dang

Most Exciting Rotation Ever

One of my most exciting rotations was spending two weeks at a food and nutrition public relations (PR) company (FoodMinds) in Washington, D.C. It was neat to learn about food and nutrition through the PR lens as it dealt more with behavioral science, food policy, business, customer service and a healthy dose of registered dietitian (RD) expertise. The opportunities to engage in research and development was enriching and I came across an interesting story that drove me to think deeply about… avocados. Yes, avocados. California’s state fruit!

Avocados are everywhere these days — in smoothies and salads, plus on toast and trendy t-shirts. The “guac is 50 cents extra” avocado craze is not a new thing, but it wasn’t always like this. Food and nutrition PR is what made the avocado what it is today.

Alligator Pear

Sound appetizing?

“Alligator pear” was the original name of the avocado. The name reflects the fruits natural unripe appearance– green, scaly, bumpy, and pear shape physique. Yup, that name makes sense, but it definitely did not sit well with the public. The unappealing name as well as confusion on how to incorporate the fruit further plateaued the fruit’s sales. In 1951, the California Avocado Association addressed the PR issue and changed the “alligator pear” to what we now know as the “avocado.”

Avocado Now

Changing the fruit’s name to avocado wasn’t the end all be all of its claim to fame. The avocado went through some rough patches, especially with emerging “low fat” fad diets in the 80s. Society was not at the point of understanding that there were such things as “good” and “bad” fats. A PR agency began to dive into nutrition research and found that the avocado was a source of good fat. What really helped drive avocado consumption was its marketing and PR around the Super Bowl. Guacamole companies passed out samples of the mashed up fruit and the rest is history.

Power of marketing

During my time at FoodMinds, I had the opportunity to work on international projects like creating a nutritional analysis of competitors for a large food and beverage corporation. My project work required me to consider their target audience and the country’s food landscape. My work included analyzing dietary guidelines, navigating through international websites, and translating food science into layman’s terms. Similarly, the avocado story required insight from multiple experts and multiple translations/ variations– passing through farming language, nutrition science, cultural competence, marketing. PR etc. Words are powerful and they can drive ideas into tangible results! If words alone are able to change the profile of the avocado, imagine their effect on public health at large. The combination of nutrition science, RD expertise, marketing, and PR strategies has powerful leverage in our food system. This intersection of skills helped me see the importance of RDs in the PR and marketing industry.

An eight-day rotation is not a whole lot of time, but I would advise any incoming intern to make the best use of the time they have. Some advice:

  1. Introduce yourself to as many people as you can.
  2. Make it a goal to leave each person you interact with some fact about yourself.
  3. Ask questions!
  4. Practice gratitude and appreciation to everyone around you.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at FoodMinds and I learned that combining marketing with the expert knowledge of an RD can hopefully drive behaviors towards healthier options. This is innovative preventative care and it was exciting to be at the center of this intersection, especially in DC!

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