Guacamole: technology makes way for explosion in processed products

February 10, 2016

The California Avocado Commission began promoting guacamole for its potential as a Super Bowl and Cinco de Mayo staple decades ago, with some success.

Today, the popularity of processed fresh guacamole is skyrocketing. It’s as ubiquitous — and American — as cheese dip and hot dogs at tailgates and Super Bowl parties.

“The growth in avocados as a category is off the charts,” said Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the commission. “The growth in processed guacamole has helped to support increased consumption of the overall category.”

HPP3
“HPP is a way to extend shelf life naturally with cold pressure,” Jaime Nicolas, director of Hiperbaric, said.

She cites a 2013 press release from Wholly Guacamole, a leading manufacturer of fresh processed guacamole products. The release stated that AC Nielsen data the previous year showed avocado volume sales had increased by 34 percent, while the refrigerated guacamole category as a whole was seeing year-to-year growth of 9.4 percent.

Why such a jump in consumption of avocados as well as sales of ready-to-eat guac and fresh and frozen avocado pulp and pieces? Three little words: High Pressure Processing (HPP).

As Jaime Nicolas tells it, HPP is a relatively young process for preserving foods naturally.

“Traditionally, foods have been processed with thermal pasteurization or preservatives,” said Nicolas, director of Hiperbaric, a Spanish company with U.S. headquarters in Miami that has been designing, manufacturing and servicing HPP equipment for 15 years. “HPP is a way to extend shelf life naturally with cold pressure.

“What we do is we generate 87,000 psis of pressure inside an HPP chamber and hold it there for three minutes. That pressure kills the bacteria, basically, but because it’s cold, it doesn’t affect the nutritional value, taste or texture. It’s as if you took the product in the package and dropped it into the sea 40 miles — that’s the pressure we place on it.”

HPP works with any type of perishable foods, Nicolas said.

“We have many different applications, but most of them are sliced deli meats, salsa, guacamole, wet salads, juices, ready-to-eat meals, milk, dairy,” Nicolas said. “They still need to be refrigerated because we don’t kill spores, but they don’t have to be frozen.”

HPP has been especially key to opening the way for processed avocado products, though, starting with Don Bowden, founder of Wholly Guacamole. He’s no longer with the company, which is now a brand of MegaMex Foods. One of the largest manufacturers of pre-prepared Mexican food across the U.S., MegaMex is a joint venture between Hormel Foods and Herdez del Fuerte.

According to the Wholly Guacamole website, Bowden was a restaurant owner in search of a premade guacamole to serve in his establishments.

But as anyone who’s ever made guacamole knows, avocados start to brown as soon as you cut into them.

“They started experimenting on lab machines and rudimentary HPP machines,” Nicolas said. “At that time, it wasn’t really feasible because machines were very slow and small.

“That’s where we came in and designed bigger, faster machines and made the technology affordable for the industry. It meant the world for them because they went from a product that usually had three or four days’ shelf life to being able to offer 60 days’ shelf life of a fresh, refrigerated product without preservatives.”

Today, Wholly Guacamole sells seven distinct ready-to-eat, flavored products that come in sizes ranging from 8- and 10-oz. trays to low-cal snack minis. The company also sells fresh unadulterated chunky avocado “so consumers don’t have to struggle with wondering which is ripe and how to prepare (it),” Terrill Bacon, Wholly Guacamole’s senior brand manager, said.

“Wholly Guacamole also partners with foodservice to tailor products to fit their needs,” Bacon said.

It uses hand-scooped Hass avocados from Mexico in production. Some of the other major processors include Simplot and Calavo, said Carl Stucky, an agriculture and farm management consultant and secretary-treasurer of the California Avocado Society Board of Directors.

“Most of the processed avocados are from Mexico,” said Kevin Ball, president of the California Avocado Society. “Growers here aren’t seeing direct gains from guacamole.”

U.S. avocado growers do reap one benefit from the processing explosion, though, Ball notes.

“It takes about two pounds of fresh avocados to make one pound of guacamole,” Ball said. “This removes some Mexican avocados from the fresh market.”

Processors are mainly producing pulp and guacamole, Nicolas said.

“We have customers in Mexico, Chile, Peru, Spain — even California,” Nicolas said. “They grow avocados, they mix the pulp, and generate the pulp, then bag it, then HPP it.

“Some of them, what they do is freeze it to ship it frozen all over the world, and distribute it refrigerated, which is what gives them the edge. Before that, they’d have to sell it frozen or have three or four days to sell it refrigerated.”

Increased supply has made avocados and processed guacamole accessible to consumers year round, DeLyser said.

“Marketing has helped to increase demand and pull the supply through the distribution channels,” she said. “Dissemination of the good nutrition news about avocados has been a contributing factor, as have the myriad chefs, restaurants, bloggers and other key influencers who advocate the versatility of avocados.”

And it’s not going to end anytime soon. “The continued trend in more prepackaged guacamole products entering the market, as well as Wholly Guacamole fans’ willingness to try and continue to purchase new Wholly Guacamole flavors, points to continued growth of avocados in the U.S,” Bacon said.

—  Kathy Gibbons, contributing writer