TOKYO — Japan’s imports of California avocados have skyrocketed during the past three years, riding the growing popularity of the fruit among consumers.
U.S. avocados are riding a rising consumption trend here and benefiting from a decrease in Mexican exports, said Yutaka Ota, the Japan Fresh Produce Import and Safety Association’s secretary general.
“The main reason (for the overall import surge) is health” benefits consumers feel they get from eating avocados, Ota said.
Ota said restaurants and the food service industry are now widely using avocados. The fruit is used as a pizza topping and widely appears on menus in family restaurants.
“People remember its taste and buy it at supermarkets,” Ota said.
Overall avocado imports rose 58 percent from 37,173 metric tons in 2011 to 58,555 tons the following year. Imports increased 3 percent to 60,458 tons last year, Japan Ministry of Finance figures show.
Imports from California increased from 1,562 tons in 2011 to 4,744 tons in 2012. They rose almost 26 percent last year, to 5,957 tons.
In value, California avocado imports increased from $7.7 million in 2011 to $17.9 million last year.
Most avocados imported to Japan are from Mexico, with imports from other countries, including the U.S., being complementary to the Mexican product, Ota said.
“So mainly, depending on how much volume will come in from Mexico, product from other countries will come in,” Ota said.
Mexican avocado volumes did follow the rising import trend, from 32,633 tons in 2011 to 52,922 tons last year.
The Mexican product’s market share ranged from 87 to nearly 90 percent.
U.S. avocados’ market share increased from 4.2 percent in 2011 to 9.85 percent last year.
Ota said his organization considers avocados a product with a lot of potential. “We think its import will continue to rise,” he said.