Tesco avocado spread

Forget Trump’s dodgy tweeting. The biggest news on social media in the US at the moment is the fact Starbucks has discontinued its avocado spread. Made “with fresh, organic Hass avocados, sea salt, onion, garlic, jalapeño pepper and lime juice”, the $95c pots were rolled out across the Starbucks estate in 2017 - just when the world hit peak avocado. And while they divided opinion at the time, with some critics branding them as “expensive guacamole”, Americans are losing their mind that the little pots are no longer on sale.

On this side of the pond, too, avocado spreads have mysteriously disappeared. Tesco, Asda and Waitrose all launched own-label versions in 2016, with Unilever following suit with an avocado & lime version of its Flora Freedom dairy-free spread this May. But little more than six months on, the Flora avo spread has lost its listing in Tesco and Morrisons (though it remains in Sainsbury’s and other retailers), while Tesco and Asda have both discontinued their own-label versions.

At the same time, similar spreads containing coconut oil have also disappeared from shelves.

So what’s going on?

The retailers aren’t exactly forthcoming with an explanation. Tesco hasn’t commented on why it is no longer selling its own label tubs, which it launched with great fanfare as “the UK’s first ever avocado spread” back in May 2016, when it predicted the NPD would tap into the avocado boom by giving shoppers a “new and exciting way to benefit from the excellent health credentials” of the superfruit.

Asda and Starbucks are also dodging the question, stating simply that they continually update and refresh ranges “to ensure that we have the best selection of products available for our customers.”

Surging commodity prices certainly could be one possible explanation for the decision to stop selling these spreads. “There have been some shortages of avocado oil recently, and it is very expensive at the moment,” says one industry source. “And ditto coconut - as demand rises supply is compromised and prices go up.”

This would be particularly true for Starbucks’ spread, for which avocado was very much the prime ingredient. But even Asda and Tesco’s own-label spreads - which contained just over 20% avocado or coconut oil - would have been squeezed by any further price hikes.

“I remember when they launched thinking they were priced ridiculously low given the price of avocado oil as a material, even in relatively low quantities,” says one industry insider.

However, neither supermarket tried raising prices on their tubs, with both instead putting them on promotion for £1 before discontinuing them altogether. Which suggests they were struggling to sell them in the first place, sources agree.

As the insider points out, Asda and Tesco led the way on innovation when they launched their own label avocado and coconut oil spreads. “If you are trying to launch an own brand in a category that is still relatively small by definition, the sales rate is going to be low compared to when there are well-established brands.”

What’s more, the spreads were aimed at health conscious shoppers, but contained very little avocado or coconut oil - and lots rapeseed oil, palm oil and emulsifiers.

“These spreads probably didn’t sell for the same reason flavoured coconut waters don’t sell - because people who want to buy these sorts of products are looking for something pure,” says a supplier of coconut products to UK grocery. “If you were someone who would consider a dairy-free spread - such as a vegan - you would read the label, and if you saw this long list of ingredient you wouldn’t buy it.”

Even more importantly, they were double the price of standard margarine - which is a big stretch for most consumers. Which could explain why Waitrose and M&S are still selling their avocado oil spreads. “Waitrose’s avocado spread might survive because it has a more affluent customer,” says one commentator.

Waitrose did, however, ditch its own-label coconut oil spread and replace it with Vitalite’s version, which is comparable with most other dairy-free margarines at £1.20 for 500g and has picked up listings across the mults, with brand owner Dairy Crest reporting strong sales.

It all goes to show there are limits to how far a ‘superfood’ trend can be pushed. Trendy ingredients can give tired categories a new lease of life, but it’s a tricky balancing act. Value for money is still king, and shoppers won’t buy into something unless they feel they are getting their money’s worth.