Farmers around the globe are struggling to keep up with an increasing global appetite for fats that are perceived as healthy, leading to long-term disruptions in food prices.
From Mexico to Norway to New Zealand, avocado growers, fish farmers and butter producers are struggling to increase output so they can meet their demands.
The average prices of avocados, butter, olive oil and salmon have climbed as much as 60% since 2013, after stripping out of the season and the effects of unusual weather events, according to various sources. Over the same period, prices of corn, soybeans, sugar and wheat do not change significantly.
These changes in fortune reflect the broad dietary shifts of recent years. Many people have switched to eating more foods that are high in natural high-carbohydrate fats, low-fat diets. And government agencies and nutritionists are recommending that people avoid consuming industrial-made fats and margarines and eat more fish, nuts and healthier oils.
Stephan Hubertus Gay, a senior agricultural policy analyst at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, said consumers are eating products that contain fat again. But he said "we were so surprised that it came so fast," referring to the sharp increase in demand.
So-called healthy fats include Omega 3 fatty acids-found in abundance in oily fish-can help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart problems, according to the American Heart Association. Nuts, avocado and olive oil are rich in monounsaturated fat, which are associated with lowering bad cholesterol levels. Consumer demand is also increasing for other types of dairy products.
Historically, demand for these types of foods driven by western countries. But now, consumers in China and other Asian countries are eating more fat-rich foods as incomes rise and tastes evolve.
Juan Carlos Parra started in Mexico from his home state of Michoacan, Mexico, about three years ago and has seen a surge in demand. Imports of the fruit by the world's second-largest economy in the world.
Mr. Parra, who owns a firm called Shanghai Viocar Import and Export Co., said that it is much cheaper to buy China. Mexico has ramped up production but the majority of its avocados are bought by the US, where demand has also increased significantly.
Up in California more than two centuries ago, olive oil production, driven by rising consumption. Since 2012, prices for olive oil from Italy-one of the world's largest producers-to nearly doubled, according to market data firm Mintec Ltd.
Max Whittaker for The Wall Street Journal
Orchard workers and farmers at the California Olive Ranch have over three years of planted or acquired 3,200 acres of olive trees in five counties, bringing their total acreage to 11,000 acres.
"Olive oil is having a bit of a rebirth," said Gregg Kelley, chief executive of the Chico, Calif.-based olive oil producer. One of the challenges for the industry, he said, which is "finicky" and can only grow under a certain set of conditions. In addition, droughts in recent years have caused problems for producers in the state.
Like olives, commercial production of avocados and almonds also takes place because of the growth of these trees.
In many parts of the world, people are also paying more for dairy products. Butter from New Zealand, the world's biggest export of the product, last year it was known in Europe a higher fat content than American butter.
Butter consumption world-wide rose 13% in the five years to 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. China, South Korea and Japan have all raised their butter imports.
Farmers in New Zealand and Europe have increased the amount of milk they produce since 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But because butter production leaves behind a lot of skim milk-for-low-returns have been less attractive. Environmentalists and government officials in New Zealand have also raised concerns about the impact of dairy farming on the country's waterways.
Demand for some types of butter has been "going through the roof," said Grant Watson, director of global foodservice at
Fonterra Co-operative Group
, the world's largest exporter of dairy products. That has led to what he called "a structural reset in butter pricing."
Max Whittaker for The Wall Street Journal
Environmental issues are also holding back the expansion of salmon farming, from Europe to South America.
From 1998 to 2008, global salmon production grew at an average of 7.7% a year. In the past decade, Kontali Analyze AS, even though consumption of the fish is rising about 4.5% annually, Rabobank says. As a result, salmon prices have doubled since 2012.
Production has been limited by farming difficulties and more stringent regulations on salmon fisheries. Crowded conditions have some parasitic effects, which may occur in high-density populations. Governments in Norway and Scotland
"We have had some biological challenges," said Ola Helge Hjetland, spokesperson for MOWI ASA in Norway, which produces a fifth of the world's salmon farms. The company has been working to reduce sea lice numbers.
Salmon need very clean water with the right amount of oxygen and a specific climate, which limits where they can be grown. The company, he added, is investing in technologies that would enable farms to be set up in the sea, but that could be taken to fruition.
Write to Lucy Craymer at [email protected]