American restaurants have scrambled in recent weeks to find enough avocados to meet customer demand, as supply shortages have sent prices soaring skyward.
Since the United States lifted a trade ban on Mexican avocados nearly two decades ago, popularity of the fatty fruit has grown dramatically, and Mexican growers have met that rising demand over time. But they have withheld the product in recent weeks amid negotiations for greater pay, pushing wholesale prices as high as four times their normal rates in some regions, as The San Francisco Chronicle reported.
"Right now, it's one of two countries supplying the world with avocados," said Dimitri Vardakastanis, who co-owns three grocery stores in the San Francisco area, where non-organic avocados have been selling for nearly $2 apiece.
As the Californian growing season tapers to an end each fall, the Mexican suppliers typically increase production to meet demand. Not so this year. In the final weeks of American production, imports from Mexico have dropped precipitously as well, according to the Hass Avocado Board, which reports weekly volumes by region.
The board reported a total volume of 12.1 million pounds, counting all regions of origin, the week of Oct. 16. That's down from 17.9 million pounds reported the week before. Figures for those two weeks are the lowest volumes reported at any point during the past five years.
A produce buyer in South Carolina warned restaurants in the region that prices could double to more than $100 per case, as The Post and Courier reported. Even so, Steve Palmer, the managing partner of The Indigo Road Restaurant Group in Charleston, S.C., said his restaurants would continue serving ripe avocados as long as possible.
"I would absorb the cost to the point it didn't make financial sense, and then of course edit the menu," Mr. Palmer told the paper.
Phil Henry, president of a growing and importing company in San Diego County, told the Chronicle that the Mexican growers' strike caused isolated halts in production.
"Most of the growers in Mexico have wanted to harvest, but it's been a small minority of growers that have wanted to exert this work stoppage," Mr. Henry said.
But the supply crisis could be nearing its end. Last week, the Avocado Producers and Exporting Packers Association of Mexico (APEAM) reported that more than 1,000 picking crews had returned to the fields after reaching an agreement mediated by the Michoacán State Government and the Mexican Department of Agriculture.
"The primarily issue revolved around sales negotiations between the growers and packers," APEAM said, emphasizing that the dispute fell outside of its purview.
Avi Crane, a former vice president of the California Avocado Commission, wrote that the strike resolution will most likely result in a short-term reduction in "FOB prices."
Over the long term, it could impact the balance of international avocado trade, he wrote, perhaps even prompting the US Department of Agriculture to "fast-track" applications for avocado market access from South Africa and Columbia.