Chipotle guacamole scare: Climate change means menu change?

Chipotle: Guacamole could be taken off the menu if prices on ingredients continue to rise. However, according to Chipotle's annual financial report, the guacamole worries are simply a routine disclosure of future risk.

Mario Anzuoni/Reuters/File
The sign of a Chipotle restaurant is pictured in Pasadena, Calif. The company noted a long-term concern about a potential guacamole menu change due to avocado shortages, causing a hullabaloo among Chipotle devotees.

Chipotle says it uses 97,000 pounds of avocado per day (which translates to about 18,000 tons per year), and nearly 70 pounds in a single batch of guacamole. What could stop this guac train from chugging full speed ahead?

Global warming, according to the company’s annual report.

"Increasing weather volatility or other long-term changes in global weather patterns, including any changes associated with global climate change, could have a significant impact on the price or availability of some of our ingredients," Chipotle said in its annual SEC filing last month, which was recently highlighted by liberal blog ThinkProgress.

In other words: Climate change could mean menu changes. The company says increasingly unpredictable weather due to climate change could affect the price of nearly every ingredient, including chicken, beef, cheese, avocados, beans, rice, tomatoes, and pork. That in turn could affect prices, or even cause the company to suspend making certain menu items, such as guacamole or one or more of its salsas.

This isn’t the first scare the avocado-based snack dip has faced this year: In January, there was a brief media frenzy when colder-than-usual temperatures threatened to cause an avocado shortage for the Super Bowl. The shortage didn't materialize. NFL viewers were able to dip into guacamole in early February without worry.

Long term, the picture is less clear. Chris Arnold, a Chipotle spokesperson, says he is not sure how the drought will affect future guacamole production. In the meantime, Chipotle-devotees can rest easy.

"This is nothing more than routine risk-factor disclosure,” he told CNN. “The sky is not falling. I wouldn't read too much into this."

Chipotle has long touted its commitment to using local, sustainable, and organic ingredients, which makes the company more susceptible to the effects of climate change in certain areas. Local producers are not always as equipped to handle weather complications without raising prices.

For example, California, which currently has the largest number of Chipotle restaurants nationwide and is one of the top American producers of avocados, recently faced a severe drought and scientists are concerned this is only a hint of what is to come.

“Scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory… predict hotter temps will cause a 40 percent drop in California‘s avocado production over the next 32 years,” writes Emily Atkin in ThinkProgress.

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