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As a nation it seems we’ve never been so divided, and yet we have one thing increasingly in common: We really, really love avocados. We love them on toast, in salads, and as the goopy green goodness in our smoothies. Perhaps most of all, we love them mashed with lime, cilantro, and various other accoutrements in the Mexican tradition of guacamole. And on Cinco de Mayo, we’re gearing up to eat a lot of it.
But prices of avocados have skyrocketed. According to the Hass Avocado Board, the price has been jumping since the start of the year. As of January 1, the average price of a conventional avocado was 89 cents. By mid-March, the average sales price had soared by 40 percent, to $1.25.
A Lousy Season Plus More Demand From Other Countries
“From what I can see, this is largely a supply and demand scenario,” said Scott Dressler, associate professor of economics at Villanova School of Business. “It’s just a really lousy time for avocados.”
Climate is part of the problem: Southern California — where most of America's avocados are grown — saw unseasonably hot temperatures last June, damaging some of its crops. Then, in July, Mexican avocado growers went on strike. Indeed, it’s been a really lousy time for avocados, at least when it comes to getting our hands on them at a price we can afford.
But we must remember that it’s not just Americans who are going crazy for avocados; other countries are hungry for the fatty fruit.
“I see a huge demand for avocados in many markets, especially emerging ones like China, as its growing middle class seeks diverse foods,” said Richie Santosdiaz, a London-based international trade expert. “When I first got to the UK six and a half years ago there were maybe one or two Chipotles. Now I’ve lost count, and avocados are, of course, a big part of that Mexican cuisine.”
Trump, Are You Messing With Our Avocados?
Naturally, as interest in Mexican cuisine rises in other countries, the cost of an already pricey produce item like the avocado will only go up. So, you’ve got a challenged crop, and a boom in importers across the globe. And then what about Trump, who has spoken at length about eliminating NAFTA, but just last week agreed not to do so “at this time”? Couldn’t politically uncertain times with Mexico perhaps be a factor in this avocado crisis, as it were? After all, the U.S gets more than 80 percent of its avocados from across the southern border.
Well, it looks like this issue really doesn’t have anything to do with Trump.
“To blame Trump would be to sensationalize the avocado issue,” Dressler told NBC News. “As of now there are no changes in the current tariff structure, and processes on a perishable food item like avocados wouldn’t change unless a tariff came into effect. After all, avocados are not exactly an item you can stockpile,” said Dressler.
Let Restaurants Take the Hit
Second only to Superbowl Sunday, Cinco de Mayo is the biggest occasion in America for guacamole, which may have you wondering, “Am I going to get charged more for guacamole this year than I would if there were not an avocado shortage?
If you’re making it yourself, then of course you will be unable to beat the grocery store’s inflated prices. But if you eat out, you probably won’t see the difference. Restaurants will likely eat the loss in order to keep you happy, hoping you'll make up for it with all those margaritas and Coronas.
“Some restaurants will think of guacamole as their loss leader for the evening,” said Dressler.
And chefs who are accustomed to working with avocados and preparing guacamole have more than a few tricks up their sleeve when it comes to turning a dud avocado into something they can work with.
Chef’s Avocado Tricks
Fernando Martinez, the chef and owner of Olé Restaurant Group, operates two Mexican restaurants, Guaca Mole Cocina Mexicana and Taco Luchador in Louisville, Kentucky. Both require tons of avocados to keep up with patrons’ orders.
“Between the two restaurants, we probably go through 10 cases a week,” Martinez told NBC News. “It could be close to 15 during the busier months. We definitely have experienced an increase in prices.”
While Martinez says the restaurants are “fairly choosy” about their avocado, always opting for higher grade even if it means higher price (“most of the time, we take the loss”), he and his staff have to deal with unripe avocados — a problem that can be more prevalent when you’re dealing with crops from a weak season.
To help them ripen faster, Martinez keeps the avocados at room temperature, avoiding refrigeration at all costs.
Tony Anteliz, the chef owner of Cemitas Puebla Restaurants in Chicago, takes a more intensive approach in dealing with unripe avocados.
“When our avocados aren't ripe and we need them for the next day, we will put them in the oven (turned off) overnight,” said Anteliz. “The warmth from the enclosed small space helps speed up the proxies of them ripening. There is also the super old school trick of lining the box of avocados with newspaper. Again, just trying to create warmth anyway you can. When we are in a pinch at Cemitas and the avocados just aren't smashing easily by hand for guacamole, we will use the immersion blender. This is only for emergencies because nothing beats guacamole made the old-fashioned way, by hand.”
Marilyn Schlossbach, chef and owner of Pop’s Garage, a New Jersey-based Mexican eatery, looks to get the most out of the avocados she’s purchasing at a high price.
“We use what may be seemingly overripe tomatoes to make guacaverde sauce — a blend of verde sauce and avocado,” said Schlossbach. “It adds great flavor on top of enchiladas and burritos, and our customers really love it. On the other side of the spectrum, our culinary team often cooks unripe avocados to use in salads. They are delicious breaded with cilantro herb breadcrumbs and fried.”