Avocado Shortage Plagues Nation’s Restaurants
November 1, 2016
Is the avocado toast-Instagram industrial complex on the verge of collapse? In recent months a number of restaurants across the country have hiked menu prices for avocado dishes — or worse, stopped serving them altogether — thanks to the one-two punch of a rough growing season in California and a worker’s strike in Mexico.
Murmurs of an avocado shortage have been circulating since this summer, when it was blamed mainly on El Niño — but now the issue’s been compounded by avocado growers in Mexico striking for higher pay. According to data from the Hass Avocado Board cited by Business Insider, the volume of avocado imports from Mexico are down approximately 80 percent in recent weeks.
In its most recent weekly ordering guide that’s distributed to chefs and kitchen managers across the country, leading restaurant produce supplier FreshPoint included an avocado alert: “We will not be able to fill orders, and for those that we can, it will be extremely expensive for the next 7 to 10 days.”
Hans Peter Muller, the owner of a popular restaurant and bakery in Fort Worth, Texas, called Swiss Pastry Shop, says the price he pays for avocados has doubled compared to this time last year. Though he has a few sandwiches on his menu that include them, he’s not intending to hike prices — mainly because he expects avocado prices will return to more reasonable levels in the near future, and printing and re-printing new menus is a pain. In the meantime, he’s increased the price of a side of avocado to discourage people from ordering it — and temporarily barred employees from having avocado on their own sandwiches to ensure there’s enough for customers.
Other restaurants have stopped serving them altogether: LA bakery and cafe Lodge Bread has temporarily removed its beloved avocado toast from the menu in the wake of the shortage. Co-owner Alex Phaneuf says it’ll return in a few months when the new season’s crop of avocados becomes available, and also says the worker’s strike in Mexico has caused him to reevaluate his avocado sourcing: “The shortage was quite the wake-up call for the industry and for [restaurants] selling foods with avocado,” Phaneuf says. “Avocado farming in Mexico and other countries south of our border do not pay living wages and do not support sustainable agriculture in ways that we think are positive to farmers and or patrons.” Looking ahead, Lodge Bread will be sourcing its avocados from an orchard in nearby Ojai, California instead.
At least one major restaurant chain won’t be nixing avocados anytime soon, though: Chipotle. The company revealed on its earnings call earlier this week that the price it pays for avocados has soared from $30 a case to $80, but says it won’t affect the price of its guacamole. (As the beleaguered burrito chain attempts to come back from last year’s food safety disasters, surely executives recognize that raising the price of guac — AKA the best thing on the menu — could further alienate customers.)
And things do look brighter for avocado lovers going forward: “There was a shortage but it is much better,” says Stephanie Blanton, vice president of procurement for Produce Alliance, a national collective of produce buyers. “Prices are still higher...but it has improved and will continue to do so every week.”