In 2014, Chipotle, the popular specialty fast-food chain, rattled its guacamole-loving fans when it announced it might suspend production due to a shortage of avocado. The suspension never happened, but the avocado shortfall continues, affecting many U.S. restaurants and grocers, including the Co-op. “The avocado shortages and accompanying price hikes that have become something of a fixture in recent years are starting to look like they might be here to stay,” Adam Chandler wrote for The Atlantic this week. So what’s the deal?
Climate change, droughts in California and Chile, and an explosive increase in avocado’s popularity among consumers in the west may have all affected worldwide supplies. But the most recent culprit is an ongoing, volatile dispute between growers and packers in Mexico, creating shortages in U.S. avocado markets during a time of year when few other sources of avocado are available.
According to Beyond the Peel, published by our friends at Equal Exchange, there are 20,000 avocado growers in Mexico and only 325 packing houses. A recent strike in Mexico over field and export prices temporarily shut down Mexican avocado supplies to the United States, crippling the U.S. avocado market during the first two weeks of October. The Hass Avocado Board reports that the total number of avocados shipped from Mexico to the United States has nearly been cut in half, dropping from 44 million to 22.9 million pounds.
The strike was resolved October 14. Harvesting and packing resumed October 17.
“While this is a loss for the reliability of avocados from Mexico,” Equal Exchange reported, “it is a win for growers who were able to shine a light on the actual power dynamics and inequalities of the internal Mexican avocado market.”
The Co-op sources fairly traded avocado from Pragor, a progressive group of small-scale avocado growers who farm along a rugged, 135-mile stretch of the Pacific coast in Western Mexico.
Pragor reports that, in theory, everything is back to normal. But in practice, the situation is still in crisis since it takes time to stabilize the complex distribution web that brings Mexican-grown avocados to the United States. There are many growers but a limited number of harvest crews and USDA officials to clear the fields for harvest and pack houses. For now, bottlenecks still remain in the pipeline.
U.S. consumers should expect limited product availability and fluctuating market prices. The Co-op is in constant contact with its growers and distributors and hopes to resume normal supplies as soon as possible.
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