There’s an Avocado Shortage. Here’s Why and What to Do About It
Editor's Note: On Friday, February 18, 2022, a week after a temporary ban was imposed on avocados, the U.S. resumed its import of avocados from the Mexican state of Michoacan.
There is an avocado shortage on the horizon. The thought itself is stirring up panic across the United States as Americans have to grapple with life without avocado toast and guacamole for the first time, but what exactly is happening? While the supply chain dominates headlines, and Americans are faced with higher prices for all groceries, the avocado shortage is a separate issue. As avocado prices soar and the fruit disappears from grocery shelves and restaurant menus, it is important to understand what happened before breaking out into a frenzy.
Last weekend, a US food inspector in Mexico received a "credible death threat," the US immediately banned the import of avocados from the one region in Mexico that is state-sanctioned to export the popular fruit to America. Now, there is a looming avocado shortage that threatens to cut off one of the healthiest foods Americans love – and are essentially addicted to. The result is that prices of avocados already in the US are going sky high – and it's about to get harder to find avocado dishes on the menu, as well as at your local market.
Usually, the biggest issue when shopping for avocados is which store has the best selection and price for half-ripe avocados. But as the fruit disappears from grocery shelves and restaurant menus, and avocado prices soar, Americans are searching for alternatives to make their avocado toast with, and to substitute for their favorite habit of guacamole and chips.
Currently, about 80 percent of avocados sold in the United States come from the Mexican state of Michoacan. Last weekend, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) suspended avocado imports from Michoacan after an official who was conducting a farm inspection was verbally threatened in what officials are calling a credible death threat.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) employee was allegedly berated over the telephone, leading to a full-scale investigation and ban on the import of avocados. This is the second time US inspectors have been threatened. Back in 2019, another threat against a US official led to a warning sent to Michoacan state authorities that export privileges would immediately be revoked if another threat occurred, CNN reports.
Even before the Super Bowl, avocado prices went up
The price of avocados has already risen dramatically. Bloomberg reports that a 20-pound box of Hass avocados was recently purchased for $26.23, which is $6.29 more than the same item bought last year. Hass, which is a California-based company, has been importing avocados from Mexico since 1997, according to The Washington Post, which points out that "the import suspension comes as avocado prices hit record highs."
The price of avocados is twice as expensive as they were a year ago, according to David Magaña, senior analyst for Rabo Research Food & Agribusiness
Michoacán is the only region in Mexico that is approved to send avocados to the United States. Last year it sent 2.26 billion pounds of avocados into the US up from 1.9 billion pounds in 2019.
The new import ban will cause the price of avocado to surge to unprecedented levels. The Bloomberg report also indicates that Americans show record-breaking avocado demand, meaning that a lapse in the supply chain could cut the existing supply short within a week.
Restaurants are running out of avocados
Brooklyn-based Mexican restaurant Aldama is already showing signs of shortage. Co-owner Christopher Reyes discussed the shortage with Grub Street earlier this week, estimating that avocado supplies could run out within two weeks. Reyes reported that he usually pays $55 dollars for his cases of 48 avocados, but most recently, he has paid $75 and even $80. He said the change happened overnight, fearing further price jumps as the highly-coveted food gets harder to find.
One recent trip to a Brooklyn store found the price of an individual avocado at $5.99.
“In a few days, the current inventory will be sold out and there will be a lack of product in almost any supermarket,” Mexico Manager of Agriculture Market Research company Agtools Raul Lopez told The Washington Post.
The uncertainty in the supply chain is not expected to disappear any time soon. The USDA has yet to indicate that the suspension will be lifted and the US will resume importing avocados from Michoacan. Even if the import restriction were to be lifted, US retailers, grocers, and restaurants will still likely face the ripple effect of the supply chain shortage.
Mark Campbell – founder and CEO of the digital marketplace for produce ProduceIQ – recently talked with The Hill about the upcoming changes concerning avocado sales and prices. The import ban is unprecedented, so it is unclear how the market will be immediately affected by the ban, but Campbell believes that changes will begin to happen as suppliers and sellers move into unripened reserves.
“Increases in prices immediately for people who are forward-looking because this introduced uncertainty into the supply chain,” Campbell said. “You won’t see avocados disappear from shelves and from restaurant menus for a while because the supply chain includes green avocados…they’re not mature yet and most avocados are ripened near the border stateside. And then those will flow through the system.
“And so when the inventories are gone, then the consumer won’t have avocados because, you know, California at this time of year is probably providing 10 percent of the supply.”
Violence in Michoacan is ongoing, leaving consumers to wonder when the ban could potentially be lifted. While no solutions have been presented by the USDA, the avocado industry is likely to resolve this conflict. In the current stalemate, both Mexican and US industries will suffer from profit loss, product waste, and supply chain issues.
“They’re going to have hundreds of tons of avocados that will rot, and the farmers will literally lose billions of dollars,” Director of the Center for the United States and Mexico at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy Tony Payan told Eater. “If this goes on, workers in Michoacan will be laid off, and it will be devastating to the avocado industry.”
Plant-Based Alternatives for Avocado
Don't panic. While it is difficult to imagine a world without avocados, there are plenty of viable alternatives until the supply chain returns to normal. For breakfast, instead of avocado toast, add almond butter or cashew butter for a sweeter breakfast. For a creamy consistency, look into hummus, smashed peas, pesto, or edamame dips for chips, toast, sandwiches, or veggies.
If you rely on avocados for certain nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, start adding chia seeds to your smoothie or water bottle to get a similar nutritional profile to avocados. Chia seeds contain similar omega-3 fats, fiber content, and protein, providing you with necessary nutrients that might disappear from a diet heavy with avocado.
While there's nothing quite as versatile as an avocado, there are still plenty of options for alternatives. Between raw nuts like walnuts and cashews and more affordable spreads than guacamole like hummus, you'll be tied over until avocados return to a more reasonable price. For the time being, here are a few recipes to check out from The Beet.