San Franciscans love their avocados. Just ask Ed Duran of Valencia Street's Taqueria La Cumbre. “Americans crave them,” he said, “and they’re a key part of Mexican cuisine."
"But now,” said Duran, “avocados are scarce.”
This year has seen a notably intense avocado shortage, due to a labor strike in Mexico. It's basic supply and demand: with fewer avocados making their way north from Mexico to California—during a season when there aren't many Californian avocados—and with hungry San Franciscans still craving their super burritos with extra guacamole, prices have spiked dramatically.
“We’ve been in the business for over 50 years, and have been working with wholesalers for over 20 years and have great relationships with them,” said Duran. “When they can’t find avocados, that’s when you know there are some issues."
By now, you've likely experienced price markups at the grocery store, where individual avocados are selling for $4-5. But restaurants aren’t buying individual avocados—they’re buying crates.
Blanca, an employee at Valencia Street's Taqueria El Buen Sabor, says her restaurant is currently paying $120 for a crate of avocados that would normally cost $40.
“We sell a lot of fresh guacamole dip,” she said, but since each container contains three or four avocados, "we had to take it off of our menu, because it is so expensive.” The taqueria could have raised prices, but made the decision to forgo purchasing avocados instead.
A few blocks away on 16th Street, Pancho Villa Taqueria is in the same boat. "It was very difficult to find avocados,” said Alvaro, an employee who helps with sourcing the restaurant’s produce. “We looked everywhere to find avocados, and the ones we found were very green and very hard.”
“In our kind of business,” added the restaurant’s manager, “we use avocados for everything, so people were kind of disappointed."
Jorge Perez of the Castro's Zapata Mexican Grill told us that it’s not unusual to see a slight price jump in avocados at this time of year. “It’s a seasonal transition from one area of crop growing to another, and when that happens, you get these bumps in prices," he said.
The strike has amplified the effect. "Not only would prices normally be high, but now, there’s just no ripe avocados to be gotten, because they’re just not coming across the border from Mexico."
Perez told us that 2016 has been the most challenging year for acquiring avocados in recent memory—although he said that it's common for each year to bring one piece of produce whose pricing is out of whack.
Compared to Mexican avocado farmers and laborers, Mexican avocado distributors are making much more money, Perez explains. With so few California avocados currently on the market, this time of year was opportune for laborers south of the border to make their point.
Though October was tough, things are getting better in the avocado market compared to even two weeks ago, a Pancho Villa manager told us. Taqueria La Cumbre’s Duran agrees, noting that it's in farmers' best interest to get their avocado harvests to market sooner rather than later.
“They have to be realistic,” said Duran. “Their harvests are rotting, so if they don’t sell anything, they don’t get any [profit].”
So does that mean that (relatively) cheap avocados will return in the near future? Maybe, maybe not.
“We’re already seeing some California avocados come into the market,” said Zapata’s Perez. “But it might take a little longer in the grocery stores, because they don’t go through their produce as fast as restaurants.”
“Ultimately, the prices will come down,” said La Cumbre's Duran. “From what I’ve been told, it’s at least a couple weeks off, but the discussions [in Mexico] are beginning.”
In the meantime, taquerias are attempting to hold the line.
“In the end, the one who suffers is the consumer,” Duran said. “So I’m hoping that for everybody’s sake, we’re all able to get our avocados.”
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