Warning to avocado lovers: a California shortfall may send prices soaring
The production shortfall is blamed in good part on severe heat in California growing regions during the summer last year.
Avocados could soon be fetching a lot more green.
A shortfall in production in California, the leading U.S. avocado grower, has kicked up wholesale prices in recent weeks — which means you may soon be paying more for fresh guacamole and avocado toast.
A wholesale box of 60 avocados currently costs about $80, or $1.33 per avocado, said Jim Boyce, owner of Produce Express, a produce supplier in the Sacramento area.
“Normally at this time in August we’re typically in the high 40s to high 50s” in terms of a box’s wholesale dollar price, or about 81 cents to 98 cents apiece, Boyce said. “It’s very abnormal this time of year.”
The production shortfall is blamed in good part on severe heat in California growing regions during the summer last year, when the avocados that are currently being harvested were still maturing.
That was on top of the long drought that affected the state and, when the heavy rains finally arrived in the winter, it was too late.
“We lost fruit that would have sized up to be this year’s crop,” said Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the California Avocado Commission, a trade group for avocado growers.
Growers in Mexico, the leading avocado supplier to the U.S. market, “are also suffering in a similar fashion and are sending fewer boxes to the border,” Produce Express said on its website last week.
Some California growers also have been selling their land to reap larger profits than they can earn by farming, which has contributed to the production shortfall, Boyce said.
California avocado production this year is forecast to plunge 46% to 215 million pounds from 401 million pounds in 2016, according to the California Avocado Commission.
The Hass Avocado Board, a promotion group named after the main variety of California avocados, said production in the state in the week that ended Aug. 6 was 3.74 million pounds, only one-third of the 10.7 million pounds produced in the same week last year.
Meanwhile, the fruit’s popularity is growing — especially as avocado-toast-eating millennials demand it at coffee shops and restaurants across the state. Starbucks Corp., for instance, in March announced that its organic avocado spread would be available at its stores nationwide. Avocados are also being marketed as a healthy food choice, loaded with vitamins and high in the “good” monounsaturated fats that can help lower cholesterol.
“When supply is tight and demand is good, prices are going to be impacted,” DeLyser said. “That’s the situation we’re in right now.”
The average avocado retail price nationally was $1.25 last week, up from $1.14 a year earlier and 94 cents in May 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
But it’s unclear how much more consumer prices will rise.
Although some media reports have warned of a possible price of $2 per avocado, a Ralphs supermarket in Pasadena on Monday was selling four avocados for $5, or $1.25 each, to shoppers who have the chain’s loyalty cards.
Frank Garcia, who owns the La Casa Garcia Mexican restaurant in Anaheim, said he’s paying $60 to $70 for a box of 60 avocados, double the $30 to $35 a box he paid early this summer.
“And it’s still going up,” Garcia said. But he said he’s not passing the added cost to his diners because he doesn’t want to test their loyalty.
“I haven’t changed the prices” for guacamole, Garcia said. “I have customers that have followed me for 40 years.”
Boyce, whose firm mostly serves restaurants and other food-service venues, said most of his customers likewise are not yet adding surcharges for guacamole or taking it off their menus. “Right now they’re mostly rolling with the punches,” he said.
Avocados are grown in several California regions, including the San Diego area, Escondido, Fallbrook, Irvine, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.
The California avocado-selling season typically runs from about March and April until Labor Day, although supplies can last until October or November, DeLyser said. After that, avocados sold in California mainly come from Mexico, Chile and Peru.