Av­o­cado ob­sessed get re­lief as prices drop from record

Miami Herald - - FRONT PAGE -

Amer­i­cans’ ob­ses­sion with av­o­ca­dos sent prices to a record, but there’s good news for gua­camole fans: re­lief could be on the hori­zon.

A con­flu­ence of fac­tors drove the whole­sale cost of Hass av­o­ca­dos from Mex­ico, the big­gest sup­plier to the U.S., to more than dou­ble this year. U.S. con­sumers are eat­ing more of the green stuff than ever be­fore, and grow­ers in Mex­ico and Cal­i­for­nia were strug­gling to keep up with de­mand amid dry weather. But the tight­ness could start to ease next year as trees en­ter the higher-yield­ing half of a twoyear cy­cle.

There are al­ready signs of a re­prieve. The whole­sale cost has dropped more than 6 per­cent from a record reached ear­lier in July. At Chipo­tle Mex­i­can Grill, while higher prices for the fruit eroded earn­ings ear­lier this year, higher-than-ex­pected sup­plies from Mex­ico this month means the gains have started to ease, chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer John Har­tung said on an earn­ings call this week. Still, with a whop­ping 6.3 mil­lion uses of the hash­tag Av­o­cado on In­sta­gram, it doesn’t look like de­mand is go­ing to slow down any­time soon.

“Prices in the fore­see­able fu­ture will sta­bi­lize a lit­tle, and you won’t see a sharp in­cline,” said Robert Bonghi, the Suwa­nee, Ga.-based di­rec­tor of pro­cure­ment and pric­ing at the Pro­duce Al­liance, which pro­vides fresh food to food-ser­vice clients. “Grow­ers are try­ing to put more trees in the ground to keep up,” but “you’re not go­ing to see 10 av­o­ca­dos for a dol­lar,” he said.

The cost of Hass av­oca- dos im­ported from the state of Mi­choa­can, Mex­ico’s largest pro­ducer, has fallen this month since reach­ing the high­est in govern­ment data that goes back 19 years. The price of a 22-pound (10-kilo­gram) box surged 140 per­cent this year to 600 pe­sos ($34.02), slightly down from the peak of 640 pe­sos on July 12. In the gro­cery store, that trans­lates to $1.51 per Hass av­o­cado, up 40 per­cent from a year ago, U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture data show.

The gains came amid a seem­ing in­sa­tiable ap­petite for the fruit. Amer­i­cans on av­er­age ate about 7.1 pounds of av­o­ca­dos each in the 20152016 sea­son, the lat­est fig­ures from the USDA show. That’s more than dou­ble the con­sump­tion a decade ear­lier.

“Av­o­ca­dos have re­ally be­come very pop­u­lar, and the di­ver­sity of us­age plays into that,” Jan DeLyser, the Cali- for­nia Av­o­cado Com­mis­sion’s vice pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing, said in a tele­phone in­ter­view.

The rise of the av­o­cado didn’t hap­pen all at once, DeLyser said. As health of­fi­cials raved about the fruit’s ben­e­fits, grow­ers de­vel­oped year-round pro­duc­tion and the prod­uct also started be­com­ing a gro­cery-store sta­ple. To­day, smart­phone cam­eras and so­cial me­dia plat­forms such as Pin­ter­est are adding to the de­mand be­cause of the fruit’s trendy na­ture, she said.

That seems to be the case at Slightly Toasted in Chicago, an all-day cafe and bar that spe­cial­izes in toast. The restau­rant fills be­tween 50 and 100 or­ders daily of oat­por­ridge toast topped with av­o­cado, pick­led shal­lots, feta, radish and a poached egg, all for $7, said John Ch­es­ney, a part­ner at the restau­rant.

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