Local businesses pitted against rising avocado prices

Lianne Frick/Staff

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California avocado lovers may begin to feel a sinking in the pit of their stomachs upon learning that the fruit’s price has more than doubled since last year.

Avocado prices have been high throughout the year due to drought in California, according to Dave Samuels, sales manager for Ingardia Brothers, a produce purveyor in Southern California. But it was not until the past two weeks that a sharp price spike occurred, Samuels added, putting pressure on businesses which carry avocado products.

“It’s a little bit scary. … As a matter of fact, I was just going to have a meeting with my managers to discuss what we’re going to do,” said Izat Eliyan, owner of La Burrita, a Berkeley restaurant that uses avocado in many of its items.

The business has thus far maintained stable menu costs by absorbing price increases. Eliyan said if the situation persists, however, higher prices may be charged for items containing avocado.

Although the restaurant is accustomed to seasonal fluctuations in produce price, Eliyan said he has not seen a price increase of this degree for avocados since he started managing La Burrita in 1995.

“Many people have avocado on their menu and they’re not willing to compromise. … They’re still buying avocado,” Samuels said, “Unfortunately for them, it’s not so easy for them to increase their price.”

According to Will Brokaw, co-owner of the Brokaw Nursery — a supplier to the Berkeley Farmers’ Market which has been in the industry since 1967 — avocado prices are at the highest he has ever seen.

Last year, he said, farmers fetched an average price of $0.70 for each avocado. This year, it has risen to $1.80 due to an unanticipated shortage.

At the end of the California avocado-growing season in late summer and early fall each year, Samuels said, the state avocado supply becomes more reliant on Mexican imports.

Brokaw said the California avocado crop has fallen significantly short of estimates made by the California Avocado Commission and its counterpart in Mexico, which collaborate annually to arrange avocado sales. Brokaw said that after the shortage in California, Mexico’s supply has been unable to fill the gap.

“By the time the California crop winds down in early June, Mexico was thinking that the U.S. market wouldn’t need many avocados, (and had) made arrangements to export to Southeast Asia and other markets,” Brokaw said.

This year, Mexico has also been exporting fewer avocados to the U.S. due to labor issues involving growers and packers, Samuels said. He added that imports from Mexico have been just half of last year’s volume.

Looking forward, Brokaw expects avocado prices to remain stable for one or two more months. On the contrary, Samuels projects that they may soon begin to decline as customers reject the high prices. He stressed, however, that it is impossible to know what will happen.

Contact Charlene Jin at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @CharleneJin0327.