Eighty percent of avocados in the US come from Mexico, prices are expected to rise.
José Brenes’ produce delivery routine on Feb. 16 was much like any other day. He would drive as he usually did, to AAA Avocado, a wholesale shop in Chinatown. But on this day, he said, an avocado delivery to New York City from Mexico didn’t make it because it was stopped at the border.
Organized crime violence in Michoacán, the only Mexican state allowed to export avocados to the U.S., led to the United States Department of Agriculture’s decision on Feb. 12 to halt avocado imports. The Department feared for its inspectors’ safety.
On Feb. 16, the Mexican government released a press statement saying there had been progress. The Association of Avocado Exporting Producers and Packers of Mexico presented a comprehensive proposal to reinforce safety protocols and create an Intelligence and Security Unit within APEAM to support the export program. The Governor of Michoacán made a commitment to immediately implement the operational security plan.
A limited supply of avocados over the long term could send prices soaring or lead to their removal from menus across New York City. But for now, the impact hasn’t been fully felt yet, and distributors and restaurant owners have mixed views about the ban’s effect.
Sunny Lin, the co-owner of the wholesale shop AAA Avocado in Chinatown, isn’t worried. Lin is frustrated with journalists’ over-reporting on what he sees as a non-issue. So much coverage scares people into buying more avocados and leads to price increases, he said.
“If it’s not in the newspapers, it would be OK,” he said. “I dismiss this kind of helplessness.”
His 15-year-old business has survived through many disruptions of the avocado supply chain.
“Every three or four years it happens,” he said. “There’s always these problems, they close the highways, the mountains.”
Just 10 minutes away, Luc Lévy, the owner of the first place to serve avocado toast in the city, shares Lin’s lack of concern.
“You have to be responsive when it happens,” he said. “But so many things can happen. There are so many unknowns.
Lévy opened Café Gitane in 1994, bringing together French, Moroccan, American, and Australian influences. The consultant chef Chloe Osborne created the menu and suggested avocado toast in 1999, still rare in her native Australia. It didn’t catch on immediately, but has since become one of the café’s top three bestsellers across their NYC, Los Angeles and Tokyo locations.
Lévy doesn’t feel like his business could be sunk by an avocado disruption.
“The beauty of a café, it’s almost like having a sailboat, so when you have too much weight, you can maneuver,” said Lévy. “It’s not a big ship that you have to keep afloat.
Phoebe Black-Toby, who has been working as a waitress in Café Gitane for four months, is a little more worried. She always asks customers if they want extra avocado, which costs $3.50 more, and worries about the lost income.
Some restaurants in NYC might find it impossible to forgo avocados, but they’re not raising the alarm.
Avocaderia, a three-restaurant chain, features avocado as the star of all itsdishes. Francesco Brachetti, one co-founder, is monitoring the situation but is “not worried at all.” Mission Produce, its supplier, has said they have stocks for one to two weeks and haven’t increased prices.
Sean McDonnell, senior manager at Avocaderia’s Midtown’s location, looked through his most recent receipts: $57.65 per 60-avocado case on Monday, $52.65 on Thursday. A fluctuation he’s used to. Next week, the price could be higher.
At Guacamole restaurant, Guillermo Betancourt, the senior server, is convinced this isn’t going to last. Prices are due to rise “obviously, this is a [supply] chain, isn’t it?” he said.
He remembers when former President Donald Trump threatened to close the border with Mexico a few years ago. “That’s what happened with Trump,” he said. “Before, a guacamole appetizer cost $10. It went up to $12.”
Because of the slim margins in the restaurant industry, he said, restaurants don’t really have a choice. “The first thing to do is to raise the price so only those who can pay will eat avocado. And the second thing to do is to reduce [quantities].”