Last year, the general public added “supply chain shortages” to its collective vocabulary. Once the annoyance of having to wait longer than free two-day shipping for frivolities turned to amusement, the phrase got meme'd and became the answer to all manner of personal, professional and theoretical shortcomings. Why was I ghosted? Why is this project incomplete? Why is the speaker in the Elvis Presley hit “Suspicious Minds” so defensive? Supply chain issues.
NYC hospitality professionals and their acolytes are used to this kind of thing. A supposed cream cheese shortage swept through town just last December. Bacon purportedly ebbs and flows. And the rosé all day lifestyle seems to be endangered every other season. Avocados make frequent appearances in the often linked shortage and price hike narratives, but the reason for their most recent turn in the spotlight is more confounding than usual, Bloomberg was first to report this week.
“Working in concert with the U.S. Department of State’s Regional Security Officer, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) suspended avocado export program operations in the state of Michoacán, Mexico, on February 11, 2022, following a security incident (a verbal threat) involving our employees.” reads a statement from the USDA. “The suspension will remain in place for as long as necessary to ensure the appropriate actions are taken, to secure the safety of APHIS personnel working in Mexico.”
As murky as that is, headlines quickly shifted to notions of guacamole. Locally, restaurants are already braced for cost and supply impact.
“The disruption in avocado imports has actually existed for many years, in large part due to the ongoing issues in Michoacán, Mexico with problems that come from organized crime charging farmers to operate,” says Gerardo Alcaraz, chef at popular new Mexican restaurant Aldama. He and everyone we spoke with for this article underscore that avocados can be a fickle fruit to source.
Cenobio Canalizo, executive chef and partner at Tiny’s Cantina, was already navigating increased avocado prices before this week’s news. He’d recently had to 86 the avocado from Tiny’s Mexican burger, eliminate the avocado salsa and retire the pork belly guac from the restaurant’s rotating specials.
“In the coming weeks we expect it to go up even more, almost double the original price,” he says. “Being a Mexican restaurant, avocados are a central ingredient on Tiny's menu. As the price began to rise, we had to start finding ways to avoid using them as much as we normally do, without impacting the quality or presentation. Our guacamole is popular, so we have to reserve most of our supply for that.”
Venezuelan restaurant Casa Ora’s owner Rachel Diaz Pirard also notes the existing hospitality roadblocks that were amplified during the pre-vaccine pandemic, when many ingredients became more challenging to source than before.
“It’s not limited to avocados but perhaps this is the most “trendy” of all the disruptions,” she says.
The avo-vagaries have driven Casa Ora restaurant to a state of constant planning, purchasing immature avocados and cycling up through batches as they ripen. Wildly fluctuating prices have also prepared Casa Ora to zag, swinging from $30-35 in-season and $50 off prior to the pandemic.
“The way things are going we will likely have to forgo the avocado all together,” Diaz Pirard says. Our previously priced guacamole at $14 would have to rise to over $20 to cover the shifting costs and we still aim to provide fair pricing, high quality, and menu consistency. We are instead working on creating a “new guac,” either a salsa spread with fresh made chips or similar to replace the guacamole.”
Now, nobody wants to replace the guacamole (ok, it can be divisive, so surely some of you do), but this is a clear force of necessity without a tidy end in sight. In the meantime, hug the avocados in your life extra tight.
“The impact will be felt as restaurants are responsible for absorbing the price hikes,” Alcaraz says. “On a larger front, assuming the shortage persists, all dishes that use avocado have the potential to be removed from the menu until the price stabilizes.”