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Avocado growers’ strike causes prices to skyrocket and Philadelphia restaurants to suffer

A dispute between avocado farmers in Mexico and APEAM, an organization of packers and exporters, has affected restaurants citywide due to increased prices on avocado cases.

A dispute at the start of the month between avocado growers and the packers and exporters that distribute them to countries like the U.S. caused a significant increase in cost per case for restaurants citywide.
A dispute at the start of the month between avocado growers and the packers and exporters that distribute them to countries like the U.S. caused a significant increase in cost per case for restaurants citywide.Read moreStock Photo

A recent price spike in avocados is affecting Philadelphia area restaurants.

“We went from paying $45 a case to $73 a case,” says executive chef Adan Trinidad, who goes through nearly 45 cases (more than 2,000 avocados) a week between Mexican restaurants Jose Pistola’s in Center City, Sancho Pistola’s in Fishtown, and Pistola’s Del Sur in South Philadelphia.

According to a report by Bloomberg, a price dispute broke out between avocado farmers in Michoacan, the heartland of Mexican avocado production, and an organization of packers and exporters known as APEAM. Growers ceased harvesting at the beginning of November, resulting in a suspension in shipments to Mexico’s three top avocado buyers -- the U.S., Canada, and Japan.

Fruit and vegetable industry news source The Packer reported that an agreement was made between the two parties last week and harvesting has since resumed, but that fully ripe avocados are not likely to be attainable until after Thanksgiving.

Over the past month, many local restaurants have been simply absorbing the extra cost that resulted from the strike.

“I don’t want to call it a crisis for us, but it has definitely made a significant impact on our budget,” says Richard Landau, chef and owner of multiple vegetarian restaurants, including Vedge, where the ingredient is served up daily in dishes like stuffed avocado, a half avocado encrusted in fried rice noodles. “We don’t want to make our customers get involved with the financial aspects of running a restaurant, so with something like this, we deal with it and just hope the price goes back down. If it stayed up for too long, we would try to take some of the avocado items off the menu.”

Trinidad also says that at Jose Pistola's, Sancho Pistola's, and Pistola’s Del Sur, prices and menu items haven’t changed.

“It’s the nature of the business,” says Trinidad. “This happened with limes, but it’s not like we could just stop serving limes with margaritas. Same goes for guacamole — we can’t just raise the price or our regulars would go nuts.”

Trinidad adds, “Farmers work really hard, and they should get paid fairly, so I understand why they went on strike. You have to prepare your budget for instances like this. There’s really not much else you can do about it.”

Other, smaller restaurants, however, are trying to offset the price increase by adding additional avocado fees to the menu. Fairmount’s newly opened Engimono Poke and Deli is now temporarily charging $1.50 instead of $1 to add avocado to a poke bowl.

Meanwhile, some restaurants are temporarily forgoing avocados altogether, like family-owned El Purepecha in Callowhill, where staff reports that it could take up to another couple of weeks until the fruit returns. Currently, an array of menu items, ranging from fish tacos to burritos to quesadillas, all usually served with guacamole or sliced avocado, are being sold without it.

Spots like Old City’s Tuna Bar were fortunately prepared in advance, unable to risk the potential of not having access to avocado.

“We ripen our avocados in-house, so we typically have at least one week’s worth of inventory at all times, but we are beginning to run short,” says owner and executive chef Ken Sze. “I was more concerned at the beginning of the grower’s strike, but now I’m not as worried -- I am in a spot where I can confidently wait it out as supplies stabilize, it’s just a little more challenging because I have to speed up the ripening process.”