Story at a glance
- It’s not exactly clear how long the suspension will last, but it has some concerned it will cause a critical avocado shortage and send prices soaring.
- The overwhelming majority of avocados in the U.S. are imported from Michoacán, Mexico.
- “In a few days, the current inventory will be sold out and there will be a lack of product in almost any supermarket,” Raul Lopez, Mexico manager of agriculture market research company Agtools, told The Washington Post.
A threat against a U.S. official conducting avocado inspections in Michoacán, Mexico may have very well put the nation on the verge of a critical avocado shortage.
On Saturday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suspended avocado imports from the Mexican state following a verbal threat against an Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) employee on his official cellphone.
The agency said it is currently working with Customs and Border Protection to allow avocados inspected and certified for export on or before Feb. 11 to continue to be imported into the U.S., but said 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.” Avocados certified for export after that date will not be brought into the U.S. until further notice.
It’s not exactly clear how long the suspension will last, but it has some concerned it will cause a critical avocado shortage and send prices soaring, as about 80 percent of avocados bought in the U.S. are imported from Michoacán, the only Mexican state authorized to export the fruit to the U.S.
“In a few days, the current inventory will be sold out and there will be a lack of product in almost any supermarket,” Raul Lopez, Mexico manager of agriculture market research company Agtools, told The Washington Post. Agtools did not immediately respond to Changing America’s request for comment.
The pause on avocado imports from Mexico comes as avocado prices have hit record highs. According to Bloomberg, a 20-pound box of Hass avocados purchased in Michoacán was priced at $26.23 earlier this month, about $6.29 more expensive than it was the same time last year and the highest price reported in more than two decades.
Bloomberg notes avocado prices increased nearly eightfold over the last 20 years while per capita consumption has doubled over the last decade.
Increasing production costs, labor shortages and supply chain backlogs across most U.S. industries have also exacerbated the situation, as well as weather-related issues.
The temporary suspension occurred just before the Super Bowl, which is the largest sales opportunity of the year for those in the $3 billion per year avocado industry. And while the ban had no impact on game day — those avocados were already shipped — it was announced the day before the Mexican avocado growers and packers association ran its $7 million Super Bowl ad for the year.
While it’s not clear precisely how the suspension will impact the industry, Mark Campbell, founder and CEO of ProduceIQ, a digital marketplace for produce growers and buyers, told Changing America any interruption is going to cause changes in the market.
“Increases in prices immediately for people who are forward looking because this introduced uncertainty into the supply chain,” Campbell said.
“You won’t see avocados disappear from shelves and from restaurant menus for a while because the supply chain includes green avocados…they’re not mature yet and most avocados are ripened near the border stateside. And then those will flow through the system,” he said.
Campbell said it depends on how long the suspension persists, and said warehouses that are ripening fruit will be depleting their inventory as they won’t be able to get a new supply.
“And so when the inventories are gone, then the consumer won’t have avocados because, you know, California at this time of year is probably providing 10 percent of the supply.”
There’s been ongoing struggles with violence in Michoacán, but Campbell said it was the first time he has seen where the U.S. government cuts off imports over it.
For now, he says, most are in a “wait and see” mode.
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