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An Avocado Shortage Is Hurting San Diego's Mexican Restaurants

The signature dish at the Mexican restaurant Ponce's includes avocados, Oct. 27, 2016.
Kris Arciaga
The signature dish at the Mexican restaurant Ponce's includes avocados, Oct. 27, 2016.
Avacado shortage hurts San Diego Mexican restaurants

An avocado shortage is disappointing Mexican food aficionados and hurting San Diego’s numerous family-owned Mexican restaurants.

Earlier this week, some grocery stores ran out of avocados. Restaurant managers were having trouble finding them at all. And the avocados that were available were double or triple the usual price.

“The only avocados I could find were as hard as softballs,” said Mikey Knab, director of operations for Ponce’s, a restaurant that serves Mexican comfort food.

Knab paid nearly three times the normal price for those avocados — more than ever in his life. A case of avocados that used to cost him $35 was priced at more than $100.

“We’re paying whatever we have to pay for them, because we need them, obviously,” he said.

He said he wants to avoid running out of them as he did last Saturday.

“When we run out, we are just honest,” he said. “We just let people substitute cheese or sour cream or salsa fresca or something.”

He said the restaurant is taking a hit on its profit margin, and may have to raise prices if the situation continues.

Other restaurants are mixing lettuce, sour cream and other unconventional ingredients into their guacamole, to limit their avocado use. Others are cutting portions.

Farmworker strikes south of the border paralyzed production two weeks ago. Laborers in Mexico’s top producing state, Michoacán, blocked crucial transportation routes, staging large protests while demanding higher wages.

“They were paying the farmworkers too little per kilo,” said Santiago M. Vasquez, an independent avocado distributor in San Diego.

Mexico’s avocados are crucial for Southern California during this time of year because it’s off-season for the local avocado farms.

The strikes have since been resolved with government-led negotiations, and Mexico’s avocados are trickling into California again.

On Wednesday, the Trader Joe’s in La Mesa didn’t have any avocados. On Friday, it received two cases of avocados and expected to receive 18 more on Saturday.

Vasquez, the distributor, said he was charging more than $100 per 25-pound box of avocados earlier this week, and has since reduced the price to $65. Before the shortage, he was selling those boxes for $35 or less.

“People who want avocados need to pay for it,” he said.

He said the price won’t be going back to normal anytime soon, even with the strikes in Mexico resolved. Unusual climate patterns have hurt production on both sides of the border.

Damaged avocados hang on a tree in Fallbrook, Oct. 27, 2016.
Kris Arciaga
Damaged avocados hang on a tree in Fallbrook, Oct. 27, 2016.

Drought-damaged avocado trees in California, which will be ready for harvest early next year, won’t produce as much as last year.

Ely Ortiz, a farmworker who takes care of avocado farms in North County, said water has become so expensive, farmers are using less of it to irrigate their trees.

“The less water you use, the less the avocado develops,” he said. “Avocados need a lot of water.”

He pointed out shriveled avocados and dried-up leaves on the branches of avocado trees in Fallbrook. He said a heat wave this summer contributed to the damage.

“It’s going to be very catastrophic,” he said. “We’re going to experience it in our meals, which won’t have avocados. California’s avocado production is in great danger.”