Growing avocado demand sends prices soaring

Global Business

If you love avocados, then you’ve probably suffered some sticker shock at the store. Prices have shot up this year. 

Weather and climate issues have hurt some avocado crops in the U.S. and Latin America, but growing demand for the butter fruit worldwide is also to blame. And now that China is catching on to the wonders of avocados, growers, suppliers and scientists are scrambling to boost supply. 

CGTN’s May Lee reports.

Growing avocado demand sends prices soaring

If you love avocados, then you’ve probably suffered some sticker shock at the store. Prices have shot up this year.

Mission Produce packing facility ships out nearly three million kilos of California and Latin American avocados every week. But this year, Mission Produce is dealing with a big avocado shortage.

Supply is down by more than 40 percent due in part by weather in California, Mexico and Peru, all avocado growing regions. Prices, in turn, have shot through the roof forcing some restaurants to take it off the menu.  

But there’s another reason that’s compounding the supply squeeze. Demand is skyrocketing worldwide.  The U.S. has the biggest appetite for avocados. In 2016, the industry said Americans ate more than 900 million kilos. China consumed just 25 million kilos last year, but momentum is building. 

But there’s a catch for U.S.-grown avocados. Farmers can’t export to China yet.  

Tom Pecht has been growing avocados since 1970. Nearly everything he produces on his farm feeds the demand in California, but he wouldn’t mind a shot at supplying produce to China.  

“Nothing’s for sure, you know,” Pecht said. “You can only look out so far, but if China becomes an open market you can bet things are going to change from what they are today.” 

But that change would mean an even bigger jump in demand. The question is, how would farmers keep up, especially when factors like weather and infestations are unpredictable? 

And then there’s the fickle nature of avocado trees. They alternate bearing crops, with large harvests one year and smaller ones the next. So that affects the steady yearly supply. But what if there were avocado trees that could bear fruit every year all year round?

At the University of California avocado research center the focus is to breed new varieties of avocado trees that produce higher and steadier yields, can survive in more extreme conditions and take up less farmland.   

Eric Focht is a lead researcher of the avocado breeding program. He notices every detail and nuance of every tree and picks only the very best. 

“We plant out 1000 seeds a year and you only get one to two percent that are worth keeping out of that, so it’s a very low percentage,” says Focht.

And that’s just the beginning. It can take up to 20 years before a breed of avocado is ready to be patented and released to the marketplace. 

But researchers say it’s worth the effort if it solves the supply and demand issue worldwide…so If all goes well, it’ll be avocados galore all year round!