San Luis Obispo County avocado lovers are likely shelling out more money for their favorite buttery fruit, due in part to far smaller yields in Morro Bay and throughout California.
California farms, which produce about 90 percent of the avocados grown domestically, are expected to produce about 215,000 pounds of avocados this year — about half of the 2016 yield, according to the California Avocado Commission. And although imported fruit typically increases the supply, reducing costs, that’s not happening now for a variety of reasons.
Fewer Central and South American avocados are being sent to the West Coast, according to The Sacramento Bee. Mexican growers are shipping less fruit than they normally do, and Chilean avocados are being sold on the East Coast.
Furthermore, avocados’ recent popularity means demand is higher than ever — a troublesome combination leading to higher prices.
The Chicago Tribune on Wednesday reported the average wholesale price for a 48-count case of fruit was $83.75, according to the American Restaurant Association. That’s up from $34.45 per case last year.
Avocado prices in San Luis Obispo ranged late this week from $2.29 apiece at Trader Joe’s on South Higuera Street to $1.49 at Whole Foods on Froom Ranch Way. Avocados at Vons on Broad Street were priced between the two at $1.99 each.
The timing is particularly inopportune as Morro Bay celebrates its annual Avocado & Margarita Street Festival on Saturday.
Harvest time in Morro Bay
In Morro Bay — where a cooler climate allows avocado farmers to pick their fruit later in the season — harvest season is just winding down. Jim Shanley grows avocados at Shanley Farms off Highway 41 and distributes other growers’ fruit using the Morro Bay Avocados brand. He said harvest ended earlier this week, and his 2017 crop yielded less than half of normal production.
Shanley attributed the smaller harvest to previous drought conditions and avocado trees’ natural tendency to bear different quantities of fruit during different seasons. He said he expected 2019 to produce an avocado boom.
There’s so much demand for avocados that the market is trying to reduce the number of consumers, in order to allow time for a supply to be built up, Shanley said.
“The demand has been increasing steadily for years,” he said.
Morro Creek Ranch, also off Highway 41, staggers its harvest to allow avocados to be sold at its farm stand, on its website and to local restaurants. Jeremy Mickles, the farm’s manager, said workers hope to continue picking avocados for the next three to four months.
He said Morro Creek’s yield is also lower than normal, even though demand is surging: “We just can’t supply them.”
A 25-pound box of avocados that has sold for $48 and lower is selling for $65 and up right now, depending on market fluctuations, Mickles said. California avocados are popular because they’re the best-tasting, he said.
“Everybody wants the California fruit.”
Avocado & Margarita Street Festival
10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday. Live music, arts and crafts, guacamole and margaritas. Centennial Parkway, Embarcadero, Morro Bay. $5 to $7. www.avomargfest.com.