The charred corn salad at Golden Squirrel costs $15, o4 $14 if without avocado.
The charred corn salad at Golden Squirrel in Oakland costs $15, $14 if ordered without avocado. Photo: Cirrus Wood

A price hike has customers saying something not often heard at California restaurants and grocery stores: Hold the avocado. Instagram’s favorite fruit has increased in price to more than double what consumers were paying this time last year.

The reasons are myriad. A heatwave in July and August 2018 withered the California crop while it was still in blossom, leading to lower domestic yields. To make up the difference, wholesalers began importing from Mexico. But global demand has become so high that even switching sources to the world’s largest producer of avocados was still not enough to keep up with demand, leading some customers to skip the avocado for now, and some taquerias to look for alternatives to chips and guac.

In the East Bay, diners and shoppers have noticed many local businesses who’ve altered their offerings or prices in response to high avocado prices. In some cases, businesses have also attributed the rise in cost to the current political climate. A sign posted at Uptown Oakland salad restaurant Baygreens, which raised prices on all its menu items containing avocado, cites “Trump’s trade tariffs” for the increase (Although President Trump threatened to impose tariffs on Mexican goods earlier this summer, the plan was called off.)

Three weeks ago, Andrew Snow, co-owner of the Golden Squirrel on College Avenue in Oakland, added a $1 surcharge to all menu items featuring avocado and began distributing notices to all customers to alert them to the change.

“The price of California avocados and other produce has gone up nearly 300% in the last month,” the notice reads. “Labor to pick, clean, box and ship is increasingly more expensive for the California crops, along with the threats of ICE raids. Mexican avocados have also nearly tripled, we hear because of weather and climate changes and political uncertainties due to tariffs and border closings. Due to our costs, we are charging $1 more for all of our dishes that contain avocado.”

Snow considered saving operating expenses and pulling avocado entirely off the menu until prices returned to something closer to their prior rate, but decided against it. “We decided that for some of our staple items we would give customers the option of paying more versus not being able to get it at all,” he said. “We hate to pass along the upcharge, but it’s a necessity to make ends meet these days.”

Snow added that all menu items that include avocado can be prepared without the fruit — and so without the surcharge — upon customer request.

A sign for California-grown, pesticide-free avocados for $6.99 a pound at Star Grocery in Berkeley.
California-grown, pesticide-free avocados are $6.99 a pound at Star Grocery in Berkeley. Photo: Cirrus Wood

Grocers have likewise been hit hard by the increase, looking even further afield to Peru and Chile to keep avocados in stock. Nonetheless, stock prices are already down from where they were at the beginning of the month.

“At peak, I was paying $115 a case,” said Fred Siri, produce manager for Encinal Market in Alameda. “Today I paid $62 a case.” Which may be a reduction from peak, but prices for wholesalers are still double their usual cost. Siri typically pays around $30 for a case of 60 avocados.

As of Thursday morning, Siri retails the produce for $1.99 apiece, which is about his usual sticker price. We may now be on the backside of this summer’s avocado panic, but Siri is realistic about the future. “It’s happened before and I promise you it’s going to happen again,” he said. This isn’t the first time the fruit’s prices have gone up.

Cirrus Wood is a freelance writer and photographer living in downtown Berkeley. There are few things he enjoys as much as playing around with the alphabet.