Avocado Surplus Drives 380,000 Fruit Distribution in Philadelphia
The avocados came from growers in South America, most likely Peru, said Evan Ehlers, founder and executive director of Sharing Excess, a Philadelphia-based group that fights waste by delivering surplus food to people and businesses. organizations that need it most. The proceeds were initially secured by Farmlink Project, a California-based nonprofit group that was able to get its hands on about five truckloads of avocados that would otherwise have gone to waste. The group gave the fruit to Sharing Excess for distribution, Ehlers said.
The giveaway underscores the volatility of this year’s avocado market, in which America’s voracious appetite for the fruit, combined with lower production in Mexico, has led to significantly higher prices and an influx of lawyers from other countries, including Peru. When the market began to stabilize in July and August and yields from Mexico rose again, analysts suggested the market may have been flooded with junk avocados. But these are only speculations.
“We are able to handle that amount and, you know, we’ve been moving them all week. It started to get to a point where we’re saturating the organizations we normally distribute to, and we realized we probably had to do a lot of distribution on our own,” Ehlers said in a phone call from Philadelphia, where he had spent part of the morning driving a forklift.
Within hours, Sharing Excess distributed 230,000 avocados on Wednesday to everyone who showed up at the park, whatever their need. Part of the group’s mission, Ehlers said, is to de-stigmatize hunger, so the organization doesn’t require people to produce evidence of need. Earlier in the week, Ehlers added, Sharing Excess donated 150,000 avocados to food banks in the Philadelphia area. The group plans to distribute more avocados on Thursday.
At the start of the summer, the price of medium-sized Mexican avocados peaked at $87 per case, an increase of 180% over the previous year, said David Magaña, principal fruit and vegetable analyst at RaboResearch. Food and Agribusiness in Fresno, California. About 90% of the avocados imported into the United States come from Mexico, according to a RaboResearch report transmitted by Magaña.
As avocado prices rose in the first months of the year, restaurants and chefs were forced to respond. Chipotle has increased the prices of its menus. An artisanal condiment company in Los Angeles had to modify its avocado salsa recipe to accommodate the higher prices.
“Avocado prices are so high that it’s now a luxury for a customer to ask for an avocado in a daily meal,” Lazaro González, a chef in Toluca, Mexico, told Business Insider this summer.
But since then, avocado prices have normalized. A case of 48 medium-sized Mexican avocados now sells for about $30, down about 25% from a year ago, Magaña said. So what explains the wild fluctuations in just a few months?
A number of factors contributed to higher prices in the first half of 2022, Magaña said. But one of the main factors was, fundamentally, the nature of avocado production itself: the trees have alternate production, which means that in some years they simply produce less fruit. Last season was one of those years, Magaña said. For the first six months of 2022, he said, shipments of avocados from Mexico to the United States were down 25% from the previous year, although Magaña notes that 2021 was a year exceptionally fruitful for growers in Michoacán, where most Mexican avocados are grown. .
But there were other impacts as well. In February, the US Department of Agriculture banned all imports from Michoacán after a US inspector was allegedly threatened in Mexico. The ban only lasted a week, but it was followed two months later by a new policy in Texas that required secondary inspections of all commercial trucks and other vehicles entering the state. The inspections led to mile-long queues at the US-Mexico border crossing and forced some operators to destroy products destined for US markets.
“So all of that combined with a lean year,” Magaña said, “we had very high prices.”
The good news, Magaña said, is that the current season for Mexican avocados is “looking good” and that, for the first time, avocados will not only come from Michoacán. Mexico and the United States reached an agreement last year to import avocados from the state of Jalisco. The first shipment of Jalisco avocados arrived in the United States in August.
But the increased yield and lower price of Mexican avocados could spell trouble for Peruvian farmers. Magaña said he had no specific idea why Peruvian growers might have given their avocados to Philadelphia. But he said Philly is a main port of entry for South American fruit. If the Peruvian fruit was not in optimal condition when it arrived, buyers may not be required, let alone compelled, to grab it, given that Mexican avocados are now widely available. (Interestingly, Australia also faces a glut of avocados.)
Farmlink Project did not immediately respond to an email requesting more information on how it secured lawyers.
During the Philadelphia giveaway on Wednesday, Sharing Excess employees inspected each case of avocados before distributing them, Ehlers said. Many of them were still a few days away from peak maturity. But even if there were some small imperfections, the lawyers were still better in the hands of the public than in a landfill, the executive director said.
“Forty percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted,” Ehlers said. “Whether we have an effective way to give back to communities, so we can have a much better society where we waste less and share more.