Mexico's multibillion-dollar avocado industry attracts cartels; prices rise

Forget cartels wanting marijuana crops, it's avocados that are the "green gold".

Reportedly, cartels are targeting avocado orchard owners, the laborers who pick the fruit and the drivers who truck it north to the United States.

Jonathan Horowitz, CEO of Legacy Restaurants (Original Ninfa’s and Antone’s Famous Poboys) said avocados are just like any other commodity.

"Whenever you see the demand spike, obviously prices are going to go up with it. Unfortunately with these illegal activities down there by the cartels, it creates even more scarcity," said Horowitz.

He said the demand for avocados, in general, has gone up tremendously.

"Unfortunately with some of the cartel activity that occurs down in Mexico, periodically, there are spikes in prices because of what they're doing down there to the farmers," said Horowitz.

Greater Houston Restaurant Association Executive Director Melissa M. Stewart said they are seeing increases in prices locally.

"One is we did not have a great crop of avocados coming out of California this year. And demand's our other half. Unfortunately, that's going to impact our consumer final price because there's just not as much supply available to meet the demand," said Stewart.

She said avocados are no longer limited to TexMex cuisine, but expanded to healthy menus and as a breakfast item.

"Avocados are just so much more in demand that when you couple that with a limited supply, just naturally by the laws of economics, we're going to see the prices fluctuate," said Stewart.

In August, the U.S. Department of Agriculture temporarily suspended its avocado inspection program in a town west of Mexico City, after threats to some of its employees.

American Farm Bureau Federation reported about 80 percent of all avocados consumed in the U.S. are imported, with Mexico being, by far, the largest supplier. Some avocados are also sourced from Chile. The remaining 20 percent of avocados consumed in the U.S. are grown in California. AFBF found that illicit cartel activity such as price manipulation or overproduction can certainly impact the price the US pays for avocados. This could also become a larger issue due to the small US avocado crop this year due to adverse weather conditions throughout key growing regions in California.

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