The well-meaning folks over at Chipotle didn't realize that a standard financial report warning about avocado supplies would spark panic and a spate of bad puns on the Internet.
Here's what Chipotle said in its security filing:
Like all restaurant companies, we are susceptible to increases in food costs as a result of factors beyond our control, such as general economic conditions, seasonal fluctuations, weather conditions, global demand, food safety concerns, generalized infectious diseases, fluctuations of the U.S. dollar, product recalls and government regulations.
That sounds general enough, but the company also mentioned that 2013 was a difficult year for food prices. Here's the avocado statement that drove people to agonize over the supposed end of guacamole as we know it:
Any increase in the prices of the ingredients most critical to our menu, such as chicken, beef, cheese, avocados, beans, rice, tomatoes and pork, would adversely affect our operating results. Alternatively, in the event of cost increases with respect to one or more of our raw ingredients, we may choose to temporarily suspend serving menu items, such as guacamole or one or more of our salsas, rather than paying the increased cost for the ingredients. (Emphasis added.)
ThinkProgress, a liberal blog, wrote about that warning Wednesday morning as a way to highlight the potential effects of climate change, particularly on avocado prices. Chipotle was hit by a storm of concerned tweets from guacamole-lovers...
— Liddy Huntsman (@HuntsmanLiddy) March 5, 2014
Holy save the Guacaomole! Chipotle may pull guac due to increasing costs: http://t.co/8ffC8Iin67 Guac is a STAPLE don't u know!
— Angie Goff (@OhMyGOFF) March 5, 2014
...which prompted a response from the company.
@10News Rest easy, the news out there are merely over-speculating on our normal quarterly risk assessments. No changes are planned. -Rusty
— Chipotle (@ChipotleTweets) March 5, 2014
Does Chipotle's warning imply there'll be no more creamy, tangy, delicious guacamole to complement your burrito and chips? Not really. Chipotle is simply saying that if prices continue to rise, it would rather wait until they fall instead of passing the costs on to customers. What's really interesting is that Chipotle explicitly mentions the weather -- more specifically, the prolonged drought in California -- as a factor that makes its ingredients more expensive. They call out beef in particular, but not avocados.
For instance, two years of drought conditions in parts of the U.S. have resulted in significant increases in beef prices during late 2013 and early 2014. Increasing weather volatility or other long-term changes in global weather patterns, including any changes associated with global climate change, could have a significant impact on the price or availability of some of our ingredients.
California's severe drought is having an impact on many of its crops, and it's also the nation's top producer of avocado. Does climate change have the potential to hit production of the green fruit? A 2006 study (pdf) by the University of California's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory looked at the impact of temperature change on six perennial crops grown in the state, including avocados.The study predicted that yields for crops could decrease significantly as temperatures increased.
“More than 95 percent of the simulations for almonds, table grapes, walnuts, and avocados showed a negative response to warming by mid-century,” David Lobell, an associate professor at Stanford University, said in the report.
The purple bar for avocados shows that the fruit is particularly susceptible to higher temperatures in comparison to the other five crops. Lobell adds:
Yields decrease even more when warming reaches 4°C, as do the areas with high-yield potential. These changes are particularly noticeable for oranges, walnuts, and avocados.
All this means is that while we may have to worry about a global guacamole shortage in the future, we'll probably have bigger problems by then.