Why it's so hard to find lettuce in stores these days
Published Monday, April 10, 2017 11:40AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, April 10, 2017 4:17PM EDT
Have you noticed the price of lettuce has shot up in recent weeks? Or just disappeared altogether from stores? There’s a produce shortage underway in Canada and salad greens are just the tip of the iceberg (lettuce).
Mohammad Nazari, the purchasing and sales manager at J.E. Russell Produce Ltd., a large Toronto-based produce distributor, says the prices of all kinds of lettuce – romaine, iceberg, red leaf and even packaged salads -- are up because of low supplies from California. And he says the price of celery, broccoli, cauliflower are creeping up too.
What’s going on? Rain, rain and too much rain, says Nazari.
The storms that flooded once-drought-stricken California as well as Arizona in January and February wiped out many lettuce crops already in the ground, forced planting delays in the north, or led to problems with pests.
“All the rains they’ve had, there have been issues with quality, with leaf lettuce having bugs and mildew because of all the moisture,” Nazari told CTVNews.ca by phone Monday.
“…They’re not shipping it out if it has quality issues. So it’s created a real, real shortage that has been building and going on for about a month and half now,” he added.
Compounding the problem is the fact that there’s always a slowdown in lettuce supply in late March, Nazari says. That’s when growing moves from the hotter areas of southern California and Yuma, Arizona, to fields in the Salinas region of northern California.
Most stores and grocery chains anticipate that slowdown by ensuring they have extra stock to keep crisper displays full, and most consumers don’t even notice the shortage.
But this year, the drop in supply from growers has arrived at the same time as the crop transition, leading to empty shelves in the produce area.
“And now, prices are crazy. Romaine in the store should be selling for like, $2.99 at most; now, it’s as much as $4.99,” he said.
Celery, which takes longer to grow than lettuce, is also creeping up in price.
“Celery at the stores is usually around $1.99, but they’re starting to sell for $3.99 or even $4.99. And we’re hearing that cauli(flower) is up at $5.99,” he said.
Much of Europe experienced a similar lettuce shortage this winter when southern Spain -- which supplies the majority of the continent’s produce in the winter – was hit by the heaviest rainfall the regions has seen in 30 years.
The good news for Canadian consumers is that the rains in California have settled, crops are growing again, and supplies are expected to increase over the next few weeks.
Demand will still be high through Easter, when many consumers tend to stock up on produce, says Nazari. But expect prices to start slowly falling back over the next few weeks after the holiday.