US vegetables flown into Europe during unprecedented shortage

Due to cold weather in Europe’s key vegetable supplying countries, the continent is dealing with an extreme vegetable shortage. “The last time Europe dealt with a vegetable shortage like this was in 2005,” says Lisa Sternlicht with California-based A.M.S. Export. “In spring 2013, we exported a little bit of iceberg lettuce to the UK, but now we receive requests from the UK, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. Even the Spanish might be in the game pretty soon,” continued Sternlicht. Lettuce growers in Salinas are bombarded with calls from Europe, but this time of the year the Arizona desert is North America’s lettuce supplier.

A field of iceberg lettuce in Yuma, AZ

Europe has strict requirements
“There is a big difference between now and 2005 as Europe’s requirements have become much stricter,” shared Sternlicht. “They want everything: Global GAP or at least Primus GAP certification, spray records as well as MRL testing with levels usually lower than those in the US. This is a serious game for people who know what they are doing.” If shipped product doesn’t meet the retailers’ requirements, US shippers can get hurt. “A US grower was ready to ship some specialty salad to Europe. The product was already packaged, but the MRL-test came back with a slight exceedance and the product had to stay in the US.”

Size of red chard that the buyer wants

Europe and US have different packaging sizes
What makes the game even more dynamic is the difference in packaging sizes between the US and Europe. “European retailers are asking for a 400 gram head of lettuce while the standard size in the US is 700-800 gram/head.” Despite the challenges, A.M.S. Export shipped 100 tons of iceberg lettuce to a processor in the UK last week. In addition, the company has received requests on zucchini, Romaine lettuce and spinach. 

12 heads-pack for retail

24 heads-pack for processors

Freight cost makes up two-thirds
It is uncertain how long Europe’s demand for US vegetables will last. Will the consumer continue to pay high prices for vegetables or will they switch to alternatives? “Airfreight comes with a price,” shared Sternlicht. Landed costs into Europe are around 2.3 and 2.5 euros per kg. On top of it, you have to add duties and airline handling. The strength of the dollar and the post-Brexit weakness of the GBP make it pricey.

The current supply shortage could become even bigger in March. Important vegetable growing regions like Murcia in Spain plant produce this time of the year for a March harvest. The extreme cold weather has made it complicated to plant and time will tell what the impact will be.

For more information:
Lisa Sternlicht
A.M.S. Export
Tel: (+1) 213 610 3069

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