Lettuce consumption is not back on track to pre-COVID levels. “There a couple of factors that are working against normal consumption of lettuce,” says Mark McBride with Coastline Family Farms. “Number one is the COVID situation that continues to have its effect as some places are still shutdown. It’s not business as usual,” he added.
“Another major factor is the terrible transportation situation.” There are enough trucks but not enough drivers to drive all those trucks. “Getting transport in California in spring has always been a challenge, but now it’s virtually impossible to find a truck. I have never seen it this bad in my entire career,” McBride commented. “Previously, I’ve seen situations where you would pay a bit more, but at least you had a truck. All grocery stores work with delivered costs and these days it is not uncommon for freight costs to be higher than the cost of merchandise.”
“We have plenty of beautiful lettuce of excellent quality because of the mild temperatures these last weeks, but I would be much happier if I could harvest and transport it all,” shared McBride. “These last two weeks the company has been looking at it day by day, carefully watching volumes for harvesting. This means no truck, no harvest.
“We are sometimes better off leaving the lettuce in the field. These last few weeks have been a rollercoaster ride and I think it will take some time before we are back to normal,” he said. A lot of California commodities haven’t even started yet and once they do, they will create even more demand for trucks that aren’t available.
At the moment all of Coastline’s lettuce volume is coming out of the Salinas valley. There is a bit of competition from growers out of the Santa Maria area as well as the last bits and pieces from New Mexico, which has only about a week of harvest left.
“The overall price level isn’t good with prices well below packing. That combined with poor movement makes it no fun.” Prices are about $8.50 to $10.50 per 40 lb. carton whereas he had hoped to be well above $12-$14 per carton. Retail business continues to be strong, and foodservice is very slowly coming back.