The beginning of lettuce harvest in Yuma, Arizona, is shoring up supplies of iceberg lettuce, knocking prices off their recent peaks, but in an unusual move, romaine prices have continued to climb as growers underestimated demand for the popular leafy green.
Iceberg lettuce shipping point prices, which are the cost of the product at origin, are just shy of $44/case, down 10% in the past week, but still roughly double the 10-year average for this time of year, when growing seasons transition from Salinas Valley, California, to Yuma, Arizona. Meanwhile, romaine prices are at $35/case, up 70% since Oct. 18 and 25% above average.
Gro continues to expect above-average lettuce prices into mid-December. Heavy rainfall in Salinas in late October and early November, and cooler temperatures that prevailed during the tail end of the Salinas season and at the start of the Yuma growing season, reduced leafy green volumes and pushed prices higher.
High lettuce prices are synonymous with the biannual growing season transitions, but it is unusual for iceberg and romaine lettuce prices to move in opposite directions. Some Yuma growers reduced plantings of romaine as restaurants were expected to swap in iceberg and other greens as a substitute for romaine on their menus, in response to foodborne illness outbreaks in romaine in recent years around periods of industry transition. That substitution did not dampen romaine demand as much as expected, resulting in current romaine shortages.
Lettuce retail prices have shown greater stability than shipping point prices, as produce retailers and food-service companies typically absorb seasonal price gyrations. "These companies can use our analytics to keep track of shipping point prices and transport quantities during the produce production transition," the Gro team concludes.