Early yields lower for California leafy greens

Leafy green supplies are expected to be closer to regular supply levels in the second half of May. “Things are starting to settle down a little bit now, and I think by the second half of the month, we’ll be getting back to normal conditions again,” says Ernst van Eeghen, VP of Foodservice Business Development for Church Brothers Farms.

Lettuce supplies, of course, are currently very tight following two atmospheric storms this year in California that brought about tremendous amounts of rainwater and subsequent flooding. “The consequences are very clear that lots of acres got lost because of flooding,” he says. “A huge part of the Salinas Valley land base for the spring transition has been compromised. In addition, the product that was planted or had planned to be planted around that time was interrupted.  

Left: Junior Cristobal of Church Brothers; right: a clamshell of Little Gem lettuce

That means an overall reduction of harvestable acres for the spring and most of this month, leading to supply gaps. Van Eeghen also adds that a lot of growers stayed in the desert longer and planted shorter-day crops such as spring mix and spinach, which are quicker to mature in the heat there.

However, harvesting in Salinas began last week on leafy greens though the yields are proving lower than normal. “We did lose about 10-15 percent in yield of the earlier planted product. In general, we as a company didn’t lose a whole lot of acres because of the floods, but because of the rained-out ranches, our yields are lower than normal,” he says.  

Demand picking up
At the same time, demand for lettuce has been good--particularly in food service, and van Eeghen notes it has seen demand increase in the last week which is not surprising given it is spring, a time when leafy green consumption picks up. The pull for Mother’s Day is also underway.   

Little Gem comes in a four-count clamshell or in food service. It sells in a case of eight clamshells (with four lettuce heads per clamshell) or a 60-count food service pack called Sweet Hearts.

This increased demand is especially being seen in one of Church Brothers’ unique items, Little Gem lettuce, a sweet, crunchy, and crisp specialty lettuce that’s a cross between butter lettuce and Romaine. Given the item can be grilled, dipped, topped, used as a scoop, and more, it’s also positioned to be featured beyond the salad plate. The item comes in a four-count clamshell or in food service; it sells in a case of eight clamshells (with four lettuce heads per clamshell) or a 60-count food service pack called Sweet Hearts.

“We’ve seen tremendous growth on this,” says van Eeghen. “In the last couple of weeks, there has been a 75 percent increase in demand for it.” He does believe demand for Little Gems will stabilize now. “It’s the spring, and with the East Coast warming up, people are going to restaurants again, so food service sales are increasing. People are also getting more serious about eating healthier at home with summer around the corner.” 

For more information:
Loree Dowse
Church Brothers Farms
Tel.: +1 (831) 796-2434

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