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US: Domestic lettuce prices hit record highs

A tight domestic lettuce and romaine market is starting to break just a bit. “Last week was the toughest week,” says Mark Vaughan of Santa Maria, Ca.-based Fresh Avenue Partners. “Supplies seem to be slightly better now.”

Volume of leafy greens are, at best, tricky to manage during crossover times between regions. But as for last week’s limited supply and high prices? “It was a weather-driven issue. We had unfavourable conditions in the latter part of the Yuma, Arizona district primarily. We had unusually warm weather and moisture that caused the product to not be good and have low yields,” says Vaughan.

Add to that a rainy planting season in Salinas, Calif. “Those early plantings in Salinas are designed to bridge that gap and make that transition smoother and this year they were not effective,” says Vaughan. “Fields had to be re-prepped and the lettuce had to be replanted.”

Prices spike significantly

That left prices at virtually record highs. “Prices were up by a factor of four times,” says Vaughan. “The open market last year was roughly $11-$15/carton during the transition on iceberg. And this week we started at over $50/carton. We’ve had events of similar scale in the past but I don’t recall anything worst than this.”

On top of it all, the transition came at a time considered peak lettuce season: the spring, when large pulls are tied to Easter, Mother’s Day and other holidays. “It really made for a large shortfall for all users of iceberg and romaine,” says Vaughan.

And now, things are starting to turn…slowly. “The Mother’s Day demand has not begun yet. So there has been a slight drop in demand combined with a slight increase in availability. We’re starting to see things break,” says Vaughan. “However, Mother’s Day pull will start next weekend so we’ll see demand pick up. I do think there will be continued supply improvement.”

For more information:
Mark Vaughan
Fresh Avenue Partners
Tel: +1-405-833-7894

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