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Lettuces slim on supplies post-romaine recall

“It’s the most challenging time ever for lettuces. It’s a very trying time,” says Edmund Moy of Miami, Fl.-based Maximum Foods LLC.

These statements follow a number of disrupting factors in lettuce supply currently, beginning with the North American-wide recall of romaine. The November recall followed outbreaks of Escherichia coli linked to romaine. “Then at this time of year we rely on Yuma, Ariz. to give us lettuce and they have been affected by rain, cold weather,” says Moy. “So what’s available is very little. The weather and the romaine issue created the perfect storm.”

In lieu of romaine availability—and Moy notes that consumer confidence in romaine hasn’t fully returned yet—iceberg is being called on to fill the gap. “It’s driven the price of iceberg up,” says Moy. “All the lettuces have a bit of a rise but they’re not as popular as romaine and iceberg. They have gotten a bump but I don’t think they planted that much of those varieties to fill the demand right now for lettuce.”

Holiday pressure
This adds to the already existing slight push on demand for lettuce that happens in the run up to the holidays, though Moy notes that the holiday bump lettuce receives in demand isn’t as heavy as some commodities get with the holidays.

Of course this makes supplies challenging to come by. Moy estimates that he received 20 percent of the lettuce order he requested this week. And it’s also made for higher prices, especially on iceberg. “The prices are the highest I’ve seen in 10 years,” says Moy. “Iceberg usually peaks at $10/case and I’ve been asked to pay $55-$60/case. It was a sudden increase.”

And with romaine coming back in availability, it too is seeing high pricing. “You expect that when something is banned and it comes back on, nobody’s wants it and the prices will be low,” says Moy. “But that didn’t happen. It came back on and the prices were high. Not as high as iceberg, but still 200 percent over where it’s at usually at this time of year.”

Quality concerns
With high prices, Moy is also watching for potential quality issues given the weather troubles in Arizona. “Usually when price is up, quality is down so with prices at record highs right now, I’m bracing for quality issues,” he says.

Relief should be in sight soon though but Moy anticipates it won’t be imminent.

“We’re relying on Florida lettuce to start but it’s just not there. It needs one to two more weeks and then we might see some volume of Florida lettuce. So it’s not helping right now that Florida isn’t ready,” says Moy. “I do expect to see price breaks but I don’t know how fast it’s going to go down. I anticipate in a weeks time, we’ll get some reasonable price breaks.”

For more information:
Edmund Moy
Maximum Foods LLC
Tel: +1 (786) 299-5868

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