Lettuce prices are at their highs for the year as the growing season prepares to transition from California to Arizona. But with supply constraints expected, Gro forecasts lettuce prices will continue to climb, with pricing relief not likely to arrive until after the US Thanksgiving holiday.
Pricing pressure for leafy greens is greatest during geographic transition periods in fall and spring, as the chance of supply disruptions increases if one growing region ends early before the new growing region is fully ready. Produce retailers and food service company buyers can use Gro’s produce analytics to keep track of retail and shipping point prices as production shifts from the Salinas Valley to Yuma over the next few weeks.
Currently, romaine prices are at $21.55 per case, up 20% from a month ago and just shy of the 10-year average for this time of year. Iceberg lettuce is at $31.65, which is 50% higher than last month and a full 40% above the average.
Heading into the transition, limited supplies of romaine and iceberg are a risk as temperatures in the Salinas Valley and Yuma have been at or below average for the past two months. Growers are already reporting below-normal supply levels for the tail end of the Salinas season. Meanwhile, Yuma’s early-season lettuce, which tends to thrive in high heat, could see lower yields.
That could bring empty produce shelves at retailers and limited offerings in restaurants if suppliers are forced to limit order quantities to a trailing-weekly average while the supply chain gets caught up.
COVID-19 is also casting a shadow on potential supplies. Although growers and processors are accustomed to moving their planting, harvesting, and production equipment the nearly 600 miles between Salinas and Yuma, the pandemic has upended on-farm labor logistics. Planting decisions also are especially complicated this year, amid worries that potential new restaurant closures could cut into demand.
Watch for additional Gro Insight articles through November as we continue to provide updates on the California/Arizona produce transition.