Rising Food Prices – Don’t lettuce get started on this Issue

Since the pandemic began in March of 2020, the price of beef has risen significantly, anywhere from 6 to 24 percent depending on whether the customer is selecting ground beef or some premium cuts of steak and this is at the wholesale level, grocery and restaurants have seen larger increases.  Well, now vegans are feeling the pain as leafy greens are seeing prices soar and supply shrink causing restaurants to temporarily stop offering leafy greens and salads on their menus. 

Wholesale produce distributors say demand is exceeding the supply of iceberg and romaine lettuce, and pricing pressures are expected to continue throughout the month. People are quick to blame transportation costs for the rise in prices, but the actual culprit is two pathogens known as Pythium Wilt and INSV which are to blame. Together they are spreading a virus among lettuce and other leafy greens that’s likely to destroy crops like what happened in 2020 when a third of the Salinas Valley, which is one of the major valleys and most productive agricultural regions in California, lettuce crops were destroyed resulting in $100 million loss for farmers.

Climate change is most likely the major contributing factor as warmer winters are partly blamed for the spread of the pathogens. Historically cold winters kill off the pathogens preventing them from spreading when temperatures warm up. The same pathogen has also been found in the Yuma, Arizona growing region where farmers are now shifting their operations. But ag leaders say the problem in Yuma is not widespread there likely because of the region’s shorter growing season.  Industry analysts believe that the lettuce supply will increase, and prices will drop when Yuma-grown lettuce starts hitting the market in a few weeks two weeks.

Until then expect to see leafy greens and salad items increase in price when heading out for your weekly grocery shopping and limited options being offered at restaurants as more and more businesses owners start posting to let customers know salad options are being temporarily taken off the menu like Roadside Willies Smokehouse & Bar as they post, “No can do. Salads and lettuce toppings will be off the menu until quality and pricing return to acceptable levels. Terrible produce and crazy high prices are not a recipe for satisfied customers. We refuse to serve unfit food at any price. According to market experts, we can expect things to improve by Christmas. Unfortunately, supply issues will be the new norm for a long time to come.”

Even on my recent trip to Subway, I noticed a sign on the glass case stating that lettuce may not be available as it is in short supply.  In a tweet last week, Swiss Chalet’s Canadian division said due to the industry-wide shortage, its garden and caesar salads are not available, and items that normally contain lettuce, like burgers, will come without lettuce for the time being.  So, it affects businesses large and small.

In September, according to Statistics Canada food prices continued to soar across the country even as the annual rate of inflation cooled to 6.9 percent.  Prices on food purchased from the grocery store continued to soar, rising 11.4 percent to a new 41-year high. With shoppers paying more for meat (7.6 percent), dairy (9.7 percent), bakery goods (14.8 percent) and fresh vegetables (11.8 percent) during the month. So, it looks like the trend will be continuing into November.

by Ryan Myson