Have you noticed lettuce prices skyrocketing? If you're wondering why this is happening, keep reading to get the answer.
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Quick Answer: It has to do with environmental factors. Sweltering summer weather arrived early on, and as a result farmers are dealing with difficult growing conditions for lettuce. But this is not the first time lettuce prices have soared...
How Much Is a Head of Lettuce?
The cost of lettuce is creeping up.
Last year, the USDA reported that, on average, romaine lettuce heads cost $1.48 per pound. Iceberg heads were about $1.09 per pound.
Recently, lettuce prices have been tripling, which has had many Americans worried.
The truth is, lettuce prices have teetered between affordable and expensive for years for a variety of reasons.
In 2018, E. coli outbreaks contaminated romaine lettuce and wiped entire stocks out at the grocery store.
This romaine shortage sent iceberg prices soaring as iceberg replaced the romaine in salad bowls.
Environmental factors can easily strain growing seasons and disturb delicate ecosystems.
Food market ecosystems then become affected, and reverberations of a shortage can be felt throughout the produce aisle.
Why Is Head Lettuce so Expensive?
In July, head lettuce became very expensive. This was a result of the rapidly increasing temperatures this summer.
There was a major heat wave in June, hitting growing areas like Salinas Valley in California hard.
Consequently, romaine and iceberg lettuce prices tripled. As temperatures continue to hit highs, farmers are still reckoning with the damage to their crops.
Meanwhile, demand for lettuce isn't slowing down. Summer is prime time for salads, after all.
Food service distributor US Foods noted in the Farmers Report for July 19, 2019 that romaine and iceberg supplies are light to moderate while demand is higher.
Where demand is high and supplies are comparatively low, prices increase. Sometimes wildly.
Americans are waiting for lettuce prices everywhere to stabilize. But if the heat waves come back, it could take a while.
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How Much Does Lettuce Sell For?
Before the June heat wave, prices were definitely lower.
According to the Western Growers Produce Price Index, romaine lettuce toward the end of May cost somewhere in the ballpark of $1.70 to $2.50 depending on where you lived. Iceberg was around $1.40 to $1.70.
Those are retail prices. Farm prices, or what the lettuces cost wholesale for retailers like your local supermarket, were about 35 cents for both romaine and iceberg.
As you can see, lettuce costs are easily five or more times greater at retail prices. But they also vary based on region, retailer and other market factors—not to mention growing conditions, supply and demand.
Often, lettuce bought directly from farmers is cheaper than lettuce bought from the store.
If there are severe weather conditions affecting the produce, prices are going to be higher no matter what.
But on average, you can spend less money on produce at the farmer's market or at local farm stands.
If you have access to a CSA system (community-supported agriculture), you might try that, too. Often, CSA shares bring overall produce costs down for the consumer while providing you with farm-fresh food. It's a win-win.
The summer of 2019 has seen some serious price hikes on lettuce due to the early heat wave.
But lettuce prices have gone up and down over the years for various reasons, from E. coli scares to severe weather.
How much lettuce costs partly depends on where you live. But if you're searching for a break from the big price tags, sometimes you can find it when you buy directly from farmers. Try farmers markets, farm stands and CSAs if available.