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Lettuce prices remain high

by Tim Linden | March 04, 2011

The lettuce market remained red hot the week of Feb. 28 as production continues to be hampered by earlier weather problems.

The cold, wet and rainy weather in December has combined with more rain and cold temperatures over the past several weeks to severely limit supplies.

Both Iceberg and Romaine lettuce were trading for more than $30 per carton on the spot market the week of Feb. 28, with prices occasionally spiking near $40 for specific sizes and SKUs. Other leaf lettuce items, including Red Leaf and Green Leaf, had f.o.b. prices in the mid-$20s range.

The high prices of the past month have caused growers to cut their fields a bit prematurely, which has resulted in decreased yields (because of smaller heads) and continues to fuel the shortage problem.

Experts say it is going to take several weeks of good weather to increase lettuce production to the levels of demand.

Although there are signs of supply and demand getting back into sync on some items such as broccoli, for the most part vegetable supplies remain tight across the board. Tomatoes are still trading at very strong f.o.b. prices, as are squash, celery and cauliflower. For a few days early in the week, eggplant supplies were almost non-existent.

Grower-shippers are predicting strong markets throughout the month of March and into April. Of course, much of the vegetable production is sold on contract pricing which is lower than the spot market. Many contracts do have escalator clauses that allow for an increased f.o.b. price when the market spikes, but the cost is still significantly lower than the spot-market price.