Prices of vegetables spike over U.S. supply issues

Calgary shoppers may be experiencing sticker shock when it comes to the price of certain kinds of produce. Grocery suppliers say $5 lettuce and $8 cauliflower is the result of a weather-related, supply shortage in the U.S.

Heavy rains in California are spoiling state's salad-related exports

Heavy rain in US has caused a shortage of supply & spike in price of certain vegetables, including lettuce & broccoli. (Colleen Underwood)

Some grocery shoppers in Calgary may have noticed the price of lettuce has tripled, even though it's a little wilted. 

That's because the region in California responsible for supplying the majority of salad-related produce across North America has been getting hit with unusually heavy rains.

"So there's been some mold and mildew issues," said Whitney Wong, in charge of buying fruits and vegetables for Bite, an independent grocery store in Inglewood.

"The growing conditions have been volatile so the availability, quality and price are reflecting that."

Wong says she either can't bring in certain types of vegetables, like Romaine lettuce, because they're not available. She's also looking at paying triple the usual cost for other items, such as cauliflower.

"If I feel like its a little bit too extreme I'll make the choice to just not bring it in and educate our staff and educate our customers of why that is," she said.

Wong says some of the affected items include:

  • Kale.
  • All types of lettuce.
  • Parsley.
  • Broccoli.
  • Cauliflower.

Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of food studies and policy at Dalhousie University, told the Calgary Eyeopener Wednesday that other problems behind the price increase include pest management and productivity.

"So there's been lots of waste, lots of losses with crops, and if you couple that with higher demand for these products in the spring because we all love our greens in the spring, then of course that puts a lot of pressure on prices, and that's why they're going up," he said.

"The produce section of the grocery store is where prices are most volatile." 

One local grocery supplier says consumers are unfortunately taking the brunt of this bout of bad weather.

"When seasons are good and the weather isn't a factor they're spending about $1 per head of lettuce or so, but now they're spending about $5 a head," said Alex Goodman, produce sales and service specialist at Associated Grocer. "It's just insane on prices."

Whitney Wong, produce lead at Bite, an independent grocery store in Inglewood, says produce prices are high right now partly because of heavy rains in California. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

But Jozef Hubburmin, with Fresh Direct Produce, a supplier to major grocery chains and independent grocers across Canada, says this is the nature of the produce industry, it can vary week-to-week.

"The unique thing about produce is that you can have produce that is extremely expensive and of medium quality and then a couple of weeks later a whole rack of that same produce can come out and it can be better quality and cost a lot less."

So Hubburmin says the company's focus right now is finding alternative sources of vegetables, to make up for some of the shortages.

Goodman says he's been told this will last a few more weeks, which is about when B.C.'s fresh produce starts to become available.

In the meantime, Goodman says he expects to continue to get an earful from his customers.

"Yeah, of course, I mean everyone is going to complain if you're paying more right, but its just kind of how it is, we just got to tough it out," he said.