A head of lettuce cost $2.99 Wednesday at the Price Chopper in Parkville, but, as one shopper noted, “they’re bigger than last week.”
In fact, all of the produce looked healthful and inviting. But you’re going to have to be pretty fond of cauliflower to fork over $6.99.
Broccoli was priced at $4.99 a bunch. Leaf lettuce and Romaine were priced at $3.99.
But it’s spring, not winter, so what gives?
“Due to recent weather conditions in California, wet salad vegetable pricing has increased significantly,” said a notice posted prominently above the broccoli at the Parkville store. “This will continue to go even higher over the next few weeks. The cause of these higher prices is due to extreme shortage of harvested vegetables/salads available from the central and northern growing areas in California.”
After years of drought, California farmers have experienced heavy rains that delayed spring planting and caused some disease. That has led to shortages and higher prices across the country, which depends a great deal on California for vegetable crops. Fruit crops have not been much affected.
“The abnormally wet winter led to struggles with early spring plantings for most California veg growers (fields were too wet to plant) which led to nationwide availability issues over the past month or so,” Tim Graas, executive director of perishable field procurement for Associated Wholesale Grocers, said in an email to The Star. “Less supply means higher prices. We are starting to see relief as the new plantings begin to produce and hope to be back to normal within the upcoming weeks as more volume becomes available.
“Going forward,” Graas continued, “most California growers are excited for much anticipated irrigation relief and the end of most state mandated water allocations from the past several years. The upcoming summer fruit season could be one of the best ever with better sizing and flavor as a result of the extra moisture.”
Associated Wholesale Grocers is the nation’s largest cooperative food wholesaler to independently owned supermarkets.
The wholesale price of iceberg lettuce grown in California has risen sixfold since January and the price of broccoli has quadrupled, according to The Sacramento Bee. The Packer, an online site for fruit and vegetable news, said cartons of California lettuce have hit a record $50-plus.
Jessica Bjorgaard, a spokeswoman for the chain of 51 Price Chopper groceries in the Kansas City metro area, said it’s a simple case of supply and demand.
“But we do anticipate that prices will transition back to normal, to what people would expect to see, in the next few weeks,” she said. “The good news is the quality should be going up and prices down.”
In times of periodic spikes in the price of some commodities, Price Chopper tries to discount other items in its weekly shopper ads to compensate, Bjorgaard said.
“We try to be mindful of the total cost of someone’s shopping basket,” she said.
A spokeswoman for Harvesters-The Community Food Network, which supplies food pantries in northeast Kansas and northwest Missouri, said it has not been affected because it does not rely much on produce from California.
“We prefer to buy local,” said Sarah Biles. “We don’t want to pay the transport freight.”