Tight supply props up prices for lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower

11/21/2011 10:41:00 AM
Andy Nelson

Various crop issues could keep lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower markets strong through Thanksgiving and heading into December, grower-shippers say.

Lettuce

“From what I hear, there’s a relatively short supply” of iceberg lettuce as the Salinas and Huron deals in California begin to yield to Yuma, Ariz., production, said Steve Church, director of sales for Salinas-based Church Bros. LLC.

In Yuma, Church said, there are reports of lettuce opening up instead of “heading in,” which can reduce yields. That could affect volumes in late November.

High lettuce prices in mid-November drove some buyers away, leading to lower demand in some markets heading into Thanksgiving week, Church said.

“The market’s up there,” he said. “It’s a supply-and-demand situation.”

Mark McBride, sales manager of Salinas-based Coastline Produce, also said he expects lettuce markets to remain strong, despite a mid-November adjustment.

“Lettuce is seeing some pre-holiday slippage in f.o.b.s, but we still anticipate a good, strong market through the holiday,” he said. “Supplies from Huron, Salinas and Santa Maria are coming to a rapid close.”

Most growers, McBride said, report yield issues on the front end of the Yuma deal.

“Nothing horrendous, but it will still remain a strong market,” he said.

On Nov. 16, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $20-25.35 for film-lined cartons of iceberg 24s from California, comparable to last year at the same time.

Romaine movement began to slow by mid-November, which typically happens after buyers stock up for Thanksgiving, said Michael Boggiatto, president and general manager of Salinas-based grower Boggiatto Produce, which was quoting the high teens for both cartons and hearts the week of Nov. 14.

“(Prices) probably won’t be higher in a couple weeks, and if they are they won’t be crazy high,” Boggiatto said Nov. 17.

Boggiatto Produce expects to begin shipping from Brawley, Calif., the week of Nov. 28, Boggiatto said. After about a week of overlap with its Salinas deal, Brawley will take over the bulk of the romaine deal for the company.

Weather in Brawley was slightly cooler than normal in November, which was probably good for quality, as there should be less bolting, Boggiatto said. Boggiatto expects good quality and slightly lower volumes from the region this season.

Broccoli and cauliflower

“The broccoli and cauliflower market keeps steaming along,” McBride said. “Projections are way off where people budgeted, and it remains extremely tight.”

While prices could come down after Thanksgiving, a cold storm forecast for coastal California in late November could throw another wrench in supplies.

“By mid-December, it should be slightly better, but there are still questions,” he said.

Demand for broccoli and cauliflower always picks up around the holidays, thanks to demand for party trays, in addition to foodservice and regular retail pull, Church said.

In mid-November, supplies of both were short, and Church characterized cauliflower volumes as erratic. With a late start to broccoli and possibly cauliflower production in Yuma, markets could stay tight in the immediate future.

“We really have to watch the weather,” he said. “The desert is really a weather deal — or, like last year, a weather and disease deal.”

Demand for those items could slow, if retailers keep prices too high, Church said.

On Nov. 16, the USDA reported prices of $16.55-19.25 for cartons of broccoli 14s from California, up from $14.47-16.50 last year at the same time.



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