SALINAS, Calif. — With two months left in the Salinas, Calif., lettuce deal, buying remains active in all varieties. Romaine prices are up over last year, but other commodities are down slightly.
The deal threw one obstacle after another in the path of grower-shippers, from spring floods along the Salinas River to product from homegrown deals elsewhere hitting the summer market and taming demand.
“This summer has probably been more of a challenge than any in recent memory,” Mark McBride, sales manager at Salinas-based Coastline Produce, said Sept. 14. “Especially the last six weeks or so with the late arrival of some of the items that we compete against, and of course the late homegrown deals.”
“A lot of (homegrown deals) missed out on the Fourth of July business but they came in with a vengeance. They’re still going to be with us for a couple of weeks.”
Romaine 24-count cartons priced at $11.47 to $12.64 on Sept. 12, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and romaine hearts were mostly $12.50 to $13.50 for a dozen three-count packages. Year-ago prices were about $9.50 to $11 for the cartons and $13.50 to $14.50 for hearts.
Iceberg 24-count film-lined cartons are $7.35 to $8.64, down from $8.55 to $9.56 last year. Green leaf 24-count cartons go for $7.45 to $8.50, down from $11.35 to $12.56. Red leaf prices are level with 2010.
Coastline Produce explores niche market
Coastline Produce, for one, tried to profit from both the popularity of romaine and the demand for small, specialty lettuce heads — a growing niche market — by launching its new Leaf Ez Little Gem Hearts product earlier this summer. Little Gem Hearts are a cross between romaine and butter lettuces.
“We think the category is going to grow, especially for wraps,” said McBride. Meanwhile, the company’s clarifying for retail and foodservice buyers what’s on offer.
“We launched this in the last 90 days and while there’s been some confusion with other categories, we’re trying to point out the fact that it is a category unto itself,” McBride said. “It’s unlike romaine hearts and it’s unlike butter lettuce. It has the unique characteristics of both and we want it to be treated on its own.”
The product, which can be purchased in six-bag units of three heads each for retail or a 24-count foodservice pack, was launched at the Produce Marketing Association Foodservice Conference in Monterey in July.
“We had a chef there serving the wraps with a number of different fillings,” McBride said.