Soft celery prices could firm up by Super Bowl

01/17/2008 12:00:00 AM
Don Schrack

(Jan. 17) The seasonal ebb and flow of California celery sales found most post-holiday prices softening. The Feb. 3 Super Bowl could increase demand and force retailers to pay higher prices.

“The Super Bowl is always a good weekend for vegetables,” said Keith Bobholz, salesman at the Andrew Smith Co., Salinas, Calif.

Grower-shippers said the quality of the celery is good to excellent, but that the winter deal’s volume will likely not be as large as the 2007 bumper crop.

“I’d say we’re at a normal year’s production,” said Russ Widerburg, sales manager for Boskovich Farms Inc., Oxnard, Calif.

Since the company’s harvest began in early November, Widerburg said per-carton sales have been consistently in the range of $10-14. The harvesting has been equally consistent, he said, though there have been a few chilly days that slowed the process.

“Boskovich will continue to plant in the Oxnard area through the first week or so in March,” Widerburg said, “and will wrap up the Oxnard deal in late June.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Jan. 16 reported celery f.o.b.s from Oxnard varied widely, with cartons of 2 and 2½ dozen at $8.65-13.56 and cartons of 18 celery hearts at $14.50-17.45; celery hearts had a wide range in price, quality and appearance.

Per-carton prices for the Western Arizona district celery on Jan. 15 were 2 dozen at $11.10-13.50, 2½ dozen at $10.45-13.10; 3 dozen fetched $9.50-11.45 and 4 dozen were $9.50-10.50.

Prices for south Florida district celery were higher. Cartons of 2 and 2½ dozen were at $15.95, 3 dozen were $14.95 and 4 dozen were $12.95.

Though volume is down from last year, Boskovich increased planting acreage by more than 10%, Widerburg said.

The Andrew Smith Co. markets celery year-round strictly to processors, Bobholz said, selling the Oxnard deal through June and then switching to Salinas Valley celery for the second half of the year.

A factor that could be affecting sales of California celery, said John Jackson, owner of JJ & Son Marketing Inc., Chualar, Calif., was the start of the celery harvest in Florida. The California crop has loyal customers, however.

“My customers have been very pleased with the quality of California celery this season,” Jackson said.

Ivan Matsumori, salesman at Cal-Cel Marketing Inc., Oxnard, rates the quality of the crop as excellent. Though, he said prices softened a bit in mid-January.

That did not come as a surprise to Don Blanton, owner of Blanton Produce Co., Salinas, Calif.

“When you have cauliflower getting up to $22 to $25, all of a sudden things just stop,” Blanton said. “The prices on all produce commodities have softened.”

The high cost of diesel fuel is another hurdle for customers. The per-carton cost of shipping produce from California to the east coast has climbed to $8, he said.

Blanton is not counting on the Super Bowl to boost sales and prices. It’s the weather that determines prices, he said.



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