Fed by a consumer juicing craze, prices for fresh celery have soared to historic highs close to $70 per carton and could remain strong for weeks — perhaps months.
In California’s growing districts, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported f.o.b.s for cartons of celery traded at more than $20 per carton in early January, rising to $32 per carton by early March, $45 by mid-March and to as high as $70 in early April, even with supplies slightly ahead of last season’s shipments.
Prices in early April 2018 were $8-$12 per carton, according to the USDA.
Tim Ross, director of regional sales for Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Salinas, Calif., said April 4 that demand has been fueled by a popular personality touting the benefits of celery juice.
So-called “medical medium” Anthony William’s book, “Celery Juice: The Most Powerful Medicine of Our Time Healing Millions Worldwide,” publishes in May.
“We’re being told to be prepared, because he’s already on the top-seller list with preorders (of the book),” Ross said.
Some consumers are actually buying celery by the case, Ross said, following William’s advice to drink 16 ounces of celery juice each morning on an empty stomach.
William’s endorsement of celery juice as a powerful food for a variety of ills — a “healthy gut” among them — has attracted celebrity endorsements. Demand began increasing last year, Ross said.
“Last summer was when we first started hearing a little bit about it,” Ross said, noting the rising demand wasn’t evident in Duda’s seasonally strong fall orders but has been evident since the first of the year.
Higher prices aren’t slowing down demand, he said, noting prices as high as $100 per carton for celery delivered in Canada.
“(Retailers) want more because consumers are buying it,” Ross said, recalling a story of consumers lining up to get into Whole Foods to buy celery.
Ross said the new book will likely continue to spark demand for several months.
“We’ve been told it is probably going to be in next year’s New Year’s resolutions, so we probably have another good year,” he said.
T.J. Fleming, director of sales at Chicago’s Strube Celery & Vegetable Co., said the wholesale market for celery there has been trading in the mid- to high-$80s and shows no signs of falling off. Most retailers are reducing the size of displays but won’t go without having celery on hand, he said.
Russ Widerburg, sales manager, Boskovich Farms Inc., Oxnard, Calif., said the market has been strong for about the last month and supply conditions are stable.
“There’s really not much change other than the desert areas and Mexico, those areas are finished, and everything’s back to the coast,” he said.
With the market hovering between $60 and $70 per carton in recent weeks, there is no sure indication of falling demand, he said.
He said some buyers say they have been cleaned out and need to restock.
Retail promotions for celery were down sharply from a year ago in early April, according to the USDA. For the week of April 5, the USDA reported only 331 stores promoted celery in their weekly circulars, compared with 1,173 stores the same week a year ago.
Retail celery prices on the West Coast were mostly ranging as high as $4.99 to $5.99 per bunch and as low as $1.99 to $2.49 per bunch if the retailer has a contract price.
East Coast and Canadian retail prices may be hitting $5.99 to $6.99 per bunch, he said.
Widerburg said harvest was ahead of schedule on the central coast, with less acreage planted and seeders prevalent. Seeders are when the middle of the stock of celery starts to bolt through the middle, resulting in less usable product.
Whereas a good yield for a field is 1,500 to 1,600 cartons per acre, a field with seeder issues could still yield 1,000 to 1,200 cartons per acre, Widerburg said.
“It’s kind of just a perfect storm and demand is still staying good with the market being in the in the high $60s and $70s,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I’ve never seen it higher than $40.”
For the supply side, there won’t be much change over the next couple of months on the coast, he said.
Juice-inspired demand has been around for five or six years but has gotten more intense lately, Widerburg said, particularly in markets like Los Angeles.
“There is more publicity about the 16 ounces a day being healthy for you so I’m sure we could probably directly correlate that to some of the demand,” he said.
For some retailers, Widerburg said contract pricing may be helping to stave off high shipping point prices.
“There’s a lot of the demand and consumption (that) is being driven by contract pricing,” he said. Retailers that are on contract are better able to maintain relatively stable retail prices allowing consumers to buy celery at a competitive price, he said.
Widerburg said Boskovich does little contract pricing on celery. For those suppliers that do contract with retailers, they also include “Act of God” provisions to allow for price escalations under extraordinary market conditions.