Garlic supplies were ramping back up in early summer following a spring when the pungent bulbs sometimes were hard to find.
“For the last two months or so, consumers could not find garlic, or they found garlic that was much bigger or much smaller or more oddly shaped than they are used to,” Ken Christopher, executive vice president at Christopher Ranch, Gilroy, Calif., said in late June.
Some customers were frustrated because the company had to cut or make adjustments to a lot of orders, he said.
“The garlic simply wasn’t there anymore.”
More people eating at home because of COVID-19 quarantines was a cause of the shortfall, coupled with tight supplies from foreign suppliers.
Demand still remained high by the end of June.
“Total shipments are about 30% to 40% higher week-over-week than they were at this time last year,” Christopher said.
The company added a third shift to keep up with demand and had 1,000 full-time workers at the end of June.
Christopher Ranch usually moves a half-million pounds weekly, he said, but was packing up to 1 million pounds of fresh garlic every week to ship to grocery stores and distribution centers across the country.
Christopher said there was no telling how long the high demand will continue.
“As long as the demand is there, we’re going to maintain this workforce,” he said.
California growers produced about 250 million pounds of garlic this year, about half of the garlic consumed in the U.S., Christopher said.
That volume could increase about 10% for the coming crop, based on early results, he said.
Christopher Ranch accounts for 40% of the domestic garlic industry, he said.
Christopher said the highest prices of the year are most likely to materialize in December and January, when demand for garlic traditionally is highest.
Overall garlic prices could dip this summer, said Jim Provost, president of I Love Produce LLC, West Grove, Pa.
“China has a huge crop, so that will impact world garlic prices on the down side,” he said.
“The U.S. has a tariff on Chinese garlic, so the impact here will be less pronounced, but because China exports all over the world, prices in the world market will be less, on average, than last year.”
I Love Produce has good supplies of new-crop garlic from Spain, he said, and he anticipated that retailers will be able to promote garlic consistently during 2020-21.
“The foodservice situation is still questionable due to COVID,” Provost said, “so we are cautiously optimistic that there will be some rebound in demand as the economy opens up.”
Happy Veg Inc., a new company launched early this year by partners Cameron Mistal, CEO, and Louis Hymel, COO, imports garlic from Spain, Argentina, Mexico and China, Hymel said.
Chinese garlic is competitively priced, even with a stiff tariff, he said.
“They do a good job on it,” Hymel added.
“It will be interesting to see the consumers’ perception of buying anything out of China today compared to prior to the virus.”
Spain and Argentina ran out of garlic early this season, resulting in tight inventories that caused “a real spike in the market,” he said.
“Everybody started going to Mexico, trying to get as much out of Mexico as quick as possible.”
Maurice A. Auerbach Inc., Secaucus, N.J., ships garlic year-round, said Bruce Klein, director of marketing.
“We source from all over the world,” he said, including California, Spain and Mexico.
The company gets very good quality product from Mexico, he said, but he’s not sure about supplies from Spain this year.
“We heard that there was rain on the plains in Spain that might affect some of the Spanish garlic,” he said.
The firm’s garlic and ginger sales “were crazy for a while” this spring, Klein said. But they have since leveled off.
The Garlic Co. in Bakersfield, Calif., was in the middle of the harvest of its early garlic varieties and was just starting its late garlic the fourth week of June, said Joe Lane, an owner.
Lane was quite pleased with California’s crop.
“It’s probably the best qualitywise we’ve had in six years,” he said.
He attributed the exceptional condition and decent sizing to good growing weather.
The company sources garlic from up and down California’s San Joaquin Valley and the Salinas Valley.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a big impact on the company’s sales, he said.
At one point, foodservice business was just 10% of normal, but it was working its way back to near-normal levels in late June, Lane said.
At the same time, retail garlic sales were up as more consumers prepared meals at home.
“Some people thought it might fight the virus,” he said.