( Courtesy Church Brothers Farms )

Mostly favorable growing conditions for leaf and lettuce items have helped produce some good-quality crops from California this summer, grower-shippers say.

As has been the case since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, retail sales have been relatively strong, while foodservice business has been off but generally seems to be improving.

“The retail spectrum seemed to pretty much boom,” said Mark McBride, salesman for Coastline Family Farms, Salinas, Calif.

“By far, the foodservice sector was hit much harder, with the closing of restaurants,” he said. “We’re still trying to find the new balance between the two sectors of the business.”

Iceberg lettuce, romaine, romaine hearts, green leaf and red leaf lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and green onions are the company’s core items.

As usual, Coastline Family Farms has made some “seasonal corrections” in planted acreage to allow for homegrown deals throughout the U.S., he said.

Weather patterns in the Salinas Valley growing region have normalized since June, when the area experienced “moderate quality issues” as a result of prolonged heat and some erratic weather, said Nicole Zapata, marketing director for Misionero Vegetables, Gonzalez, Calif.

“Our goal is to watch products closely on a daily basis to ensure the highest quality available is being shipped to our customers,” Zapata said.

Misionero’s Earth Greens Organics and Garden Life lines include leafy greens and lettuce items and have field pack and ready-to-eat options available, she said.

“Consumers are wanting more out of their greens and are looking to combine them with other ingredients in ways that make the greens the center of the meal, (like) wraps, bun-less burgers and macro bowls,” she said.

Pockets of late rain followed by some warm spurts brought on some crops for Salinas-based The Nunes Co. Inc., said sales manager Johnny Amaral. 

“We’re on track and the crop looks good,” he said in early July. “We had a pretty mild spring.”

Markets were good on iceberg lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, romaine and romaine hearts, he said.

The celery market was tight, but he said the start of homegrown deals will put some pressure on celery f.o.b.s.

Homegrown programs will put more pressure on various markets each week, he said.

So far, the year has been “very good” in terms of growing conditions and overall crop quality for Salinas-based Church Brothers Farms, said Rick Russo, senior vice president of sales and marketing.

“INSV (impatiens necrotic spot virus) continues to be an issue for us, up and down the valley,” he said. “Other than that, we are about normal.”

Volume will “remain steady across the board,” he added.

The company’s leafy product line has been growing exponentially with a variety of unique products, he said.

“Most of these commodities have been staples for years, and we have seen continued growth in our Tender Leaf program, which has flourished and evolved for over 17 years.”

The Tender Leaf program includes specialty items such as the new Tuscan Tender Leaves mix, Ready Leaf, Tuscan Baby Romaine — a hybrid leaf that makes for a creative, healthy serving vehicle — and romaine wraps, Russo said.

Church Brothers’ major leafy green/lettuce items are iceberg, romaine, green leaf, and butter lettuce.

Charlotte, N.C.-based Dole Food Co. markets 11 Dole-branded leafy green/lettuce products, including arugula, butter lettuce, chard, endive, green leaf lettuce, iceberg lettuce, kale, radicchio, romaine and spinach, said Bil Goldfield, director of corporate communications.

The company also offers 66 packaged salad varieties including its popular Chopped!, Slawesome! and Premium salad kit lines, salad mixes and slaws. 

The company’s growers experienced virtually no pest or disease problems this season, Goldfield said, adding that growing conditions were “mostly normal.”

“All Dole leafy green and lettuce crops would appear to be strong across all product lines including blends, slaws, Classic Kits, Premium kits, Chopped! Kits, Slawesome! Kits and commodity vegetables,” he said. 

Yields are expected to be consistent with previous years. 

 

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