( File photo )

Under the weight of two E. coli outbreak investigations linked to romaine lettuce — one leading to a six-day hiatus of all romaine sales — overall lettuce per capita availability was off about 20% in 2018, according to a new report.

Pulled down by sharply lower lettuce availability, the latest per capita numbers on fresh vegetables reveal a reduction of 8% in 2018 compared with 2017.


Excluding potatoes and melons, the USDA reported that 2018 fresh per capita vegetable availability was 144.81 pounds, down from 157.45 pounds a year ago.

The USDA said the biggest fresh vegetable per capita declines from 2017-18, by percentage, were:

  • Squash: 4.43 pounds, down 22%.
  • Head lettuce: 12.33 pounds, down 19%;
  • Leaf lettuce: 12.29 pounds, down 19%;
  • Onions: 20.39 pounds, down 19%; and 
  • Broccoli: 5.93 pounds, down 17%.

With a drop in availability — what growers have shipped — and consumer reluctance to purchase romaine the wake of the E. coli outbreaks, romaine sales were down 18% by value and 17% by volume in 2018, according to IRI/Fresh Look Marketing, 

Compared with 2017, the USDA said the top five gains in per capita availability for 2018, by percentage, were:

  • Carrots: 8.53 pounds, up 16%;
  • Asparagus: 1.76 pounds, up 9%;
  • Snap beans: 1.68 pounds, up 8%;
  • Cucumbers: 7.99 pounds, up 8%; and 
  • Celery: 4.98 pounds, up 5%.

The change in per capita consumption over the last decade shows winners and losers in a bigger context. Total fresh vegetable per capita availability in 2018 of 144.81 pounds is 1% higher than 2008.


Compared with 2008, the fresh vegetables with the biggest gains in per capita availability in 2018, by percentage, were:

  • Southern greens: 2.89 pounds (2018), up 64% from 2008;
  • Cauliflower: 2.44 pounds (2018), up 55% from 2008;
  • Asparagus: 1.76 pounds (2018), up 48% from 2008;
  • Cucumber: 7.99 pounds (2018), up 25% from 2008; and 
  • Bell peppers: 11.16 pounds (2018), up 18% from 2008.

Biggest reductions in per capita availability over 10 years, according to the USDA, were:

  • Head lettuce: 12.33 pounds (2018), down 27% from 2008;
  • Sweet corn: 6.75 pounds (2018), down 26% from 2008;
  • Cabbage: 5.71 pounds (2018), down 29% from 2008;
  • Celery: 4.98 pounds (2018), down 20% from 2008; and 
  • Snap/green beans: 1.68 pounds (2018), down 15 from 2008%;
     
 
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