Price Spikes with Lettuce Varieties: What exactly is happening?

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Lettuce prices along with many other food items are the highest they’ve ever been. Many factors besides inflation come into play: diesel costs, pests, diseases, and the ever-changing climate. Unfortunately, all these reasons cannot be resolved immediately, which leads to the continue in rising costs

Transport, fertilizers, labor and industry concentration all point to a step up in prices, with little relief in sight. But combined they probably explain no more than half of what’s happened. The other half is the climate. Let’s not forget to mention agriculture is facing labor shortages with workers becoming ill with COVID and foreign workers being denied entry for the almost two years.

Climate change is reflected again, by an increase frequency of extreme weather events such as: bushfires and draughts, and extreme floods in California. For three years, Central Valley (California), whom currently accounts for US $1.2 billion in annual lettuce production, has lost more than 80 per cent of its crops.

Lettuce and leafy greens growers have battled Impatiens Necrotic Spot Virus (INSV), which is a plant pathogenic virus. The influence of the disease begins with the outset of summer, but hot weather late in the season (September) activated INSV damage (see photo below). Currently lettuce prices represent the largest increase since September 1981.


“The challenge with the factors contributing to food inflation is that they are in sequence. We started with the climate, then the pandemic, war and now we’re seeing nations hoarding. All of these factors are making food more expensive,” said Sylvain Charlebois, a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University and the senior director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab.



Central Valley, California September 2022


The big challenge for operators, producers and suppliers is that they understand the consumer will only absorb so much of an increase before they simply stay home or do not purchase. To further implicate the situation when market supply issues occur like this; the quality gets lower too. Many restaurants are looking for alternative products such as shredded cabbage as a replacement or removing lettuce from their menus entirely.

Thankfully not all leafy greens are affected by INSV. Consumers, operators, and retailers are getting creative with other kinds of greens that are currently in better supply (i.e. cabbage, hydroponic lettuce, endives, etc.). Charlebois (Dalhousie University) also added the situation is temporary, as other exporters, like Mexico and Arizona are ramping up production now. Prices should drop as more romaine and iceberg lettuce arrive on store shelves in December.



References & Other Articles:

Bowden, O. (2022, May 18). Lettuce, oranges, butter and beef: The cost of grocery staples has surged again and there’s no end in sight. Retrieved November 23, 2022, from

N.L. restaurants forced to pivot as high prices sprout from lettuce shortage | CBC News (2022) CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada. Available at: (Accessed: November 23, 2022).

Prices spike with low Central Valley Lettuce supplies (2022) Available at: (Accessed: November 23, 2022).

Kruger, B. (2022) Lettuce crunch: Spike in prices forces restaurants to ‘pivot’, Global News. Global News. Available at: (Accessed: November 23, 2022).



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