Lettuce Prices May Get Massively Expensive at the Store—Here’s Why

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October 31, 2022
person holding a head of lettuce from a farm
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The price of your go-to lettuce has likely increased, and no, it’s not just due to inflation. Although inflation has cost a 61% rise in price for romaine lettuce due to farmers predicting demand, prices will also take a toll due to a devastating virus that is taking hold of lettuce crops and creating a massive loss of harvest for farmers.

Impatiens Necrotic Spot Virus (INSV) hit the Salinas Valley in California around three summers ago. INSV causes “wilting, stem death, stunting, yellowing, poor flowering, ‘chicken pox like’ sunken spots on leaves, etches, or ring spots on leaves,” according to Penn State University. To avoid INSV spread, all plants must be evaluated for symptoms so they don’t infect other crops, while also controlling thrips—an insect known to spread the virus.

If a plant is infected, that particular crop must be isolated in order to control the virus. However, if the virus is not contained, it can easily spread from crop to crop, causing severe damage to the harvest — resulting in fewer crops, higher demand, and skyrocketing prices.

Unfortunately, this has become a reality for a good portion of the lettuce crops grown within the United States.

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“It’s gotten worse every year, but this year has been particularly devastating,” says Kenneth Bower, director of produce merchandising at Baldor Specialty Foods. “The hot weather this summer in the area amplified the effects of the virus. Now every grower in the area is affected, and much of the crop is unharvestable.”

According to Bower, crops including iceberg, romaine, romaine hearts, green leaf, red leaf, butter, gems, and artisan lettuces have all been affected by the virus.

“The other growing regions don’t start to kick in with a higher volume of supply until around the second week of November,” says Bower. “It may be a bit grim at the grocery store through November, with a low supply of traditional lettuces and unheard of prices. But by the end of the month, we should be seeing supply up again as we move to the Yuma, Arizona growing region.”

Thankfully not all leafy greens are affected by INSV. Baldor Specialty Foods are encouraging customers to get creative with other kinds of greens that are currently in better supply.

“The tender leaf items like spring mix, baby spinach, baby kales, wild arugula, as well as hydro butter, radicchio, and endive, are all in good supply and offer the same or better health benefits as the lettuces everyone knows and loves,” says Bower.

Read next: 3 Ways to Make Kale Taste Delicious (Instead of Like Dirt)

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