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Feb 9, 2011 12:17 PM

Produce price hikes and shortages from Mexico's hard freeze?

Today at the IGA-associated grocery store in my coastal Califonia community, I asked the produce manager how last week's hard freeze in northern Mexico's food producing area would affect his produce prices. (it hit the Yuma, AZ area as well, which is a huge leafy greens and winter veggie growing area. Florida had been hit by hard frosts a month earlier.)

"Let me put it this way: last week, on my distributor's order sheet, zucchini was $9 a case. This week, it's $50. It's going to be a case of whatever the market will bear."

Has anyone else seen evidence of steep price hikes? If so, any strategies? What have you heard in other media?

Nobody talking about it much in my area.

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  1. I tried to do a cut and paste on the message I received from my produce company, but it must have had some sort of protection on it, I couldn't get it to hightlight so I could cut it.

    Anyway, it will still be 7 tp 8 days before the full extent of the crop damage in Mexico is final, but the early appraisals from the first couple of days of field investigation shows 80-100% crop loss. Not damage, but loss. Additionally, there was substantial blossom drop, which means the next crop coming up after the ripe ones was also adversely affected. Farmers are trying to determine if they should simply disc the fields and wait for the next growing cycle or plow now and replant immediately with harvest expected anywhere from late March to mid April.

    This is the worst freeze the Mexican growing region has had in the last 50 years. It has affected the areas from north of Hermosillo to south of Culiacan. The big ticket crops being affected now are green beans, asparagus, eggplant, cucumbers, squash, peppers, roma and round tomatoes.

    The impact of this freeze is being compounded by the fact that the Florida growing areas were knocked out weeks ago by the on-going series of hard freezes they have experienced. Normally Florida can meet the East Coast damage during winter, but since their freezes, they had been filling in with Mexican crops. Not gonna happen now.

    My produce company is projecting immediate price volatility with limited supplies of most items and mediocre quality.

    What will be affected most are grocery store, restaruants and non-commerical food service establishment. What probably won't be affected are local farmers in areas that have escaped freezing temperatures and bad weather. Farmers markets may turn out to be the most reliable source for produce in the comming weeks


    Pepper prices have been all over the board for the last 3 months with red bells being more volatile than greens. Yellow zucchini has been high for some time. Limes were already bad because of a citrus fungus in Mexican limes. The USDA has had an import ban on them for several weeks. My produce quote on limes this week is $68.90 for a 200 count case. Romaine lettuce has been infected with a sclera-somthing disease with up to 60% of some fields being affected. The price for a 24 ct of romaine heads was usually around $17-18, it was $38 last week, and $30.85 this week. Broccoli has been up and down week by week, with quality being average to poor for the last couple of months.

    The market has been about as unstable as I've seen it in many years.

    1 Reply
    1. re: DiningDiva

      I wish I had seen this post six days ago. Zucchini and mexican squash have suddenly disappeared and/or tripled in retail price - yikes! Are there American producers in other regions left?

      Poblano chiles still seem to be plentiful and well priced. IIRC these are (mainly?) grown in New Mexico and Chihuahua; how have these areas fared this winter?

    2. Not just Mexico - Yuma AZ got hit hard and they're in lettuce country big time. I expect overpriced lettuces very shortly.

      1 Reply
      1. re: JerryMe

        Yes, the Imperial Valley (where Yuma is) got hit by the freezing weather but the crop loss and damage was substantially less than what happened in Mexico and is expected to make a much faster recovery.

        Iceberg was $1.89 on Sunday at my usual grocery store. Greenleaf and red leaf were $1.79. but romaine was only $.99 and it's been plagued by some kind of fungus. Go figure

        All of it is being compounded by the fact that Florida and the South have been hit by freezer after freeze this winter taking a lot of their area out of production. California's central and Salinas valleys were flooded in January but have gotten into reproduction.

        At work I paid $20 for a 5x6 lug of vine ripe tomatoes last week. Those same tomatoes were $53.00 today. The 25# box of bell pepper choppers that I paid $17.65 for last week is $48 this week. And a 22# lug of plain old zucchini went from $19.75 to $56.70. Yowza. I've been buying produce for commercial kitchens for 35 years, I've never seen price increases like this and I don't recall another time when produce has been so severely affected by the weather.

        My produce company is projecting that the supply of cucumbers and eggplants will become virtually non-existant in the next few days.

        DF - I can't think of another large growing area that is still ih production that hasn't bee affected. Central and Salinas valleys are coming back which will help. Right now it the extent of the destruction in Mexico that is mind boggling. Many U.S. ag companies actually "own" the fields in Mexico via long term contracts, they've sent their own people down to assess the freeze damage and their reports are startling and pretty bleak.

      2. People around here (South Carolina) are noticing. I had to pull tomatoes and peppers from my salad bar and spinach isn't far behind. I'd pull my salad mix, but how can you have a salad bar without lettuce?? Kielbasa with Peppers & Onions is gone from the hot bar rotation and the thought of a fresh vegetable medley with yellow and zucchini squashes, onions, green peppers and tomatoes is just a thought (soon to be a distant memory).

        Since last week, cherry tomatoes are up 108% ($26/$54); grape tomatoes 117% ($29/$63); 5x6 tomatoes 100% ($32/$64); Clipped Spinach 27% ($26/$33)
        and Green Peppers 138% ($26/$62).

        3 Replies
        1. re: GritsGuru

          Yep, and it's expected to get worse before it gets better.

          We discontinued our salad bars last year. We're thanking god we're not still in the salad bar business.

          1. re: DiningDiva

            If I could 86 my salad bar, I could hit food and labor cost targets. As it is......

            I expect to be pilloried when they can't have spinach, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, or any of the items we make with those ingredients. Maybe this would be a good time for a vacation.

            1. re: GritsGuru

              I hear you on that one. You have thought we committed a capital crime when we discontinued the salad bar. When faced with having to pay the true price of it vs. discontinuing it, discontinuing won. I'm in CA where the economy is pretty much in the tank, I also work for an institution of higher learning. We were able to attribute the loss of the salad bar to the State's economic condition. Lots of grumbling but when it came down to retaining jobs and retaining the salad bar, gues which one won ;-)

        2. Hi all,

          The other day Food4Less in SLO had signs in their produce department apologizing for the prices and not-quite-as-good-as-usual quality due to bad weather in California, Arizona and Mexico.

          As for a strategy... I'm not buying more than I absolutely need. As in, ONE tomato, ONE red pepper, etc. And sharing lettuce with others. No sense letting it go bad. As for price, instead of the usual $.99 a head, iceberg was $1.28. Other produce was off the charts and not all that great looking.


          2 Replies
          1. re: I used to know how to cook...

            Check out your farmers markets. CA was not affected too badly by the freezing weather and I don't think you'd been deluged with rain too much since January. May not be your typical grocery store selection, but it will probably be more reasonable at this point.

            1. re: DiningDiva

              there are tons of farmer's markets in the slo area; new one on Tues afternoon at the Grange hall on Broad. Also Thurs nite, Sat morning and Sunday morning.


              Check out Rutiz Farms' CSA, delivers sto SLO after March 1. Sustainable, prices are reasonable and quality is high. google Rutiz Farms. You can sign up weekly for a CSA. no long-term commits.

          2. ouch, ouch, OUCH! it's already SO expensive to eat healthy, this is going to be painful. I'm hoping my local asian market - where I get the best prices - won't be hit too hard. It will be months before my local farm starts selling their own produce.