March 27, 2023

Lettuce fans reel over skyrocketing prices, leading to expensive salads, swaps | CBC News

With food prices rising in Canada, Quebec restaurant owner Michael Ghorayeb says the restaurant industry has two options to stay afloat: reduce portion sizes or raise menu prices.

But when Ghorayeb saw the recent eye-watering prices for the salad, he said he was forced to choose a third option: remove it from the menu altogether.

“It’s too much of a price change,” said the owner of Châteauguay’s BLVD Bar & Grill on Montreal’s South Shore.

Lettuce is in short supply in several parts of Canada — and costs much more than usual — after drought and plant disease affected supplies in California.

Ghorayeb says he bought 24 heads of lettuce for about $50. Now the same order from his supplier costs more than four times as much, $220.

“I mean the kind of price increase where if you mash up some iceberg lettuce and put it on top of a burger, it’s almost a dollar a serving. It’s completely out of control,” he said. .

Tip of the iceberg

Ghorayeb is by no means the only victim of the lack of plants.

Whether you’re looking for a head of lettuce, a bag of romaine hearts, or a bag of lettuce, stores across the country are popping up with lettuce shortage warnings, driving up prices.

Winnipeg-based Foodfare grocery chain owner Munther Zeid is asking customers to be patient because he doesn’t know when the product will be back on the shelves.

“You order a case or two, you get none. You order five, you might get one,” he said.

Some Canadian restaurant chains, including Subway, Harvey’s and Wendy’s, have also been affected by the shortage and are warning customers on their websites about possible impacts at some locations.

SEE | Reports of lettuce prices rising due to supply issues:

Lettuce prices are skyrocketing due to crop diseases and supply chain issues

In some parts of Canada, lettuce is in short supply — and costs much more than usual — due to California’s drought and disease-ridden supplies.

Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Laboratory at Dalhousie University in Halifax, says the problems we’re seeing in Canada, one of the world’s biggest importers of lettuce, start with problems in California, our biggest supplier.

Charlebois says California’s crops were hit early by drought in September and October — the same weather conditions that led to the suspension of Sriracha sauce sales this summer.

This autumn, however, the lettuce crop also suffered from diseases, which caused them to wither in the fields.

“So there’s less production and less sales all over the world, including exports to Canada, and that’s the main problem right now,” Charlesbois said.

“So at retail we’re either going to see higher prices or no lettuce at all.”

Portrait of a smiling man in a suit and tie
Sylvain Charlebois, director of Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab, expects prices to return closer to normal as early as December, when Arizona’s new crop should arrive. (posted by Sylvain Charlebois)

These reasons make some people think twice about going to the grocery store.

“Everything is so expensive, and to go pay $8 and something, $8.99, for an iceberg? It used to be $2.99. It’s crazy,” said Montreal shopper George Sousa.

He says it has made him change his cooking habits.

The same can be said for Joan Legair, another Montrealer who, meanwhile, opts for other leafy greens.

“When it comes to that price, I won’t buy lettuce. But I might use spinach instead,” he said. “I can be very innovative with my greens, so I use other less expensive greens.”

Salad days are back

Charlebois says the lack of lettuce is “certainly one good case study” of the effects of climate change on the food we eat.

“The virus or viruses that have affected crops would not have been there normally without climate change,” he said.

However, he says that there is a light at the end of the tunnel this year.

Charlebois says he expects prices to return closer to normal as early as December, when Arizona is expected to take over and begin exporting the latest crop to Canada.

“We should be fine with the holidays as long as there are no recalls,” he said.

For now, restaurateurs like Ghorayeb say they prepare their salads with other vegetables, such as mixed lettuce or kale, while burgers or other dishes that are typically served with salad as a garnish have to do without.

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