A food editor recently spent $7.50 for a single head of lettuce in Brooklyn, New York.
“Food editor Brooke Caison said she paid $7.50 for a single head of iceberg lettuce,” in Brooklyn, Delish said in a Monday article. According to Bon Appetit, packages of three romaine hearts in New York City were selling for $5.99 on Instacart as of Thursday and $9.99 on FreshDirect. Both are online grocery services.
People have taken to social media to complain about expensive or hard-to-find lettuce at stores.
“Others have noticed that some of their favorite fast food restaurants are having to make do because of the shortage,” said Delish. Business Insider reported last month that Taco Bell and Chick-fil-A both had notices on their online apps about a lettuce shortage.
“The problems started last fall in California’s Salinas Valley,” said Bon Appetit. That’s when an insect-borne virus destroyed acres of lettuce crops in the area, which grows almost 50% of U.S. lettuce and is referred to as the “salad bowl,” according to the University of California at Davis.
Small insects called thrips carrying the impatiens necrotic spot virus (INSV), ravaged plants in the region. Bon Appetit said there is no known cure for INSV. Due to the recent infestation, lettuce growers in the Salinas Valley had an estimated 80% yield loss, per California Farm Bureau Federation reporting.
With this virus-related loss of lettuce, prices for the food item – a staple in salads, sandwiches, wraps and more – went up.
“I’ve never seen it like this,” said Brian Guarino, a produce distributor outside Philadelphia, according to NPR.
A wholesale box of romaine lettuce usually sells for around $25 to $30 on the east coast, said the outlet. Now, that box costs up to $100 due to the shortage, as well as transportation costs. Gas prices in the U.S. have only recently come down below an average from one year ago, according to AAA.
“You can’t put lettuce on a hoagie and expect not to put an upcharge on it, when you’re paying $100 for 24 heads of lettuce,” Guarino explained.
According to Business Insider, experts anticipated the shortage to “become less severe later in November and December,” or by next month. At that time, lettuce from southern California and Arizona, areas that have been less impacted by disease, should become available.
In the meantime, Bon Appetit suggests lettuce fans check out other options such as kale, which is more reasonably priced right now, and cucumbers.