Where Has All the Lettuce Gone?

Don't worry the iceberg lettuce shortage will be over soon.

An iceberg lettuce wedge drizzled with vinaigrette.
Photo: Dotdash Meredith

You may have noticed a lack of iceberg lettuce heads in your grocery store's produce section, and likely higher prices. Just like other popular grocery items like butter, chicken, canned tomatoes, and condiments like sriracha and mustard, iceberg lettuce is in high demand and short supply, resulting in price hikes.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index, fruits and vegetables pricing increased 1.4 percent in November, after falling 0.9 percent in October. In fact, produce prices are up 9.7 percent over those we paid in November 2021.

The bulk of iceberg lettuce sold in the U.S. is grown in California and Arizona, according to Food Source Information. For insights into what's going on with iceberg, and what's ahead, we checked in with the experts.

When asked if there is an iceberg lettuce shortage, Matt McGuire, chief agriculture officer with Arizona-based JV Smith Companies, a member of the Western Growers Association, tells Allrecipes, "Yes, but the shortage is going away presently."

Mark Munger with California-based Ocean Mist Farms agrees.

"Rumors of lettuce shortages have been true, but that story is fortunately changing as we speak," Munger says.

Why Is There an Iceberg Lettuce Shortage?

"The entire lettuce category has had quite a challenging fall," Munge continues, adding that late-season (October and early-November) iceberg lettuce, leaf lettuce and romaine lettuce in the Salinas Valley of California experienced some severe disease pressures that reduced the industries harvest, in some cases by 50 percent.

McGuire contends that the lost crops are as high as 70 percent.

"Starting in August, the Impatiens Necrotic Spot Virus (INSV) expanded and got worse," he says. INSV was first reported in California in 2006. "It intensified into September and took out about 70 percent of romaine and iceberg crops in Salinas Valley.

"They were losing crops left and right," McGuire says, adding that during its peak in October, "there wasn't anything to be had. Pipelines became non-existent."

And that impacted iceberg lettuce inventories.

In the fall, the lettuce growing industry moves from the Salinas Valley in California to the desert regions of the state, as well as to Arizona.

"To add to the challenge, early desert season weather was unseasonably cold, which slowed down the growing and delayed the lettuce harvest," says Munger.

"Needless to say, prices for lettuce in November skyrocketed and consumers were starting to find empty shelves, especially close to the Thanksgiving holiday," he continues.

"Our company is farming in both the Coachella Valley in California and the Yuma area in Arizona," says Munger. "Since early December, we have begun to see lettuce availability improving and fortunately we are also seeing prices begin to drop and normalize.

"Since lettuce supplies have been extremely low for such a long time, it is still taking time for the 'pipeline' to fill back up, meaning stores are just beginning to catch up on supplies," he adds. "Iceberg lettuce supplies are good, but not great, so prices for iceberg are still slowly coming down and availability is improving."

"We expect that consumers should find ample supplies of iceberg lettuce just in time for the holidays," says Munger, to the relief of crunch lettuce lovers everywhere.

McGuire adds, "After the first of the year, we should breeze along just fine."

Substitutes For Iceberg Lettuce

In the meantime, if you're having a hard time finding iceberg lettuce in your grocery store and miss that crunch, the folks over at Poconos Organics in Pennsylvania suggest substituting romaine or red leaf lettuce.

Additionally, Chef Lindsay McClain with the farm's Market Café says, "For those salad lovers, kale, when sliced thin and massaged with dressing to tenderize, works nicely."

"The great news is that other lettuce varieties, like romaine, red leaf and green leaf, and bunched spinach are back to normal and in good supply just in time for the Christmas holidays," says Munger.

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