While the price of organic celery has seemingly stabilized, other favorite vegetables for the traditional Thanksgiving feast are in tight supply with few bargains anticipated for the holiday period.
With Thanksgiving falling on November 28 – the latest day that it can be – it could have been anticipated that the transition of organic vegetable supplies from coastal California to the desert regions of the West might have been well on its way and supplies sufficient to meet demand. But that isn’t the case. Warmer than typical early fall weather caused the production in the coastal regions to limp to the finish line, while a late summer rain in the desert delayed the start of the winter deal on some fields.
Mark Crossgrove, vice president of sales for The Nunes Company
Mark Crossgrove, vice president of sales for The Nunes Company, said the transition to desert production for the organic crops would start in earnest about the third week of November, but supplies of many of the core commodities would be light and high priced through the Thanksgiving pull. The company’s early November bi-weekly supply report was littered with a “moderate to light supplies” characterization or similar language for many of its vegetable items. “Significantly light supplies” was used for the discussion of broccoli, while “very light supplies for the next few weeks” was the terminology employed to talk about cauliflower.
Joe Eisinger, director of organic buying and sales at Nathel & Nathel Inc., on the Hunts Point Terminal Market in New York City, confirmed that “broccoli, cauliflower and romaine hearts are very tight right now.”
Shippers in the western winter organic vegetable deal have told him that the transition is running behind schedule and it will be right around Thanksgiving before supplies approach the volume necessary to fill demand. For East Coast companies like Nathel & Nathel, that will make it difficult to match supplies with demand for the November holiday. “I will start stocking up on the hardware items like potatoes and onions two weeks out,” he said, noting that the vegetable shipments will have to be ordered during the week of November 18, which will be before the transition is completed.
Joe Eisinger, director of organic buying and sales at Nathel & Nathel Inc.
On November 5, Eisinger was still sourcing from coastal California but said supplies of most organic vegetables were very tight and so prices were high. He said he was finding sufficient supplies of organic potatoes and sweet potatoes – both Thanksgiving favorites – but they were also priced relatively high.
The U.SA. Market News Report of that day confirmed this with organic broccoli crowns near a $50 f.o.b. price, cauliflower trading mostly near $40 f.o.b. and romaine in the $30 neighborhood. Organic iceberg lettuce was a relative bargain in the low $20s f.o.b. Organic sweet potatoes from California were in the $60 range for a 40-pound carton.
Eisinger said that by early December, organic vegetable supplies should be coming from both Mexico and the western deserts, so he is anticipating that f.o.b. markets for the Christmas pull will be more conducive to promotions.
Also weighing in on the organic vegetable supplies for late November was Brian Peixoto, sales manager for Lakeside Organic Gardens, Watsonville, CA. “Thanksgiving is going to be interesting this year for sure,” he said. “All shippers are nervous as most customers are trying to lock in low pricing.”
Brian Peixoto, sales manager for Lakeside Organic Gardens
He noted that celery, broccoli, cauliflower, and romaine prices are volatile with shippers reluctant to commit to specific volume or pricing at this point. “We gave one of our customers a price on Italian parsley for the holiday pull and they laughed at us! They laughed! But it’s okay. We appreciate the long-term partners who want to win at this organic game with us. We are working with our customers who are picking up at our cooler 50 weeks a year to make sure they will have supply to match their Thanksgiving demand.”
He said the company’s longtime customers understand that the prices are going to be high this year. “The weather has been crazy. Hot, cold, freezing, boiling lava, then back to cold again….and that was just last week!”
Peixoto acknowledged that Yuma is experiencing some delays due to the September rainstorm back in September which washed out a lot of early plantings. “We're not affected, as we are growing in the Imperial Valley and expecting a great transition in the first week of December,” he said.
While the organic vegetable market has become largely a separate entity from conventional supplies and pricing, it is nonetheless important to note that the transition to the winter deal on the conventional side is equally challenging this year. Crossgrove of The Nunes Company said the firm’s four to five week fall deal in Huron in the San Joaquin Valley has helped the company bridge the gap between Salinas and its Yuma, AZ, fields.
Conventional iceberg lettuce dominates production in Huron but over the last decade a number of shippers have skipped that deal and instead have tried to stretch out their summer deals and go straight to the desert in November. This year that strategy has not been as successful because of the late desert start.