Why Lettuce Is Harder to Find (and Pricier) at Grocery Stores Right Now

An ongoing lettuce shortage is limiting supply and increasing prices. Here’s what you need to know the next time you try to stock up on leafy greens.

If you’re attempting to eat more greens, you might want to consider how you plan to accomplish this lifestyle change—or at least, focus your attention in a more zucchini and broccoli direction. Along with the egg shortage, a lettuce shortage hit the nation in late 2022, and unfortunately, it’s still plaguing grocery stores, restaurants, and home cooks alike. 

While this is far from good news (spoiler alert: it’s harder than ever to find lettuce and prices remain on the rise), we’re here to answer all your burning questions about a lettuce shortage. Ahead, we’ll break down why it’s happening, how it’s affecting prices, what you can expect in coming months, and the best lettuce alternatives, so you’re not stuck buying a $11 head of lettuce.

Mixed greens salad on plate

Ana Cadena | Design: Better Homes & Gardens

Why Is There a Lettuce Shortage? 

The lettuce shortage—which includes iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, and leaf lettuce—is largely the result of a difficult crop season in Central California, Yahoo! Life reports. An insect-borne virus ripped through the Salinas Valley, devastating upwards of 50% of the harvest.

“The virus, impatiens necrotic spot virus or INSV, is carried by the thrips insect (a common houseplant pest) and because there is no cure for the disease, farmers in California lost as much as 80% of their entire lettuce crops,” urban farmer and plant coach Nick Cutsumpas told Yahoo! Life.

Unseasonably high temperatures have also played a role in the shortage.

How Are Lettuce Prices Affected? 

Food prices generally saw a massive increase in 2022—prices for food items purchased to be eaten at home rose 11.4% in 2022, according to USDA data—and specifically saw a 0.3% increase from November 2022 to December 2022. While the increase in the cost per pound of romaine lettuce was just below that 0.3% over the same period, romaine lettuce saw a much larger price increase in the previous months, with average cost per pound skyrocketing from $2.84 in August 2022 to $3.57 in December 2022—an increase of almost 26%, which far outpaced the increase in prices for many other grocery items.

Here’s the good news: the shortage (and resulting inflation) is expected to ease up soon. Even from December 2022 to January 2023, the average cost per pound of romaine lettuce dropped more than 14%, from that $3.57 per pound peak to $3.06 per pound.

Lettuce Alternatives to Help You Beat the Shortage (and High Prices)

While lettuce prices remain high, it might be in your best interest to explore alternative base greens for your usual salad recipe. Consider kale or spinach as another option, or maybe even another veggie, like cucumbers, for a crunchier take on your favorite Caesar. 

For those with a green thumb, you could always try growing your own lettuce—indoors or outdoors—instead. It’s definitely the more economical choice, though it’s not quite as speedy as picking up lettuce at the grocery store: Most lettuce plants are ready for harvest six to eight weeks after planting.

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