Local Supermarkets Still Affected By Year-End Produce Shortages

Weather related problems drive up prices, limit availability

By Rex Davenport from KenoshaNews.com


January 27, 2016

Weather issues in California, Mexico and Florida have led to local shortages of certain produce items in area supermarkets and higher prices on some of the fruits and vegetables that have made it to the store.

Signs in the Festival Foods store at 3207 80th St. and the Pick 'n Save store at 5710 75th St. have recently informed shoppers that a few of their favorite winter produce selections may not be available. Or, that they may cost more than expected.

The current shortages shoppers are experiencing have been developing since late last year.

Produce from the Yuma, Ariz., area, has been in short supply since before Thanksgiving, said Dan Dippel, director of produce for Piggly Wiggly Midwest.

“That area produces onions, lettuce, celery, asparagus and a lot of other crops,” he said. “It's has all been in short supply. And almost all of the shortages have been weather related.”

Improved growing and harvesting methods have allowed many produce operators to produce multiple crops in a single season, Dippel said. “But none of that makes much difference when the weather doesn't cooperate.

“As with any commodity items, prices are governed by a number of factors, one of which is supply,” said a spokesman for Festival Foods. “(We do) everything we can to obtain the best quality produce at the best value available. Prices will tend to rise and fall as this happens. We do our best to minimize the impact of sudden price changes to our consumers.

“We are constantly communicating with our in-store staff so they have the most up-to-date market information. They also have numerous resources they can use to get updated information.

“Guests are encouraged to ask the staff questions or to submit inquiries on our website. In certain situations we will use in-store notices and signage to communicate more significant changes to store guests. This is a common practice in produce retailing. “

Piggly Wiggly’s Dippel, who has been in the supermarket business for 43 years, said produce shoppers tend to react the same whether or not there are shortages.

“Some of them will seek out the produce manager and ask questions, and others just shop in silence,” he said. “Things have been pretty tight, but it's getting better. Slowly. But it's getting better.”

“Supplies of produce, despite everyone’s best efforts, are still very dependent on the weather,” said the Festival Foods spokesman. “Weather events and patterns impact the condition and supply of almost all produce items at one time or another. This happens in various areas at different times of the year.

“Traditionally the winter weather provides us with a number of opportunities and challenges. Some years are better and some years are worse.”

Why this winter?

“The El Nino phenomenon has now begun to affect weather and growing conditions in the West, bringing substantial rainfall this week to central and Southern California and western Arizona,” according to Produce Alliance, which provides fresh produce services to North American food service clients. “The current rain that is accompanied by a warming trend follows freezing temperatures that occurred during late December and early January.”

Produce Alliance suggested that a shortage of cauliflower, which has been in the news since December, may be easing.

“We are still experiencing higher-than-normal prices and short supplies; however the market is significantly better,” it said in a report issued last week.

And broccoli shortages were beginning to fade away, too.

“(The) broccoli market is improving, and markets are remaining strong,” Produce Alliance stated. “Quality has improved, (but) prices remain high.”

The produce service also offered bad news for celery lovers: “The celery market has been greatly affected by the weather. This has been the longest shortage that we have seen in recent history.”

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