11 January 2022

Why is lettuce so expensive?

Wild weather spurs growing prices.

The price of the summer staple has doubled since this time last year.

Today, a lettuce is selling from $5.50 to $5.99 in supermarkets, compared to the $2.34 it’d have cost you this time last year.

Similar to the strawberry shortage right before Christmas – lettuce is the latest victim of last year’s weather bomb.

December saw the equivalent of three months of rainfall experienced in 10 days. This, combined with the high levels of humidity afterwards, wreaked havoc on summer greens crops nationwide.

John Clarke, the managing director of Woodhaven Gardens, the biggest produce grower in the country, said the crop is down significantly – with many leafy greens such as spinach, silver beet and fresh cut lettuce affected by the weather.

He said growers aren’t reaping extra profit despite the high prices – this increased price reflects the scarcity of product.

On top of that, costs for growing your vege have only been increasing.

Clarke estimates labour costs have increased around 40 percent in the past three years, nitrogen components and fertiliser costs have doubled, transport fuel costs have increased around 30 percent, and hire crate charges have increased too.

A concern is the rising cost of producing vege stopping consumers from buying and growers from growing, meaning there could be less local produce available in the future.

While the cost of some crops is soaring, don’t give up on getting your daily dose of fruit and vege.

Jerry Prendergast, president of United Fresh – which represents growers, exporters and retailers across New Zealand and runs the 5+ A Day Charitable Trust – encourages consumers to rethink their options and try cheaper alternatives.

“When lettuce is short – think about doing a Waldorf salad instead of a lettuce salad, or tomato or cucumber as there’s plenty of them at the moment.”

Member comments

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Jean F
16 Jan 2022
Seedlings v seed

I grow lettuce throughout the year, as well as regular crops of rocket. Growing from seed is much more efficient if sown directly in the ground, and can provide dozens of meals of tiny lettuce and rocket leaves per packet of seeds. If you are suddenly stranded without garden lettuce, a punnet of mixed lettuce from a garden centre, planted in a pot of garden mix, will get you through. Mind you, I'm only feeding me!

Helen K.
16 Jan 2022
Growing Your Own

I've grown our own and they taste far better, but have given up lately as I am tired of the 'aphid battle'. One year they were smothered in them and whenever I pick leaves for a salad I've spent 'hours' inspecting each leaf before preparing a salad.
My mum used to say jokingly - 'don't worry they're only full of lettuce' but I literally can't bring myself to eat them!

Michael C.
15 Jan 2022
Lettuss reconsider

A smaller crop , less lettuces means an increase in price. Where is the logic. Fewer lettuces really means the consumer is willing to pay more for the few that are around. It does not mean that the lettuce is intrinsically more valuable.

Mike Cooper

Les H.
15 Jan 2022
Grow your own lettuces

It is not difficult to do. Either buy a packet of seeds or buy some lettuce seedlings.
No garden space? Get a small trough or pot from the garden centre plus some garden mix.

lynda S.
15 Jan 2022
Yep couldn't agree more.

I haven't bought a lettuce in God knows how long. I grow in troughs, pots, spare spaces in the garden (they don't all need to be together), and stagger my planting. Also, being on my own, I only buy lettuce where I can take leaves off. And here's a tip - when your lettuces have finished, cut on an angle across the very bottom, leaving the 'base' only there. Few weeks you'll have new lettuce plants. Easy-peasy.

Bob R.
15 Jan 2022

It's dead easy and they don't require too much attention. It's satisfying and very cost-effective. Trouble is, you have to wait for them to grow :( The answer to that is to plant at intervals, providing you have the space.

Susan O.
11 Jan 2022
So the prices go up and up and yet no extra money in the bank!

I thought these lettuces photographed were hydroponic. Not at all like strawberry's if they are. Yet for so very many of us - well me at least, a simple lettuce is now well outside of 'my' own financial range - yet the cheaper version my bowel reacts to.
Where will this end? Only the rich being able to afford eat such foods that should be available to so many more!

Maxim M.
15 Jan 2022
Grow your own, Susan.

As people mentioned above, it is very easy to grow your own herbs, lettuce and veges. They don't take much space and easy to look after. I've been doing this for a long time now, even though i am quite well off.