Cancel OK

Reports hint at romaine’s challenging future

With romaine lettuce re-entering the market after the Centers for Disease Control’s advisory, the industry is working to restore consumer confidence in leafy greens.

But what will the lasting effects on demand be after a third major outbreak in the past 12 months?

The latest FreshFacts on Retail reports from the United Fresh Produce Association give a preview in the second and third quarter results.

Lettuce was the only vegetable category to show declines in both volume and sales in the third quarter, down 1% in dollars and 2.5% in volume in the 13 weeks ending September 29, and the report’s authors suggested lasting effects from the romaine advisory were a factor.

The story was even worse in the second quarter, when the CDC’s advisory was active. Lettuce dollars were down more than 15% and volume was down more than 6% in the 13 weeks ending June 30.

What’s interesting, however, is packaged salads didn’t suffer the same fate, and if you’ve seen the salad case at any supermarket during the advisory, you’ll notice that there were very few packaged salads to be found. Romaine is a key ingredient in most packaged salads.

In the second quarter, during the initial romaine advisory, packaged salads were up a modest 0.7% in dollars and 1.2% in volume.

In the third quarter, those numbers bounced back to a dollar increase of 4.7% and a volume increase of 3.9%.

The industry has its work cut out for it, when it comes to restoring consumer confidence.

More than 200 people were sickened and five died from the outbreak in the spring, according to reports. The outbreak was eventually linked to canal water near a cattle feed lot, according to an article on National Public Radio.

The most recent outbreak has sickened 43 people, according to the CDC.


Pamela Riemenschneider is the Retail Editor for Blue Book Services.