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Yep, a lettuce shortage sprouted up. From wilted heads of romaine to sparse selections of greens, the shortage is affecting restaurants, supermarkets, and home kitchens alike. Perhaps you’ve noticed your grocery store is completely out of leafy greens or that the prices have skyrocketed. This unfortunately adds yet another strain on our everyday grocery essentials. The shortage has even adopted a name: “Lettuce-Gate.” But why is Lettuce-Gate even happening, and what do we do about it?
Don’t worry; we’re in this together! We’ll let you know how to fill your fridge’s crisper drawer and reinstate your go-to salad. Plus, at The Krazy Coupon Lady, we’re always tracking down the stores that have the lowest prices and best inventory. We have some tips on where to find lettuce and how you can save on it below.
We have a running list of all the food shortages happening in the past and present (like the notorious Sriracha shortage). Also, download The Krazy Coupon Lady app or text HACKS to 57299 for more money-saving tips.
A lettuce virus caused the lettuce shortage.
Like eggs and milk, prices have gone up on so many things due to the lineup of usual suspects. We can blame weather woes, labor shortages, transportation costs, and market demand. But the number one reason for this shortage? Lettuce crops here in the U.S. are facing their own pandemic.
Most of the United States’ supply of leafy greens (mainly iceberg and romaine) are grown in what’s called the “Salad Bowl,” or the warm climate areas of central California. In the fall of 2022, these crops were infected with an insect-borne virus called “impatiens necrotic spot virus.” This virus ripped through the fields, damaging up to 80% of some farmers’ crops. Yikes. What’s worse is there’s no cure or pesticide that can help or prevent it. And a warmer climate means these bugs aren’t being killed off by winter frost. That means this lettuce shortage can go on for a while. Sigh.
To fix the issue, the industry is thinking about importing more lettuce and ramping up local production, but that could take a while. So experts don’t have a clear idea of how long this shortage is going to last.
Because of the lettuce shortage, lettuce prices are skyrocketing by 25%.
According to the Consumer Price Index, the retail price of a head of romaine was up by an average of 25% from last year. And on top of that, organic prices are even higher. Iceberg lettuce prices have tripled in some parts of the country (I’m looking at you, Illinois). Even the super convenient salad kit prices are seeing a sharp 20% spike compared to last year.
The lettuce shortage is affecting restaurants, too. You might notice lettuce missing from your favorite sandwich at a local spot. Or maybe you’re finding that the price of a salad is higher. A case of lettuce that used to be $30 a year ago is now over $100. The sudden jump in cost is really putting a squeeze on restaurant budgets, thus hurting their profits.
Now it’s not only difficult for restaurant owners to afford lettuce, but they are struggling to secure a steady and reliable supply of it. At the moment, restaurants are scrambling to make menu changes and substitute ingredients.
How to Save on Lettuce During the Lettuce Shortage
I did price comparisons of various iceberg and romaine lettuce products at four national grocery chains to find the lowest price as of February 2023. Keep in mind that sale prices and region can affect these comparisons. (I’m crossing my fingers that for you there are some seriously awesome sales in your area). I just want this to serve as a simple guide when shopping for cheap lettuce this month.
There are dozens and dozens of lettuce varieties: heads, hearts, shredded, chopped, mixes, bags, tubs, and different sizes and brands. And stores don’t all carry the exact same products. So for comparison purposes, I narrowed it down to the six most universal types of romaine and iceberg lettuce products that were available at all four grocery chains.
The number one way to save is, you guessed it, to buy in bulk. But be ready to use it up quickly. Sam’s Club is by far the best smash for your cash right now with a 6-pack of romaine hearts for only $3.58 ($0.60 each!). That’s way better than Costco. They’re currently offering the same 6-pack for $4.49 (or $0.75 each).
But if bulk isn’t your ideal right now, here’s where else to look. But please keep in mind the following are non-organic products.
While the price differences aren’t astounding per se, Aldi has the most affordable lettuce varieties almost across the board. That’s with the exception of a single romaine lettuce head. (Walmart beat them by $0.76 with the lowest price of $2.24).
Romaine lettuce hearts are the most expensive form of lettuce right now, so skip this if you can and use a chopped romaine bag or iceberg instead to save a couple of bucks. The Classic Iceberg Salad Mix is the most affordable option, coming in as low as just $0.13/ounce. (But again, Sam’s Club has that bulk option for just $0.08/ounce).
How to Save on Organic Lettuce During the Lettuce Shortage
If you’re strictly looking for organic lettuce, Aldi is still the way to go. Their prices are quite a bit cheaper than the other stores’ organic lettuce; however, they do have a very limited variety of organic lettuce products. Albertsons also has a nice variety of organic lettuce products, but the prices are a little steeper.
Use coupons to save on lettuce.
While all the prices you see here are regular prices and aren’t reflective of any sales, you can still save by using coupons for produce. We often see mobile and printable coupons for up to 25% off bagged salads.
We’re not sure when these crop woes will clear up or when prices and demand will calm themselves down. But we do know that the best way to save is by being flexible with the kinds of greens you’re buying and keeping your eyes peeled for good sales. Now … lettuce go forth and save.