Why produce prices are high and what you can do about it
Unless you've been daydreaming about summer and sandcastles or pondering the temperature of the surface of Mercy while you're out shopping, you've likely noticed an increase in the prices of some produce lately. But why produce prices are high and what you can do about it? … Those are the questions I'm going to answer.
The reasons for higher prices vary but are mainly location-related. Some areas have suffered from too much rain, delaying the season; while others have suffered from drought, reducing total crop yield; and yet other areas have suffered frost, possibly killing budding crops. Add to those gas and oil prices – which affects transportation costs – and always rises this time of year.
According to USFoods.com, there are several significant supply and demand fluctuations this month, affecting prices, with more to come. For now, most tropical fruits, like bananas, remain steady. (Good news for all the little monkeys out there!) But other crops, like avocados, have grabbed headlines lately.
For avocados, the sources of the price increases are easy to identify. There is already a naturally smaller California crop this year since 2017 is a “lower yield” season for the trees. (Avocado tree production rises and falls every other year – with a larger crop followed by a smaller one.) So the California crop is expected to be only half the size of the abundant 2016 crop. And currently, the Mexican avocado crop is being pulled out of the higher elevations, adding to cost of transportation. Both of these factors add up to supply shortages. On top of shortages, you have a high demand for avocados because they are naturally healthy and a great source of good fat. All this equals higher prices per avocado.
For other produce, the source of price increases is a bit harder to pinpoint but I've identified some of them. For cauliflower, there is a lower supply but moderate demand due to its use as a perfect substitute for many other foods like potatoes, rice, pasta and even some types of bread. Lower supply increases prices. For citrus fruits like oranges and lemons, and melons like cantaloupe and honeydew, the supply is currently low as we move out of the import season and into the domestic season. That gap creates higher prices.
So with all these price fluctuations, what can you do to still get fresh produce without blowing your budget?
You need a season-specific produce plan. I know that sounds overly meticulous, but my friend, Belinda Rosenblum of OwnYourMoney.com describes this as “being intentional” and having a “full spectrum” approach to your finances. All it means is that you pay attention to everything you're spending on – even the price of that bunch of grapes.
(1) Choose fruits and veggies that are in season. Right now, several popular produce varieties are entering the “gap” season when import supplies are running low and domestic crops aren't ready yet. But there are many produce choices already in season domestically. Domestic produce is almost always lower because transportation costs are lower. For example, consider in season strawberries over raspberries for right now.
(2) Consider another variety. For products like tomatoes, apples, and pears, simply choosing a different variety can result in much lower prices. Compare what is available and branch out from your usual go-to kind.
(3) Compare packaged prices to loose or per pound prices. Pricing can vary widely per pound depending on packaging. In general, loose fruits often cost more per pound or per piece than pre-bagged selections.
(4) Try an alternative fruit or vegetable and a new recipe. Just like many people substitute cauliflower for other foods, choose a fruit or vegetable that is in season and at a lower price. For example, try sautéed zucchini or mushrooms which are at very low prices right now, instead of mashed potatoes. Go to SavingsAngel.com/Swagbucks to earn Swagbucks just for watching videos of new recipes you're family will love as you stretch your produce palette – and your budget. (Click “Watch” and then “Food”.)
(5) Lengthen the shelf-life of produce you get at a good price. Proper storage can dramatically increase the freshness of produce. One trick is to put bananas in the refrigerator rather than storing on the counter. Yes, the skins will turn black, but the inside will stay ripe and delicious much longer. For produce like berries, be sure to store properly and carefully choose which berries to eat first. By picking through the berries as you consume them, you'll lengthen the freshness of the entire package.
(6) Use coupons. Coupons for produce? Yes, they exist. Sometimes they are connected to buying other products or activating cash back but they are out there. Check out SavingsAngel.com‘s free coupons and store lists for plenty of options.