Just as the barbecue season finally kicked off last weekend, one of its favourite salad sidekicks - the iceberg lettuce - has started suffering, with soaring prices and reduced availability.

British-grown iceberg lettuce typically goes on sale in the first week of May, but cold weather has delayed the harvest - with some suppliers predicting a lag of up to three weeks.

Supply of Spanish icebergs is also tight because the season is coming to an end and cooler weather earlier this year resulted in lower production. Suppliers and retailers have been forced to take the unusual step of flying icebergs in from the US at extra cost.

“A small amount of American product in the market is pushing prices up”

Anthony Gardiner, G’s Fresh

“A small amount of American product in the market is pushing prices up,” says Anthony Gardiner, marketing director at G’s Fresh - which holds a 60% share of UK wholehead salad.

Wholesale prices for iceberg lettuce in the UK have shot up by nearly 40% year-on-year, to 60p a piece [Mintec, see box, right], and retail prices have followed suit. An iceberg lettuce costs an average of £1.16 across Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Waitrose at the moment - 45% more than the average 80p it cost this time last year [BrandView.com].

Tesco said it had to work closely with its lettuce suppliers to ensure availability for customers. “Having spotted early on that this may cause a gap in supply, we have used historic forecasts to secure just the right amount of product at the right quality.”

When UK supply does kick in, there are likely to be lower Iceberg head weights in the marketplace for the first couple of weeks. However, quality should be fine, said Andy Weir, head of marketing at foodservice supplier Reynolds. Cos lettuce was experiencing similar problems to iceberg, meaning the next four weeks “will be very challenging for all leaf products,” he added.

Commodity prices

Elsewhere, orange juice continues to lead our commodities tracker, with ICE prices rising 6.1% over the past month to £2,059/tonne. Cocoa butter also remains on an upward trajectory: at £2,859/tonne, UK prices are now 87% up on this time last year, having risen by a further 2.8% over the past four weeks.

Lower durum wheat supplies from the EU are keeping pressure on durum wheat prices, which are now up 16.7% year-on-year and 2.5% month-on-month. Global durum output is forecast at 35.1 million tonnes, down 5% year-on-year.

Meanwhile, electricity prices continue to fall as the UK finally shook off the cold and lengthy winter. At 52.36/MWh, they are nearly 20% down on last month, though remain up 12% year-on-year.

Key climbers£/tonnem-o-m %y-o-y %
Frozen conc orange juice (ICE)2,0596.1%0.2%
Cocoa beans (LIFFE)1,510.34.3%3.7%
Cocoa butter (UK)2,8592.8%86.5%
Wheat - Durum (EU)277.62.5%16.7%
Pulp (EU)551.60.3%4.2%
Key fallersPrice in GBP per tonnem-o-m %y-o-y %
Rye (DE)172.81-6.6%-17.0%
Diesel (EU)586.9-6.7%-9.3%
Copper (LME)4746-6.9%-7.4%
Tea (Sri Lanka)2252-8.0%14.9%
Electricity/Power (In GBP/MWH) (UK)52.36-18.2%12.0%

Source: Mintec