Since late last year, the price of celery has gone up significantly in grocery stores.
The celery coming from California, which supplies the area at this time of year, is the primary reason for the cost hike, says David Julian, produce buyer for Stauffers of Kissel Hill Fresh Foods.
The price he pays for that celery, he says, has quadrupled over the last few months.
“There has been a challenge here with supply,” Julian says. “It really started back in the middle of November of 2018. Celery from the early part of November to the middle of November doubled in price, and then continued to climb all the way through early February.
“It has kind of stabilized since then, but the price has been exceptionally high since February,” he adds.
And that price has been passed on to the consumer, Julian says.
Last week, Stauffers was selling celery for $2.99 a bunch.
News stories from around the country and Canada also report that prices have skyrocketed on celery from California.
Rainy weather conditions that delayed planting in California, plus a generally smaller yield, have affected the celery supply and, therefore, the price, Julian says.
“The growers looked at last year’s return on celery, and based on that they were not very pleased and so they did cut back on their planting,” Julian says. “And then in addition to that, we did have some challenging weather during the early part of December and January, which, unfortunately impacted the amount of celery that they were able to harvest.”
Julian says he has heard about the celery juicing craze, spurred by claims of healing properties in the juice that have been made by a book author and a popular lifestyle website.
“Juicing is something that is popular,” Julian says. “We have had some requests for celery to juice.”
But Julian says he personally hasn’t heard about juicing having a direct impact on the celery supply.
Theresa Theresa Wilkinson, who manages the Sweethearts of Lancaster County celery stand at Lancaster Central Market, says her celery prices have also gone up.
At the Sweethearts business, celery is bought from California and bleached by keeping it away from sunlight. That’s to make it whiter and sweeter than conventional celery — a Lancaster County tradition.
The price of celery from California started going up a few months ago, Wilkinson says.
“It used to be $34 a crate; now it’s up to $80-something a crate,” Wilkinson says.
The stand sells celery bleached and unbleached, and cut into pieces or left in whole bunches.
The price of celery at the stand has basically been raised twice over the last few months, Wilkinson says, adding a dollar to the price of packages of two bunches — now at $3.50.
A sign on the Sweehearts market stand explains that weather conditions in California, plus the celery-juicing trend, is causing a greater demand for celery and an an accompanying price increase.
At other times of the year, Julian says, celery comes to our area from Michigan, Canada and Mexico.
Julian notes Stauffers does sell local celery in season, but that the local growing season is relatively short.
Local celery will be planted in mid-summer, he says, and harvested from mid-October to mid-November.
For now, high-priced celery seems to be a fact of life.
“Unfortunately, I don’t see any relief at this point,” Julian says. “And that can always change, but from what I’ve been told so far, it doesn't look like there's any relief in the near future.”