Rising lettuce prices have created problems for Windsor restaurants that serve salads and other meals containing lettuce.
"You can't survive with these prices for too long," said Charlie Kyriazakos, manager of two Greek restaurants in Windsor called Nick the Greek.
A case of 24 heads of lettuce usually costs Kyriazakos around $30 from his supplier of 29 years, Nizam Produce. Last week, the same case cost him more than $160. This week, it was $120.
While it costs more to purchase lettuce for their salads than it used to, Kyriazakos says he cannot raise the prices on the menu.
"If we raise the prices, we will have to triple the price of a salad to make up for the losses," he said. "I don't know if we will get rid of lettuce completely or we will raise the prices a lot more than what we're selling right now."
Nick the Greek's lettuce usually comes from Florida, but Kyriazakos said the hurricane season wiped out the state's lettuce yield. As a result, his lettuce now comes from California.
But with disease wilting what remained of a lettuce crop that was already devastated by a drought in September and October, even California may not be an option for Kyriazakos anymore.
It's not only sit-down restaurants like Nick the Greek that are suffering.
Fast food outlets, like Soup R Salads at Devonshire Mall, are also having to pay exorbitant prices to acquire lettuce. Their menu options revolve around lettuce, and like Nick the Greek, removing lettuce from their menu is not an option.
"None of our wraps come with spinach or spring mix, so you're going to have to get romaine or iceberg in all of them," said Massimo Ciampa, manager of Soup R Salads. "Even for the salads, only two of our salads come with spring mix or spinach.
"So we can't do anything."
The surging prices have prompted Soup R Salads to look elsewhere from their usual supplier.
"Right now all we're doing is trying to find the cheapest that we can get and good quality," Ciampa said.
Local option not a fix
Although lettuce is grown in southwestern Ontario, it is neither romaine or iceberg lettuce.
"Most of it is what's called 'hydro lettuce'," said Joe Sbrocchi, executive director and general manager of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG). "You'll see them in clamshells or doubled up with the root ball still intact."
Sbrocchi said that of the more than 1,600 hectares represented by OGVG, less than 80 hectares feature lettuces.
Sbrocchi said that although local lettuce growth will increase because consumers will be willing to pay for it, local growth would not be a solution to the short-term problem.
Even if production tripled, Sbrocchi said, it would still be a "speck" compared to the foreign quantities that are imported, and it would take five to seven years to satisfy the demand.