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Veggie prices soar as heat, drought exact toll

by Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writer

The scorching heat is putting an extra burden on household budgets as the drought stunts the growth of leafy vegetables, causing wholesale prices to soar 20 to 50 percent compared with recent years.

The price spike, based on figures between July 1 and Wednesday, has been especially noticeable for lettuce, whose average wholesale price has rocketed 205 percent compared with the average price it hovered at for the past five years, according to the agriculture ministry. The July 1-10 wholesale price of cabbage was 37 percent higher and that of spinach 24 percent above comparable averages during the past five years.

The wholesale price for lettuce Tuesday stood at ¥217 per kilogram, while cabbage was ¥97 and spinach ¥646, the ministry said.

Wholesale prices of other summer vegetables, including peppers and tomatoes, were around 50 percent above their average during the past five years, a ministry official said.

The lack of precipitation during this year’s abbreviated rainy season, temperature swings in June and the recent heat wave have retarded vegetable growth and damaged their leaves, according to a supermarket buyer who declined to be named.

Staff at a Tokyo-area supermarket chain said they haven’t been able to hold their regular special sale for fresh food this week due to the price hike.

“The price of leafy vegetables has been unstable this week. I don’t know how long this situation will last,” one employee said, speaking on condition of anonymity because news of price hikes may damage the supermarket’s image.

He said retail prices of leafy veggies are about 10 percent higher than the same period last year, but added that the overall sales volume hasn’t changed much.

Prices for root vegetables have meanwhile fallen recently.

The retail price for onions was down some 60 percent in the past week compared with the same period last year, he said, adding that sweet potato and carrot prices are also falling.

“It’s probably due to a drop in demand, as (root veggies) are consumed more in winter,” he said.