Calif. Rains Lead to Higher Priced Produce

Calif. Rains Lead to Higher Priced Produce

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Unusually wet weather in Southern California is being blamed for poorer quality and higher priced produce in Utah stores.

Some Utah stores have not yet seen retail prices shoot up drastically, but that may change as more plants are damaged by mudslides and hail, said Marsha Gilford, spokeswoman for Smith's Food & Drug in Salt Lake.

"We're seeing an increase of our costs for things like celery, cauliflower and broccoli because with the amount of mud they're experiencing, it's a higher cost to extract them from the ground," Gilford said.

However, the bigger problem is the quality of the produce, she said.

Mildew and mold have reduced the amount of produce available and some items, including lettuce and grapes, sometimes are missing from the shelves.

The store has signs in some areas of its produce section asking customers to be patient.

"We've found customers have been very understanding," Gilford said. "They're aware of what's going on in California."

Cory Oleson, a salesman with the Produce Alliance in California, said lettuce and other leafy plants have been hardest hit by the rains. Bruising from hail and rapid decay from mold have been major concerns.

"It's going to start affecting prices at some point, because they're going to be getting into some of the younger fields that were growing when the rain and the hail hit," Oleson said. "There's also going to be some gaps as far as planting goes because if it rains really hard today, the field stays muddy for a couple days."

Strawberries have started to bounce back but the planting gaps means there will be less of the product available.

"I don't think it affects anybody's grocery budget. They just put bananas on their cereal instead of strawberries," said Bill Price, director of perishables for Utah Associated Food Stores.

However, bananas also could be in short supply because of flooding in Costa Rica.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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