I regularly get media calls asking for perspective on price changes for food products. In the past few days, I have been inundated with calls about the price of celery. Usually the reasons for price spikes are relatively straight forward – weather-related issues or a change in the exchange rate are regularly reasons for price increases for fruits and vegetables, particularly in the winter.
This time there is another contributing factor – the celery juice craze.
Are Celery Prices Higher?
Celery prices are indeed higher, although it is a bit difficult to find current data on celery prices. Statistics Canada only reports up to April 2018, after which data collection seems to have stopped. While there have been weather-related spikes in the past (I remember doing several interviews when weather affected prices in 2016), currently celery is selling for $5.99 at my local store so prices are clearly higher than even the extreme points shown on the graph.
The dramatic increase in prices seen in the wholesale California market also provides some supporting evidence. The price of a carton of celery has more than tripled since January and anecdotally, producers and wholesalers are saying they’ve never seen prices this high.
Why are Prices Higher?
Prices are higher for a number of reasons. First, there have been some weather issues. Fusarium, a plant disease exacerbated by wet conditions, has been an issue this winter in the primary celery producing region of California. There are also suggestions that slowdowns at the US-Mexico border are raising the prices of fruits and vegetables from Mexico to Canada as most of it is trucked through the United States. A portion of our celery imports do come from Mexico so this could well be the case there too.
The first two issues are on the supply side.
There is also some suggestion that there has been an increase in demand due to an increase in celery juicing. Celery juice has increased demand for celery over the past number of years but the trend has gathered significant momentum in recent months with increased media attention and the impending launch of a new book by “medical medium” Anthony Williams.
There are some healthy nutrients in celery, including antioxidants, but there is no evidence that celery is better than other leafy greens or that juicing is better than eating whole celery. That said, if you google celery juice you will be overwhelmed with sites touting the benefits of celery juice.
Celery is generally a niche vegetable – not a staple for most. The more limited demand makes this product more susceptible to price swings due to increased demand. Relatively small increases in demand can overwhelm the supply creating significant upward price pressure. If corn or soy juice were to become a new health craze, they would not see the same significant upward pressure on price.
So, What’s Next for Celery?
If I had to guess, I would suggest that we will see a bump in celery demand in the short term with a fall back to a base demand slightly higher than we’ve seen in the past. That means the price pressure is shorter term and we would expect it to come back closer to historical levels. If I’m wrong, and celery juice as a superfood has staying power, production will adjust to reflect the demand and prices will return to levels close to what we’ve seen historically. Either way, it is unlikely we will see $6 celery as the new norm.
Recommended citation format: von Massow, M. “Celery as a superfood?”. Food Focus Guelph (25), Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Guelph, May 1st, 2019.