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In Season

June 25, 1992|RUSS PARSONS

Prices for coffee on the commodities market are so low they are wreaking economic havoc on parts of Mexico and Central and South America. Yet the price of a bag of beans in the grocery store has dropped only slightly.

How can this be? With the wholesale price of unroasted coffee at its lowest point since 1973, it would seem inevitable that prices at the retail level would plummet.

Maybe they will, eventually, but don't hold your breath. Most agricultural goods react quickly to changes in supply or demand for a simple reason: If they're not sold, they spoil. But coffee beans don't. It's not unusual for coffee roasters to keep a backlog of raw beans for three to five years. In fact, the average length inventory is about 2 1/2 years.

This cushion protects roasters against rapid fluctuations in price. Because if there's anything coffee roasters fear more than another surgeon general's report, it's a sudden price hike that might once again send drinkers heading to the tea aisle--as it did in the mid-'70s.

Many experts believe that a hike in wholesale prices will come. This is because the current prices don't even cover the cost of production, which is likely to force many coffee growers to find something else to do in the near future. And as the supply tightens, prices will surely rise.

And then we'll see how long it takes that to reach the retail level.

FRUIT

The grapefruit harvest in Northern San Diego and Riverside counties is well under way, and both Marsh Ruby and Star Ruby varieties are in good supply, though the fruit is a little smaller than usual. How do they differ? The Star Rubies are a deeper red, both inside and out, although growers say there is little difference in flavor.

Nectarine, peach and plum seasons should be moving into full swing this week. Picking begins for Friar plums (20% of the total plum crop), Elegant Lady peaches (second only to O'Henrys) and Summer Grand nectarines. The Fantasia nectarines will probably follow within a week.

VEGETABLES

Leaf and iceberg lettuces are cheap due to plentiful harvests in Salinas and the Santa Maria Valley. Romaine is slightly higher, and recent wind problems might cut the supply.

There has been a heavy harvest of carrots in the Bakersfield area, and that is reflected in low prices.

GROWERS MARKETS

At the Hermosa Beach market, held on Fridays at 13th Street and Hermosa Avenue, Linda Armstrong sells a wonderful assortment of fresh herbs, including bouquets of flowering lavender and thyme, both blue and pink flowering rosemary, and seven varieties of sage in pots. She grows them on 1/3 acre in Downey. Cherrie Wilkins has jars of grape leaves that she puts up herself in Fresno; she also has Black Mission figs, Thompson Seedless grapes and both pistachios and almonds. San Pedro fisherman John Siracusa sells halibut, swordfish and ocean perch that he's caught, as well as farmed salmon and trout.

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