(Nov. 21) Families preparing for Christmas get-togethers should find most holiday meal ingredients in ample supply in December, but if they’re planning on serving salad, shoppers should add iceberg lettuce to their wish list.

Even as Thanksgiving approached, iceberg prices saw double-digit increases for a 24-count case as processing demand fueled early harvesting, and some shippers are expecting Christmas to be problematic as well.

“Through the end of the year,” said Steve Davis, salesman with Salinas, Calif.-based Mills Inc., when asked about the possible of higher iceberg prices.

“It could go well into January, but certainly into the Christmas season,” Davis said. “You hate to forecast, but it’s going to really tight and a high market for an extended period of time.”

North Carolina’s short sweet potato crop originally brought concerns about holiday supplies, but warm temperatures lingered and allowed the potatoes to gain in size.

A significant production drop inthe Massachusetts’ cranberry crop will force retailers to seek berries from other states, and the Cranberry Marketing Committee, Wareham, Mass., is advising consumers to stock up ahead of Christmas.

A recurring concern among shippers is truck availability, and although trucks loaded down with Christmas trees will be free by mid-December, transportation will still be a Yuletide factor.

“Right now, we’re getting through Thanksgiving, but transportation is a huge issue, and it’s probably dictating things more than anything in the industry,” said David Tonso, co-owner of Canon Potato Co. Inc. Center, Colo. “I think it’s that way across the country, and with the Northwest Christmas tree shipments, anyone in the Northwest isn’t even looking at potatoes.”

Warren Wirtanen, vice president of produce and floral for Shaw’s Supermarkets Inc., East Bridgewater, Mass., said the 200 stores he oversees didn’t cut back on green onion orders despite the possibility of them being linked to a hepatitis outbreak.

As of Nov. 20, only one consumer had called the company to voice concerns about the green onions, Wirtanen said.

APPLES/PEARS

Fruits with a long shelf life don’t see the dramatic sales spikes immediately before Thanksgiving and Christmas, said Bill Elkins, marketing director for C.M. Holtzinger Fruit Co. Inc., Yakima, Wash.

Instead, demand for apples and pears increases steadily with the start of harvest and continues through the new year. Retailers typically start stocking larger fruit for the holiday.

Washington’s smaller crop could compound truck availability problems, with fewer loads attracting a smaller fleet of trucks to the northwest, Elkins said.

CRANBERRIES

As in the past, Northland Cranberries Inc., Wiscon-sin Rapids, Wis., ran out of fresh cranberries before the Christmas season, a company spokesman said.

Bowing out of the season before Christmas is rare at Decas Bros. Sales Co. Inc., Wareham, said vice president of sales Nick Decas. A crop plagued by weather and insect problems, however, has led to growers losing Christmas sales this year.

“I haven’t been able to deliver on my Thanksgiving orders, never mind my Christmas orders. It’s not a good situation,” Decas said.

LETTUCE

With Yuma, Ariz., experiencing heat-related yield and quality problems and Huron production completed, prices jumped into the $40 range, and Mills Inc.’s Davis said up to $50 in one case.

A cold snap, however, would make Christmas sales out of the question for many retailers. In any event, iceberg is losing shelf space or priced accordingly to lower demand.

Leaf lettuce prices were holding steady, said Bill Mendenhall, owner of Yuma Distributing Co., Yuma, but it’s possible romaine prices will increase as the holiday nears.

POTATOES/ONIONS

Potatoes are plentiful and cheap, said Larry Sieg, sales manager at Royal City, Wash.-based Sunfresh Inc.

“The consumer (bags) are just dirt cheap right now, and it appears they will continue to be dirt cheap,” Sieg said.

Onions, on the other hand, are seeing higher demand and prices, he said.

“Onions are rolling right along. That seems to be on the opposite end of the spectrum from the potatoes,” he said. “Idaho and Oregon seem to be having a little more than normal shrink and acreage is down on onions. We feel pretty darn good about the onion deal.”

On Nov. 17, Russet burbanks and norkotahs from Idaho were $3 for baled five 10-pound mesh bags of nonsize As, and 50-pound cartons of 40-70s were $11.50-12, with 90s $6.50-7. Mesh bags of baled norkotahs from Colorado’s San Luis Valley were priced the same, but 50-pound cartons of 60-70s were lower than those from Idaho, at $9-9.50.

Onion prices on Nov. 17 were $8-9 for 50-pound sacks of large and medium whites from Malheur County, Ore., $8-8.50 for 50-pound sacks of yellow colossals and $7-7.50 for 50-pound sacks of yellow jumbos from Washington’s Columbia Basin.

SWEET POTATOES

North Carolina’s sweet potatoes received a boost with a longer growing season, allowing them to overcome size problems, said Sue Johnson-Langdon, executive director of the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission, Smithfield.

“While we have added to the overall supply, it will be a short crop,” Johnson-Langdon said. “I think there will be adequate supplies, but I do expect the current prices to remain.”

Traditionally, Christmas demand is half of the Thanksgiving demand, she said.

Johnny Roy, manager of Earl Roy Sweet Potato Co. LLC, Hessmer, La., said, “The Christmas spike usually starts around Dec. 10,” Roy said. “I think North Carolina has a tighter supply, but in Louisiana, we’ll be in good supplies.”