$5 a head: The great Canadian cauliflower crisis

One of the most understated vegetables is turning heads in Canada, where a sinking dollar, high demand and bad weather have sent cauliflower prices soaring.

Canadians reported prices higher than $8.00 CAD per head ($5.65) via social media in recent weeks, making headlines across the country and sparking what many have called Canada's first and possibly only "cauliflower crisis."


492847096
iStock | Getty Images

"There are typically some weekly spikes during any given year, but not to this level," Roland J. Fumasi, the vice president and senior analyst for food and agribusiness research at Rabobank told CNBC via email.

The price hikes are down to a combination of a weak Canadian dollar —which has plunged thanks in part to low oil prices that have left the oil exporter hard-hit — and weather conditions that ended the California growing season early, disrupting supply. That happened just as Canada entered into the winter months when it tends to rely more heavily on U.S. produce exports.

However, Fumasi was quick to clarify that prices weren't linked to a California drought as many news organizations have reported.

That, along with Canadians' growing appetite for cauliflower — amid food trends that replace carbs like rice and dough for cauliflower — helped create a supply gap that sent prices to levels that were nearly double what they were a year earlier.

U.S. first-handler, or shipping, prices for cauliflower jumped roughly 140 percent at their peak between September and December, Fumasi explained. But once those costs started translating to higher shelf prices, and restaurant tabs, Canadians took to Twitter to share the shock:

The added difficulty, Fumasi says, is that fresh vegetables like cauliflower are highly perishable and can't be stored to help smooth out supply shocks like this one, creating high levels of short-term price volatility.

However, cauliflower lovers might be able to breathe a sigh of relief as first-handler prices seem to be easing to "more normal levels," having fallen 71 percent from those mid-December highs, Fumasi said.

Those should start to be felt at the retail level in the coming weeks — barring any further supply disruptions.